On the list of culinary travel experiences, airport food has traditionally ranked pretty close to the bottom. It generally falls just above airplane food, which holds the award for The Worst Food on Earth, hands down.
But the tides are changing, and airports are starting to offer not only a variety of culinary options, but a variety of good culinary options. While airports have traditionally been stocked with fast food and low-quality vendors, it is becoming increasingly more trendy for acclaimed local restaurants to take up residence in terminals. To which we're exclaiming: Thank goodness!
In terms of the gourmet airport revolution, the following terminals are at the top of the game, but we’re looking forward to seeing more airports join the list over the next few years. No more stale scones, soggy fries, or overpriced, below-par burgers; these restaurants aren’t just high-quality for airports—they’re high quality, period.
1. JetBlue Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy Airport
The state-of-the art JetBlue T5 is the pride of JFK International Airport, especially in terms of culinary offerings. Steakhouse 5ive Steak offers their meat with some seriously awesome offerings from their full bar and “sidewalk” seating—just how we like it. The Italian-centric spread of delectable offerings on AeroNuova’s menu was designed by Mark Ladner, acclaimed New York chef who also heads up 5-star restaurant Del Posto. Popular cupcake shop Baked By Melissa, wine bar Bar Veloce, and candy emporium Dylan’s Candy Bar round out the offerings.
2. Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport
LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal completed a $1.9 billion renovation in 2013—and it shows, especially in the sleek design and array of acclaimed restaurants. Snag a custom-made Neapolitan pizza at 800 Degrees Pizza, sushi at Chaya Brasserie or breakfast burrito at Marmalade Cafe. Other offerings include local favorites Border Grill, Ink.Sack., and Larder at Tavern. Though Tom Bradley International Terminal may hold the top culinary slot right now, the Southwest Terminal is currently undergoing a $508-million renovation—and we can’t wait to see what they come up with.
The stunningly-designed Virgin America Terminal 2 at SFO is undeniably one of the best terminals to kill a few hours before a flight or wait out a delay—and the restaurants aren't bad, either. Napa Farms offers full meals as well as artisanal snacks and a coffee bar. Vino Volo is ideal for grabbing a glass of wine to unwind pre-flight. Wakaba offers fresh sushi, noodle bowls, and other Asian-inspired dishes. Bonus: You can get your FroYo fix at Pinkberry, too.
4. United Airlines Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport
A recent $120-million renovation of this terminal has helped bring in an upgraded level of dining options. Asian-style beer garden Caps Beer Garden offers sushi alongside a sprawling selection of international beers. Alain Ducasse helped develop French bistro Saison, which offers dishes rarely seen in an airport, including bone marrow and escargot. Other standouts include Nonna’s Meatball Kitchen, Mario Carbone’s Casciano Italian Specialties, Wanderlust Burger Bar, and Melange Petit Patisserie.
5. Terminal A at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
At the expansive DFW airport, Terminal A offers a site of respite for weary travelers seeking a taste of the south. Tex-Mex dishes and margaritas take center stage (er, table) at Pappasito’s Cantina, crawfish and crab cakes are highlighted at Pappadeux Seafood Kitchen, and BBQ goes bold at Salt Lick Bar-B-Que.
6. Concourse C at Portland International Airport
PDX airport’s foodscape is a direct reflection of the rich culinary culture of Portland itself. Specifically, Concourse C offers an array of restaurants that showcase some of the PNW’s best ingredients and food genres, including dietary restriction-friendly Cafe Yumm, gourmet coffeehouse Coffee People, and fresh MOD Pizza. Others to note on the lineup include Mo Seafood & Chowder, Potbelly Sandwich, and House Spirits Distillery.