The airport foodie scene is on the rise
Rapid changes in the restaurant scene in the United States have resulted in the emergence of an interesting new bastion for all-star food and beverage programs: airports. While some travelers barely clear TSA’s arduous (and sometimes slightly ridiculous) security check in time to get to their gate, most travelers find themselves at airports around the world with a couple of hours or more to spare while they wait for their flights.
Some unfortunate travelers, usually me, always fall on the wrong side of Lady Luck and end up with extended delays and cancellations. Thus, it is worth noting which airports make suffering through the biting haze of flying less painful with culinary delights and soothing beverages. Here, in no particular order, are some for your consideration.
Cantina Laredo or Cousin’s Bar-B-Que Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW)
At 18,076 acres, my childhood airport DFW has grown bigger than 99 percent of small towns in Texas and is one of the largest air gateways in the world. Four barbecue restaurants; eight Mexican restaurants; eight bars; plus even a cereal restaurant in Terminal C, Gate 6 – DFW has something for everyone. Which is a good thing because I’ve never had a flight leave DFW on time. If you haven’t had barbecue while in Texas, then you can’t leave without trying Cousin’s Bar-B-Que, especially considering they have two locations (Terminal B, Gate 47 and Terminal D, Gate 28). Texas barbecue is brisket-based so ordering the beef brisket will result in less judgment. Don’t forget the sides of Texas-style pinto beans and Texas toast, a 2 ½-inch-thick pillow of carbohydrate goodness.
Now, trying to choose between the best Mexican restaurant in DFW is a hat-throwing, boot-stomping challenge. Some prefer Pappasito’s Cantina, but I
am straight-up a Cantina Laredo woman. Located in Terminal D, definitely order a Margarita, the Top-Shelf Guacamole, a bowl of chili con queso, as well as one of the nine enchilada plates. My mouth drools for the Enchiladas Veracruz made with chicken, spinach and monterey jack topped with tomatillo sauce, marinated vegetables and queso fresco. Because really, does any dish with melted cheese ever go wrong?
Shake Shack or the Delta Sky Lounge at John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK)
If you haven’t heard of Shake Shack after their billion-dollar IPO and don’t feel compelled to eat a soul-changing amalgam of bread, cheese, meat and vegetables, then you are truly missing out in life. For those who desire toe-curling milkshakes, perfectly cooked and not greasy fries, as well as a multitude of burger options, then Shake Shack at JFK in Terminal Four is the obvious choice. Be prepared to stand in line. While the number of people waiting is nothing compared to lunch hour in Midtown Manhattan, the line is still fairly substantial.
However, if you are really trapped at JFK, then pay the $50 to enjoy the completely gutted and redesigned Delta Sky Lounge. The flagship lounge for Delta, the spa-like tranquility of this space will help you zone out the stress of having multiple cancelled flight. Drink and be merry with a strong selection of wine and cocktails before tucking into the inclusive food menu featuring sushi, cheese, charcuterie and dessert. Or order a bottle of Dom Perignon and Muga Prado Enea, Gran Reserva. Also, if you really want to torture yourself a bit, this Delta Sky Lounge has a Sky Deck so you can watch all those planes you could have been on take off into the sky while drowning your sorrows with some premium French champagne.
Punggyeongmaru or Panorama Lounge at Incheon International Airport (ICN)
One of the few airports in the world where you can really get a feel of the host country – in this case Korea – without ever leaving the sprawling airport, ICN has numerous tasty Korean restaurants to sample. In Terminal A at Gate 3 is Punggyeongmaru a low-key favorite with a mouth-watering presentation of traditional Korean fare. The super-cheap $8 Galbi tang (short rib soup) is the most ordered dish but you really can’t go wrong with anything there. Be prepared to sit on the floor though as it is a traditional Korean seated meal.
Or if sitting on the floor is not your thing, then head to the Panorama Lounge on the fourth floor of the common area. Operated by the famous Chosun Hotel, the Panorama Lounge, as its name suggests, offers marvelous views of the runway with uncommonly satisfying traditional Korean fare. Additionally they have a buffet during lunch time which cannot be beat.
Airbräu Brauhaus at Munich International Airport (MUC)
Surprisingly, the heart of Bavarian Germany is home to one of the best airports around the world, Munich International Airport, paradise for foodies craving both local and international fare. While many prefer the Italian cuisine at Il Mondo, Airbräu Brauhaus is certainly the
best option for Bavarian cuisine. After all, “When in Rome, do as the Romans…”
Located in Terminal One, Airbräu Brauhaus is the only airport brewery in the world which crafts beers in compliance with the Purity Decree of 1516, basically meaning the flavor and stability agent in their beers are phenomenal. (For those who make the pilgrimage to Oktoberfest in Munich each year, this designation is quite meaningful.) Order the Supersonic, an expansive Bavarian dish with roast pork, knuckle of pork and one piece of duck, served together with fresh dumplings and side dishes. While the dish“requires”two people at a minimum, make the attempt or at least drink the entire siphon of beer which accompanies this € 21 dish.
Rooftop Cactus Garden and Harry’s Bar at Singapore Changi Airport (SIN)
An absolutely liveable three terminals filled with more amenities than a five-star hotel, Singapore Changi Airport has a glut of choices for food and beverage. Honestly I have never seen a water slide in an airport, let alone one as mammoth as the one at Singapore’s award-winning gateway.
However, if slip-and-slide is not really your thing, the best place to drink is the Rooftop Cactus Garden and Harry’s Bar in Terminal One. One of four gardens inside SIN, the Rooftop Cactus Garden has an enchanted feel offering premium views of the Singapore skyline. Order one of Harry’s Bar’s signature drinks such as the“Dirty Harry”or the vodka-fuelled“Eye Candy” and let your travel worries slip away with nary a care. Or, perhaps, convince yourself of the wisdom of taking a run through the multi-story water slide.
Ben’s Chili Bowl at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA)
Our nation’s capital is undergoing one of the most rapid changes in the food and beverage scene and Ronald Reagan National Airport is certainly not immune to the whiplash-inducing number of new restaurants and bars in Washington, DC. While not all of them are good changes, the opening of famed U Street stalwart Ben’s Chili Bowl at DCA is certainly welcome.
One of the rare restaurants before TSA security check, this pristine environment still has the dirty delicious“Half Smoke All-TheWay.”Drenched in a monsoon of chili, cheese and various spices, this processed meat tube – double the size of your average hot dog – will annihilate your taste buds. Order a side of the cheese fries as well, if your heart is in mint condition.
Restaurant Top Air at Stuttgart Airport (STR)
A Michelin star designation (yes the same company which sells tires) in the world of food is an award akin to winning an Oscar. Currently, the only restaurant in an airport with a Michelin star is located in the Baden-Württemberg state of Germany, Restaurant Top Air at Stuttgart Airport.
Located in Terminal One, Level Four, a very young (33), yet accomplished Chef Akuzun Marco presents a gorgeous menu of gourmet dishes for a reasonable price. Enjoy the Tasting Menu or order á la carte. Everything is simply divine so no need for me to give pointers. When in doubt, just ask the knowledgeable and friendly waitstaff – but really why not just get the Tasting Menu?
Virgin Lounge at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Choosing the best restaurant in Los Angeles International Airport is a marathon chore of choices. Literally. With seven different terminals, you could run 26.2 miles from end-to-end but why would you? Sit down at Umami Burger or Petrossian Caviar & Champagne Bar in the Great Hall Food Court, which are both dynamic, delicious choices.
However, the new Virgin Lounge at LAX Terminal Two should not be missed. Partnering with local LA favorite Hinoki and the Bird, the Virgin Lounge offers the restaurant’s mind-melting chili crab toast as well as miso donuts. It is worth paying the daily rate to use the Virgin Lounge just
to have an endless supply of both dishes, as well as all the other benefits of Virgin’s superb customer service experience. Don’t forget to order one of the fabulous cocktails and, of course, since it’s LA, one of the healthy drinks and smoothies while looking out over the Hollywood Hills.
Saltlick Restaurant at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)
Culturally aware barbecue aficionados will recognize the importance of the battle for dominance between Saltlick and Franklin Barbeque in Austin, TX. (The preference is based on how the meat is prepared but, really, it’s about which owner is“cooler,”i.e. more of a hipster.)
While many prefer the queue for Aaron Franklin’s meat-smoking manifesto Franklin’s in Southeast Austin, I personally prefer Saltlick’s seared and then slowroasted“Tex-ification”which involves seasoning the meats with a blend of chili, cumin and cayenne. For those who can’t make it to Driftwood, TX, pop into Saltlick at AUS. Open from 5:00 AM to 8:00 PM daily, this is certainly one of my favorite airport eats. If you miss it, you can always order online at saltlickbbq.com/pages/ Online-Ordering-Info.
Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
While Fast Food Nation may encourage me to feel guilt when eating at one of the 1,900-strong Chick-fil-A fast food restaurants, I feel no guilt or shame or conviction when I chase after a Chick-fil-A at ATL – just sheer pleasure as I sink into a spicy chicken sandwich with a side of the famous waffle fries. With numerous locations spread throughout all the terminals, finding one is as easy as looking for sand at the beach.
If fast food fried chicken, even one as numbingly delicious as Chick-fil-A, isn’t your thing, then go to Concourse A and the Main Terminal Atrium for a taste of Atlanta institution Paschal’s Restaurant. They serve large portions of southern classics like fried catfish, country-fried steak (yum!) and macaroni and cheese (double yum!). Paschal’s even markets a line of batter mixes for fried chicken so buy some for the next Paula Deen in your network. BT
Clockwise: Meal from Cousin’s (DFW), Cactus Garden (SIN), Airbräu Brauhaus (MUC), burger from Shake Shack (JFK)
Clockwise: (ATL), Hinoki and the Bird-Virgin Lounge (LAX), Ben’s Chili Bowl (DCA)