LaGuardia Airport (New York), Delta Terminal D: Tagliare
Tagliare (which means to cut or slice in Italian) is a collaboration between Don DeMarco Jr., part of the DeMarco family that owns the Brooklyn destination-pizzeria Di Fara, and OTG Management, a company that's worked to elevate airport food around the country by partnering with local chefs. It's far better than you'd expect airport pizza to be. In fact, we'd even bet any New Yorker would be proud to call this their local pizzeria slice.
LaGuardia (New York), Delta Terminal D: Custom Burger by Pat La Frieda
If you're in more of a burger mood, order via the touchscreen at Custom Burger by Pat La Frieda. For the record, Custom Burger is not run or even owned by the Pat La Frieda Meat Company. It's actually owned by OTG Management, who have been doing their best to make airport food edible. They offer a number of burgers in various patty configurations, and prices start at under $5 for a single with cheese. That's not only a remarkable price for an airport--it's a remarkable price for New York City as a whole. The only other place we know of to get a La Frieda burger for under five bucks is Shake Shack. And similar to the Shack, it's griddle cooked and topped with American cheese on a potato roll. The custom beef blend is fatty enough to stand up to being cooked medium (you can't get it medium-rare here) and even beyond. It remains juicy and moist.
O'Hare International Airport (Chicago), Terminal 1, Gate B11: Tortas Frontera
Rick Bayless, the respected patron of haute Mexican cuisine, has plenty of well deserved accolades in his trophy case and he can add this. At first look, you could mistake the menu signboard for a gate information display. You'll see locations like Sioux Center, IA; Milwaukee, WI; St. Joseph, MI—but these aren't the departures or arrivals. They're actually purveyors and their respective locations where Bayless sources his organic proteins, stoneground corn tortillas, seasonal fresh fruit and local dairy, a rare practice for any restaurant, let alone one in the bustling United terminal.
The eggs and chorizo torta recalls familiar breakfast sandwiches, perhaps one found with the clown or the king further down the terminal but this one sports eggs that are fluffy, pork chorizo that's hearty and spicy, Chihuahua cheese with character, poblano rajas with bite, and warm, good, ever-so-crusty bread.
Logan Airport (Boston), Terminal C: Legal Seafood
It's a chain with restaurants all over the Boston metro area. We'd be happy spooning up the creamy clam chowder (with their crusty, hot-from-the-oven rolls), a spicy tuna burger, crisp fried clams, or anything from their impressive (especially impressive by airport standards) raw bar. As is key at an airport, service is prompt and accommodating—they'll rush a check or pack up an order to go when you have to run.
SFO (San Francisco), Terminal 2
A few of us have recently flown through SFO and have been quite impressed with the new T2 options. Particularly the rotisserie meats and sides (hello brussels sprouts) from Tyler Florence's stand. The chicken is juicy and crisp-skinned and they'll slice the giant porchetta on display to order. If you're in more of a bread-and-cheese mood, there's an Acme bread and Cowgirl Creamery counter. It sort of feels like a miniature Ferry Building (they actually share the same architects), which is really our fantasy airport food court.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport (North Carolina), Concourse B: Bojangles'
Better than KFC and arguably Popeyes too, this is the fast-food fried chicken you'd be happy eating straight from the airport terminal fryer. The biscuits are extremely buttery and the chicken can require a wad of napkins. The two-piece combo, which comes with a leg and thigh, will surely induce an in-flight nap.
Memphis International Airport, Gate B-14: Jim Neely's Interstate BBQ
The smell hits you in the face when you walk by and you're immediately in a barbecue trance. Our guilty pleasure here is the Barbecue Spaghetti. Sort of Memphis's answer to Cincinnati Chili, it's exactly what it looks like: thick, cut-up spaghetti (slightly overcooked, just like Cincinnati Chili) swimming in sweet barbecue sauce with chunks of meat.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Across from Gate 12: Amy's and Salt Lick
Raleigh-Durham International Airport: AJ Tavern
It's named after two A.J.-initial-bearing late presidents from the great state of North Carolina: Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson. They serve a bunch of different sandwiches, including this pulled pork one, as well as bar snacks, and beer on tap.
Terminal 1 Near Gate A25;
Hartsfield Jackson Airport (Atlanta), Terminal A: Chick-fil-A
We love the Atlanta-based chain, what can we say? And can't really ever say no to a Spicy Chicken sandwich. Just don't expect them to be open on Sunday! The chain famously closes on Sundays.
JFK International Airport (NYC): 5ive Steak
5ive Steak is located in the main food court of JetBlue's pretty swanky Terminal 5. The menu is a contemporary steakhouse affair, with prime steaks, a large seafood selection and many dishes containing truffle oil—like the french fries. Clocking in at a meaty-beaty big and bouncy 10 ounces of custom beef from Pat La Frieda, this is one big hamburger. Forget about getting one to-go and attempting to board a plane with it unless you want to take it on as luggage. It's salty, beefy, and succulent.
Jet Blue's Terminal 5
Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport: Casa de Fresco
Local "Floribbean" food. Pictured here is the jerk chicken platter with plantains, rice, and black beans.
Buffalo Niagara International Airport: Anchor Bar
When in Buffalo, you eat wings. And they must taste better from the "home of the Buffalo wing," right? Maybe not necessarily, but these certainly have all that spicy-buttery sauce glory and juicy meat.
Upper level; anchorbar.com
Portland International Airport (Oregon) Good Dog Bad Dog or Laurelwood Brewing Co.
Good Dog Bad Dog offers hot dogs, sausage, fries and a condiment bar with plenty of sauerkraut. If it's an early morning flight and you can't handle the dogs, they have breakfast burritos too. If you just need to grab a quick beer to put you in a pre-flight nap-ready mode, head over to Laurelwood.
LAX (Los Angeles): In-N-Out Burger
So technically it's not in the airport (if only!), but you can practically smell the Animal Style fries from LAX; there's a location only a mile and a half away at 9149 South Sepulveda Boulevard (map here). If you have time to swing by to or from the airport, get one of the made-to-order burgers with grilled onions, and a too-thick-for-straw shake. And no, it's not just overrated fast-food.
Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport: I-Mei Foods
At the I-Mei Foods cafe, you can get soup dumplings, fried dumplings, scallion pancakes, turnip cakes, fried rice, pork noodle soup, chicken and rice, and more, with most meals costing about $6.50 or less. Sure, it's not the best Taipei has to offer, but it's perfectly satisfying, especially by airport standards.