Where to Eat and Drink at Chicago’s O'Hare International Airport
From Restaurant Row offshoots to quick-serve staples, there’s no going hungry at ORD.
We’re deep in the throes of the holiday season, which means frantic Christmas shopping, politically charged dinner conversation with relatives, treating batter as a beverage, and the inescapable omnipresence of themed marshmallow treats. Oh yes, and the beloved pastime of holiday travel, a frenzied tradition that can feel less like a joyous adventure and more like aviation purgatory. Fortunately, for those of us braving the TSA queues and dodging blizzard-induced delays, many major airports in the US these days are fully stocked with plenty of food and drink to tide you over and soothe those travel woes.
In Chicago, the big boy in town is O’Hare International Airport, one of those hubs that has gotten a serious culinary glow up in recent years. Nowadays, thanks to the presence of celebrity chefs and A-list restaurants, it’s the kind of airport where you almost don’t mind an hours-long delay—as long as said hours are padded with mezcal margaritas and potted rillettes. So should your holiday travels find you sprinting through O’Hare, a la Home Alone, these are the spots worth a layover.
Closest gate: B10
After winning Chicagoans over with his take on traditional Mexican eats at several venues throughout the city, chef Rick Bayless brought those flavors to ORD with three locations, the first being Terminal 1’s Tortas Frontera. Travelers can taste their way through tortas, soups, salads, and, of course, the restaurant’s famous chips and guac. And like the merciful Top Chef-winner that he is, the Bayless spot offers margaritas and other boozy beverages to-go, which helps soften the blow of hearing the gate agent delay your flight.
Closest gate: C1
Gone are the days of needing to reach your final destination to dive into impressive plates of nigiri and sashimi—and that’s thanks to this sushi staple, which showcases a fleet of Asian-inspired favorites. Choose from more than 20 different kinds of maki, including a dozen specialty rolls with heightened add-ons (think beef tenderloin or chicken teriyaki). And then there’s the sake menu, an entire page of pairing options for dinner and dessert (aka Green Tea Tiramisu).
Closest gate: C17
You’ll feel instantly cosmopolitan upon entering this sleek wine bar, which also operates locations in Brussels, Paris, and Miami. Four different pour options (from a three-ounce taste to the whole bottle) make it easy to assemble a pre-flight “flight” that travels the globe with vintages from Spain, Italy, South Africa, and beyond. When hunger strikes, pair up those sips with any of the small plates, including a medley of specialty salads and sandwiches (think: roasted pepper hummus, charcuterie boards, and smoked salmon sandwiches).
Closest gate: C18
A Chicago institution, Billy Goat Tavern was first established right across from what is now the United Center all the way back in 1934. Although known for their famous “Cheezborger,” the tavern slings other all-day delights, too, like Steak and Eggs, Corned Beef Sandwiches, Polish Sausages, and more. Just remember—no Coke, Pepsi!
Closest gate: C26
This restaurant first opened doors in Chicago’s Loop in 1898 and has been frequented ever since for its authentic German fare and classic pub vibes. And when the team launched its ORD outpost 20-odd years ago, they modeled it after the original location in terms of both menu and décor (right down to the stained-glass Tiffany windows), featuring specialty salads, omelets, and hand-carved sandwiches served on bread baked fresh daily at the main restaurant. Don’t miss the beer (or root beer)—it arrives fresh off the spout from the team’s Adams Street Brewery.
Just like its perennially packed Lincoln Park location, this Lettuce Entertain You venture focuses on fresh California-style cooking, offering travelers a lighter, healthier alternative to standard on-the-go fare. Case in point? Bright and sunny options like egg white omelets, cauliflower hummus, and turkey and avocado sandwiches on nine-grain toast. It should also be noted that, just like its Lincoln Park outpost, Summer House ORD supplies some epic cookies, which make for a great meal alternative if you’re having one of those days.
Closest gate: H4
There’s plenty to celebrate at this festive wine bar, where all things sparkling take center stage—including the effervescent personality of the resident piano player. Choose from seven different fizzy flutes or sparkling cocktails (or from a handful of less-effervescent red or white options), then spring for any of the small plates, including the Smoked Salmon Tartine, Shrimp Cocktail, or Charcuterie Board. From there, sit back and relax to the sounds of the player piano—a feature bound to beckon even the weariest of travelers with its upbeat siren song.
Closest gate: K1
An offshoot of one of Chicago’s most celebrated New American outposts, this inviting outpost from One Off Hospitality serves fantastic grab-and-go snacks as well as sit down all-day fare with a robust selection of craft beer and wine. If you have the time, consider snagging a table and lining it with tasty items like Smoked Salmon, Spicy Pork Rinds, Fish Sandwiches, and Avocado Salad. This is probably also the only airport restaurant to offer Potted Rillettes and nonna-worthy Ribollita Soup. Despite its low-brow locale, this handsome addition manages to deliver without skimping on quality or service.
Closest gate: K2
The airport is a lawless place; if you want Fettuccine Alfredo for breakfast at 6 a.m., just know that you are seen and supported at Macaroni Grill. Pasta is the name of the game at this sit-down Italian chain, which maintains locations across 15 states nationwide. No matter how ungodly the hour of the day, opt for heavy-hitters like Stuffed Mushrooms, Chicken Parmesan, or Lasagna Bolognese, and Lobster-stuffed Ravioli drizzled with Chardonnay cream sauce.
Closest gate: L10A
Chicago is now home to a bevy of breweries, but Goose Island continues to soar as one of the biggest and brightest. Saddle up at the bar to quaff a few of local musts—312 Urban Wheat Ale or Green Line Pale Ale—and make sure to try the food, too, which spans sandwiches, salads, and wings.
Closest gate: L4
Get your old-school Chicago Dog on over at Gold Coast Dogs. Among their long list of offerings you’ll find favorites like Jumbo Dogs, Char Dogs, Chili Dogs, and Cheddar Chili Dogs. No matter what you order, make sure to leave the ketchup out of it—you may be at an airport, but this is still Chicago, pal.
Closest gate: M10
Nationally acclaimed restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You has been, yes, entertaining since 1971—and travelers can now get a taste of the Lincoln Park original that started it all. The best part? Between crowd-pleasers like Burgers, Chicago-style Dogs, and Chicken Strips, the menu is bound to have something for everyone in your in-flight entourage.
If you’re the type of responsible traveler who arrives hours early, and you have a hankering for a pre-TSA Tandoori Chicken Wrap, you’re in luck. This local mini-chain, beloved for its bevy of wholesome all-day eats and snacks, set up shop with this curated cafe offering breakfast, lunch, and pastries. You’ll find healthier options to choose from, like wraps, salads, and yogurt parfaits, along with less-healthy alternatives like BBQ Brisket Sandwiches, Thai Chicken Flatbreads, and Zucchini Bread.
Closest gate: M10
While the River North OG spot is beloved for its late-night eats, tunes, and bottle service, Hub 51’s airport spinoff reads a bit more morning-centric. Their breakfast menu, an array of Egg Sandwiches, omelets, and Breakfast Nachos, segue seamlessly into mid-day perks like Tacos and French Dips. Go for the Pulled Chicken Nachos—with its mound of guac, jalapeños, and two kinds of cheese, the Everest-sized portion is the menu’s bestseller.
Closest gate: M11
Frills-free Chinese food is a requisite airport comfort, but just in case you’re looking for a little more culinary credibility in your Kung Pao, Big Bowl has your back. A crowd-pleasing mainstay in River North’s most touristy nexus, the pan-Asian brand offers a pared-down selection of wholesome bites and bowls here, like Potstickers, Egg rolls, Orange Chicken, and Emperor’s Tofu.
Closest gate: M10
A visit to Chicago isn’t complete without a stop at Garrett, the popcorn emporium that’s been attracting out-the-door lines at any of its downtown locations for nearly 75 years. While the cheese or caramel flavors do just fine on their own, there’s no topping the Garrett Mix—a combination of the two mixed in perfect proportions by the popcorn masters themselves. There are additional Garrett Popcorn Shops in Terminals 1 and 3, so you’re never far from a finger-licking snack.