10 airport restaurants so good you won’t want to leave the terminal

Sep 14, 2019

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I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in the world’s airports. I remember when it wasn’t a great experience. If you were hungry, you were in a culinary wasteland offering newsstand food, no-name snack bars with hot dogs cooked on rollers or generic sit-down restaurants that sold bland and boring meals.

But two things changed that. First, the Food Network exploded onto the food scene, making people more aware — and much more discerning — about what they eat. Second, as airlines merged, rent and landing fees they paid to airports disappeared, forcing the airports to find ways to replace that income. One way was to offer better food and beverage choices to travelers.

I started covering airports for Aviation Daily in 2006, just when the food renaissance was beginning. I saw some great restaurants land at airport terminals around the world. I also began hearing from my traveling friends about which airport eateries were worth a stop.

For example, one of my friends had time to kill during a layover in Houston at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). She was looking for somewhere to have a nice glass of wine and a good meal when she stumbled upon Le Grand Comptoir in IAH’s Terminal C. She called it a lovely oasis with great food and a wonderful selection of high-end wine by the glass. I’ve been to Le Grand Comptoir in Houston and at Newark Liberty Airport and can confirm my friend’s impressions.

Below are 10 other airport eateries that make my favorites list:

The restaurant One Flew South, at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson
Try the collard green ramen at One Flew South at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport. (Photo by Benet J. Wilson)

One Flew South, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Terminal E

This is my favorite airport restaurant. Opened in 2009, it was Hartfield’s first fine dining concept, offering a mix of Asian, upscale Southern food and surprisingly good sushi, all served with craft cocktails and a great selection of wine. Although I miss the pimento cheese they use to serve as an appetizer, the poke tacos make up for it. The collard green ramen is a dish that shouldn’t work, but does, thanks to a perfect combination of tender greens, a smoked turkey broth, peppered pork belly, seaweed, kimchi, scallions and a hard-boiled egg. The pulled duck confit sandwich is also a hit.

Singapore Food Street, Singapore Changi International Airport (SIN), Terminal 3

Anyone who is a fan of the city’s famous hawker stalls will love this airport’s version, especially if you didn’t get to indulge in the real thing during your visit. This eatery serves some of the most popular street foods, including laksa, chicken satay, spicy chili crabs and roti prata.

Dook’s Place, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY), West Terminal

This is not one of my favorite airports, but I have hope when the new terminal finally opens, now scheduled for sometime this fall. However, it does have this eatery, run by the great-grandson of legendary Chef Leah Chase, founder of the city’s iconic restaurant Dooky Chase. It’s known for classic Louisiana dishes such as gumbo and étouffée, but the most popular dish is fried chicken cooked to order. It’s some of the best fried chicken on the planet.

Obrycki’s, Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI), Concourse A

In Baltimore, we love our crab houses, and you can get your fix before boarding your flight at this longtime favorite restaurant. If cracking blue crabs doesn’t appeal to you, get the crab cakes, crab soup or the hot crab dip. Obrycki’s will even pack up crab cakes for you to take home.

La Carreta, Miami International Airport (MIA), Concourse D

Fans of authentic Cuban food know that this airport outlet of the popular chain of restaurants is the place to get it. Most go for the pressed Cuban sandwich, made with ham, roast pork and Swiss cheese on Cuban bread with mustard and pickles. But I recommend the La Carreta special, a version of the Cuban sandwich that also includes chorizo. Get either sandwich with a side of plantain chips and have a guava pastry for dessert. And check out the Cuban coffee if you need a strong caffeine kick.

Nonna Bartolotta’s, Mitchell International Airport (MKE), Concourse D

I had some time on my hands after touring the Mitchell Gallery of Flight Aviation Museum. This restaurant was near my gate, and I just happened to stop in. The food was good enough to make me think I was sitting at Ristorante Bartolotta in downtown Milwaukee. I’m nuts for a good stone-fired pizza and this place didn’t disappoint.

Harry & Izzy’s, Indianapolis International Airport (IND), Concourse A

When I worked for Rolls-Royce North America, I went to Indianapolis regularly to visit our aircraft engine plant. Most times, the evening would end at the city’s iconic St. Elmo Steak House, known for its giant spicy shrimp cocktail. This variant of St. Elmo’s at the airport offers seafood, steak, salads, sandwiches and pizza — plus that amazing shrimp cocktail.

Berghoff Cafe, Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Terminal 1

Here’s a tip: before you walk into this German restaurant, make sure you’re really hungry, because the portions are generous. I recommend the Reuben sandwich washed down with Berghoff’s tasty root beer.

Caviar House and Prunier Seafood Bar, London Heathrow Airport (LHR), Terminal 5

I am a fool for smoked salmon, and the stuff served here didn’t disappoint. The caviar, with varying price points, wasn’t bad either.

Legal Test Kitchen, Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), Terminal A

We all know about the Legal Seafood locations at Logan, Philadelphia and Reagan Washington National airports. But, Legal also has the Test Kitchen, where it serves foods being considered for future menus. Yes, you can still get your bowl of that great New England clam chowder. But you can also try dishes such as the crabmeat roll or a hoisin-roasted salmon served with jasmine rice and seaweed salad.

You know what I’m going to ask: What are the airport restaurants you can’t miss while traveling?

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