Airport Dining Guide: Where to Eat in 10 Travel Hubs

By Cindy Augustine  |  November 19, 2013

Forget about dashing through the airport and grabbing a stale croissant before boarding. Erase any memories of soggy quesadillas, cardboard-y pizza, lukewarm coffee and fast food that you’d never normally eat outside of a terminal. Airports nationwide and overseas are stepping up their food game, offering everything from fine-dining options to fast-casual fare that will eradicate the notion that decent food is only available elsewhere. From Shake Shack and Petrossian caviar, to Rick Bayless’ griddle-baked tortas and Wolfgang Puck’s four-cheese pizza, read on for the best airport-dining options wherever you may fly.

  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) - NYC

    There’s little to make a plane delay better than a burger and shake from Shake Shack - well, that and a seat upgrade - and the Fly Me to the Shack shake flavor (a chocolate lovers' dream made with chocolate custard, chocolate truffle cookie dough, Mast Brothers dark chocolate chunks and chocolate sprinkles) can ease any travel pain. From the same restaurant group is the new Blue Smoke on the Road, which, in addition to excellent all-day barbecue, has seating near huge windows for plane-watching and daydreaming. With North Carolina pulled pork on the menu, along with Memphis-style beef and Kansas City spareribs, there’s little need to fly anywhere south.

  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

    Only in LA could there be an outpost of a famed caviar and champagne bar (see: Petrossian in Tom Bradley International Terminal) with a grab-and-go picnic pack offering your choice of caviar, blinis and crème fraîche in an insulated carry-on pouch, giving new meaning to first-class flying. Another standout in the same terminal is the recently opened Luckyfish and Chaya, both serving Japanese for sushi, sake and the like on the go and Loteria Grill (which will change the airport taco experience). Find steakhouse fare at B Grill by BOA Steakhouse in Terminal 7 and Lemonade (California’s answer to healthy fast-casual with fresh salads, veggie options, healthy dishes and, yes, lemonade) in Delta Terminal 5.

  • London Heathrow Airport (LHR)

    One of the busiest airports in the world is London’s Heathrow, which serves upwards of 20 million passengers a year. Among its many gourmet food offerings are local favorite Wagamama, and Plane Food by Gordon Ramsay. Coming next spring to Terminal 2 (The Queen’s Terminal) is a new restaurant from British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck), inspired by his In Search of Perfection TV series. "This is an incredible project,” Blumenthal explained recently. "There are so many different elements to consider when people are traveling. We want to deliver a broad spectrum of easy-to-enjoy, familiar dishes, from fish 'n' chips to pizza. When we made the In Search of Perfection series, we spent hours researching the temperature of a pizza oven or the crunch of batter; it’s this inspiration that is behind the menu at Heathrow - with some truly British eccentricity thrown in for good measure.”

  • Chicago O'Hare International (ORD)

    Celebrity chefs get their day at Chicago’s O’Hare airport with no less than three Wolfgang Puck operations featuring his famous gourmet pizzas, Chinois Chicken salad and seating at his eponymous cafe. From the man who gave new meaning to Modern Mexican, Rick Bayless, is Tortas Frontera, featuring tortas (griddle-baked sandwiches), tortilla soup and molletes (open-faced sandwiches) at any hour. If there is such a thing as not getting enough Chicago hot dogs, America’s Dog serves them up at United Terminal 1, Concourse C, with a menu of dogs representing cities near and wide (see: the Baltimore dog, deep-fried and topped with melted cheddar and fried onions). 

  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

    Napa Farms Market in Terminal 2 gets high praise from travelers looking for fresh fare and gourmet groceries, but the sit-down dining options at this busy hub are varied and reliable to boot. Look for Burger Joint in Terminal 2 for griddle classics made with humanely raised meat (and veggie burgers cooked in a separate grill), Ebisu in the International Terminal for sushi classics (the terminal also has ramen, udon, tempura and other Japanese options on hand), and Anchor Steam Brewing Company for local brews, sandwiches and seafood options. For build-your-own sandwiches (plus soups and salads), opt for another local favorite, Klein's Deli and Coffee Bar in Terminal 1.

  • LaGuardia Airport (LGA) - NYC

    In addition to brick-oven pizza by Todd English at Figs, burgers courtesy of Pat La Frieda, pizza by Jim Lahey at Crust, and dry-aged beef and the like served up by Porter House New York’s Michael Lomonaco at Prime Tavern, LaGuardia also recently opened their first Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Terminal B. (Terminal B is also home to a decent wine selection pre-security, should you need a glass before waiting on a dreaded line). Also on hand is Angelina's Metro Market with an open-kitchen setting and made-to-order pastas, along with salad and quesadilla stations and a handful of healthy grab-and-go items.

  • Austin-Bergstrom International (AUS)

    Everything's bigger in Texas - especially when it comes to their cuisine, airport dining included. At Austin’s airport (once a military base), there’s a hefty amount of barbecue, tacos, burgers and beer - which makes perfect sense in the Lone Star state. The highlight is Salt Lick, a local institution known for its beef brisket and pork ribs. Also worth stopping by: Maudie's (if in the West Terminal in the morning, try their breakfast tacos) and Nuevo Leon (also worthy of breakfast-taco note, in East Terminal). Waterloo Ice House is now closed, but Saxon Pub will solve that issue - beers, American classics and, yes, live music that proves the city is worthy of being deemed the live music capital of the world.

  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)

    Home to the first airport location of IHOP (for 24-hour pancakes) in the main terminal, along with hometown favorite Chick-Fil-A, Atlanta could take the cake on best fast-food dining (see also: Bojangles and Five Guys), but there are too many legitimate dining options here not to be overlooked. Local brewery SweetWater Draft House & Grill has an outpost in Concourse B for above-average pre-flight brews, along with Ecco in Concourse F for tapas and wine. And from Duane Nutter is One Flew South, a fine-dining experience with the famed local chef’s take on Southern fare, heavy on Asian and international influences, in Concourse E.

  • Miami International (MIA)

    Among the dining options in Miami's airport are wine and cheese, pastries, chef Lorena Garcia’s healthy take on Latin fare, and, of course, Cuban coffee everywhere you turn. No layover would be complete without croquetas, pasteles and cortadito, and locals often turn to Versailles (Concourse D), an outpost of a local Cuban restaurant that’s been around since the 1970s, or La Carreta (North Terminal), another Caribbean favorite. In Concourse D, you’ll also find Lorena Garcia Cocina, where the Venezuelan-born chef serves empanadas in the morning, and simple sandwiches and salads during the day. Icebox Café is a must for a dessert stop (their homemade Devil Dog is worth every calorie) and their salads are generously sized and fresh. Wine bar Beaudevin has plenty of whites, reds, bubbles and tapas on hand nearby.

  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)

    Obrycki's Restaurant & Bar, a local crab shack that’s been around for over 60 years with a fast-casual seafood menu featuring fresh seafood (think spicy crab cakes, crab sliders, coconut shrimp, fish 'n' chips) has two locations at BWI (in Concourse A and near gates B-9 and B-11). Phillip's Seafood, in Concourse A/B, offers their take on Chesapeake-style seafood (try the chowder), and also find them in airports in Atlanta, Harrisburg, Charlotte and Boston. Chesapeake-area favorite Silver Diner (Concourse B) serves breakfast all day so jet-lagged travelers don’t have to skip to dinner in the early hours. Their fresh and local-driven menu is full of comfort food and healthy options (think chicken noodle soup and sliders) along with a variety of cocktails including the eye-opening Bloody Maria.