It wasn’t that long ago that “good airport restaurant” was a jokey oxymoron. A trip to the airport meant brown-bagging it, or suffering through whatever dreck was on offer at the fast-food outlet that happened to have the concession at your gate.
The country’s airports still boast plenty of ho-hum eateries. In fact, mediocrity remains the norm. But slowly, almost imperceptibly, the lowest-common-denominator restaurants are being edged out by plucky independents, some with really (really!) good food.
Proof positive of the improving airport gastronomical scene is a newly published list from Thrillist of the best restaurants at America’s 40 largest airports.
Here, for your delectation, is a random selection of 10 of the featured airport eateries:
- Maudie’s Tex-Mex, Austin Bergstrom Airport (Gate 12) – “Classic Austin Tex-Mex joint for queso, the specialty fajita tacos, or the enchilada perfecto.”
- Cafe L’Appetito, Chicago Midway (Triangle food court) – “Parma sandwiches, meatball subs, and sesame-crusted hoagie rolls filled with all varieties of Italian pork are the move.”
- Whitetail Bistro, Dallas-Ft. Worth (Terminal D, Gate 22) – “Your inevitable six-hour holiday delay at DFW is much more enjoyable when paired with bobwhite quail on a johnnycake with sausage gravy. I mean, it definitely beats Friday’s.”
- Shula Burger, Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood (Terminal 1, Concourse C) – “The burgers are a char-grilled delicacy made from brisket, chuck, and short rib, and could stand up as Broward’s best burgers”
- Hugo’s Cocina, George Bush Intercontinental (Post-security, Gate D6) – “The cochinita pibil wrapped in banana leaf with habanero salsa will have you raving about the food in Houston even if you’ve never actually “
- Deep Blue Sushi, JFK International (Terminal 5, post-marketplace) – “… perhaps the most shockingly good dining experience you’ll ever have at an airport.”
- ink.sack, Los Angeles International (International Terminal Great Hall, Level 4) “Stop in and enjoy chef Michael Voltaggio’s ridiculously delicious sandwiches.”
- Tony Luke’s (Philadelphia International (Terminal F) – “It would be a tragic error if we didn’t tell you about one of the best cheesesteak shops in Philly sitting right there in Terminal F.”
- Blancos Tacos, Phoenix Sky Harbor (Terminal 4) – “The best airport burrito in the country is at the small window attached to one of the valley’s best Mexican eateries.”
- Kapnos Taverna Reagan Washington National (Terminal C) – “A fantastic place to chow down on fire-grilled kebab, souvlaki, and pork shoulder.”
As the above list illustrates, there’s no longer any reason to settle for a Big Mac or a soggy slice of Domino’s pizza pre- or post-flight. Airports may not yet be culinary meccas, but neither are they culinary wastelands.
Seek and ye shall find.
Reader Reality Check
What airport restaurants do you favor?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.