Noted food critic Alan Richman once wrote, "The grim state of airport dining is incomprehensible." Granted, some of it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but as road warriors - grabbing meals in terminals from Midland to Miami - you've surely uncovered some of the diamonds in the rough. If you haven't, check out our short lists of inspired airport eateries. - J.B.
A welcome trend in airport dining is to treat travelers to a taste of regional specialties. Also, a growing number of outposts of neighborhood dining institutions can be found at airports. For example, Perry's, a San Francisco staple for over 35 years, is introducing its classic American cuisine to a whole new set of fans at its year-old location in San Francisco International's Terminal 1. At Seattle-Tacoma, there's an entire food court, called Pacific Marketplace, which focuses on regional fare and features offshoots of homegrown favorites like Ivar's Fish Bar (celebrated for its clam chowder) and Alki Bakery Express (which draws raves for its cinnamon rolls).
The Short List
Albuquerque: Gardunos Chile Packing Company and Cantina
Austin: Salt Lick and Matt's Famous El Rancho
Boston: Legal Sea Foods Express
Chicago: Harry Caray's
Dallas-Fort Worth: Reata Grill
Memphis: Jim Neely's Interstate Bar-B-Que
Miami: Café Versailles
New Orleans: Café Beignet
Phoenix: Flo's Shanghai Café
San Francisco: Perry's, Lori's Diner, and San Francisco Soup Company
Seattle-Tacoma: Pacific Marketplace and 13 Coins
Under the Toque
It's not only what's cooking at airports these days but also who's cooking, as some of the world's top chefs take their talents to the concourse. One of the first to do this was Wolfgang Puck, whose small kiosk at the Columbus airport was so successful, it spawned a full-fledged restaurant.
The Short List
Boston: Ozone-Bos (Todd English served as a consultant) and Jasper White's Summer Shack Express
Columbus: Wolfgang Puck Express
Orange County: Oasis Grill & Sky Lounge (conceived by David Wilhelm)
San Francisco: Yankee Pier (Bradley Ogden is part owner)
Seattle-Tacoma: Dish D'Lish (from Food TV's Kathy Casey)
Lean and Mean
With society's emphasis on health these days, it's only natural that airport eateries would take heed. Minneapolis-St. Paul is among those now offering calorie-conscious and heart-healthy options. At its French Meadow Bakery & Cafe in Concourse F, everything is all natural, from the organic greens to the yeast-free breads. Granted, an entire guilt-free menu may be rare, but at least one or two wholesome choices are showing up on more and more menus in airport dining establishments.
The Short List
Chicago: Eat a Leaf Salad Creations
Miami: Casa Bacardi and Sushi-to-Go
Minneapolis–St. Paul: Lake Line Pub and French Meadow Bakery & Cafe
Newark: Maui Tacos and GreenLeaf’s Grille
San Francisco: Raving Wraps, Il Fornaio Caffe Del Mondo, North Beach Trattoria, and Ebisu