O'Hare International Airport (Chicago): 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.
Two locations: Terminal 1, Gate B11 and Terminal 3, Gate K4; rickbayless.com/restaurants/tortas
MSP Airport (Minneapolis): French Meadow Bakery and Cafe
The country's first certified organic bakery has a full menu of savory sandwiches and salads at this airport location. The real stand-outs are the desserts and pastries. Try the Nanaimo Bar (a Canadian specialty) or the Almond Lingonberry Torte. Cakespy columnist Jessie Oleson is a big fan of French Meadow. "After I went to Minneapolis to paint a Lord of the Rings Pastries themed mural in a bakery's bathroom (no really), I was delighted to see that a bakery I had visited and enjoyed during my stay also had a location in the airport."
Concourse F; frenchmeadowcafe.com
BWI Airport (Baltimore): Obrycki's
Obrycki's is the airport location of a long established downtown restaurant. Order the single crab cake and fries. Although the cake is on the small side it does come as a double, but a single is just the right size to hold you over during a quick flight. Full of crab and very little filler it is one of the better crab cakes in the Baltimore area.
Southwest Terminal, Gate B9; obryckis.com/bwi/php
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Seattle): Beecher's Cheese
Just this month Seattle's favorite cheese wonderland Beecher's opened an airport location. They have awesome mac and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches waiting for you.
Concourse C; beechershandmadecheese.com
Laguardia (New York): Custom Burger By Pat La Frieda
If you're in the 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, which has 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 that price 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.
Cibo Express Gourmet Food Hall, Delta Terminal (Terminal D)
Laguardia Airport (New York): 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-pizzeriaDi 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.
Delta Terminal D
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
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
LAX (Los Angeles): Pink's Hot Dogs
The Pink's location at La Brea and Melrose is a Los Angeles landmark. What started as a single cart has become...well, it's still pretty small and boxy, but that's beside the point. You can get their signature 'dogs right at the Departure level. They're usually overloaded with toppings, but the all-beef hotdogs still hold quite a bit of snap, and there's something undeniably fun about chowing down on a fresh chili dog as you wait for your flight or cab.
Bradley International Terminal; pinkshollywood.com
LAX (Los Angeles): La Brea Bakery
Although it's primarily a sandwich take-away spot (with airport pricing to match), the quality of the bread at La Brea Bakery in Terminal 1 is reason enough to sit and enjoy. Most of their bread options fall into the "rustic" category, with plenty of whole grains and a nice crust, which makes you feel like you're eating something real. We'd be happy eating a baked good here or cup of soup—it's consistently and reliably good.
Terminal 1; labreabakery.com
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.
PDX Airport (Portland, OR): Laurelwood Brew Pub
Portland takes its beer very seriously, even in the airport. Grab a locally brewed IPA or seasonal brew along with some bar snacks.
Concourse A and E; laurelwoodbrewpub.com
SFO Airport (San Francisco): Tyler Florence Rotisserie, Cowgirl Creamery, Acme Bread
We've been impressed with the newer options in Terminal 2. 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.
Terminal 2; multiple vendors
Sacramento International Airport (Sacramento, CA): Burgers & Brew
Burgers & Brew cranks out burgers that are actually pretty damn good. Half a pound of fresh Niman Ranch beef is grilled to order, and served on a lightly toasted roll with flavorful fresh veggies and a squeeze of mayo, and the option of a Belgian brew (like Leffe, Duvel, or Chimay). B&B is owned by Crepeville, so you can snag a strawberry crepe for dessert, though the Nutella cheesecake looked more tempting (and more portable).
Terminal B; burgersbrew.com
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport: Amy's And Salt Lick
Hatfield-Jackson Airport (Atlanta): Savannah's Candy Kitchen
The name of the game: Pecan Pralines. They're everything you'd dream a pecan praline to be: sweet, crunchy, melty, nutty.
Concourse B; savannahcandy.com
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;
Hatfield-Jackson Airport (Atlanta): One Flew South
Hatfield-Jackson Airport's only upscale dining option has a seasonal menu that offers dishes like Benton's Bacon BLT and Springer Mt. Chicken and Rice. They also boast an impressive list of signature cocktails.
Concourse E; oneflewsouthatl.com
Miami International Airport: La Carreta
Although La Carreta, one of the most popular Cuban restaurants in Miami, has multiple locations, the one at the Miami Airport is hands-down the best. They have a small outpost before security, but the full menu—including ropa vieja, picadillo, tostones, and rice and beans—is only available post-security. Order the tostadas and cafe con leche for breakfast; for a snack, get the medianoche sandwich and a cortadito; for lunch/dinner, get the rope vieja, Cuban sandwich, and always, the tostones and rice and beans with a side of mojo. And some steamed yucca and fried sweet plantains if you have room. Get a malta soda, too
It's between gates D and E in the American Airlines terminal.
Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport: Casa de Fresco
Local "Floribbean" food. Pictured here is the jerk chicken platter with plantains, rice, and black beans.
Memphis International Airport: 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.
Gate B-14; interstatebarbecue.com
Logan Airport (Boston): Legal Seafood
Legal is 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) here or eating a spicy tuna burger, the crisp fried clams, or anything from Legal's 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.
Terminal C; legalseafoods.com
Charlotte Douglas International Airport (North Carolina): Bojangles
Better than KFC and maybe even 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.
Concourse B; bojangles.com
Reykjavik Keflavik International Airport (Iceland): Bistro Atlantic Cafeteria Restaurant
Located in the main terminal among the Duty Free shops is Bistro Atlantic Cafeteria Restaurant, and this is the place to go if you're looking for one last Icelandic hotdog (or "pylsur") before your long trip home. It's a condiment-it-yourself place, and all of the good ones are available. Raw onions, crisp fried onions, sweet mustard, ketchup, and remoulade. Unless you've got a case of Baejarins Beztu Pylsur in your suitcase I'd recommend getting two.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: Dutch Kitchen
The Amsterdam airport might be the best food-destination airport we've visited. At the Dutch Kitchen, you'll of course find poffertjes, the Dutch mini pancakes, as well as a salad bar with the option to snip your own micogreens (ha!).
Between Terminals 2 and 3
Burlington International Airport: The Skinny Pancake
Slated to open in each of the two concourses in mid-December, local favorite Skinny Pancake will sell snacks and sandwiches and of course their signature crêpes. What started as a mobile pancake cart in 2003 has expanded to become a mini-chain that sources at least 50 percent of the Skinny Pancake's food directly from Vermont as well as locally made microbrews, spirits, and wine.
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.