Travel

The Best Restaurant in America's 40 Biggest Airports

Airport food, like jetlag and popped ears, is an inevitable part of air travel. Nobody wants to eat in an airport. The very idea of airport food conjures bleak images of shelling out $25 for a wilted, plastic-wrapped sandwich and a 20-oz bottle of water. But sometimes you have to eat at the airport, whether during a layover, while waiting out a delay, or because you totally forgot to eat in the mad dash to get to the terminal. 

But we've come a long way since the days when hacky comedians hung entire routines on bad airport food. Airports have upped their food game. Some have opened all out food halls, bringing beloved local restaurants to rep their cities. Some offer a taste of legendary regional chains you can't find anywhere else. Hell, you can even get good airport sushi now -- great even. Just follow this guide to the best restaurants in the 40 biggest airports in America and you'll never again want to settle for one of those weird sandwiches in the triangular plastic. 
MORE: These airlines offer in-flight meals you'll actually want to eat

Arlington: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

Kapnos Taverna
Terminal C, Gates 35-45
Top Chef alum Mike Isabella opened this sister restaurant to his wildly popular College Park Greek spot back in 2015. It doubles as a fantastic place to chow down on fire-grilled kebab, souvlaki, and pork shoulder, and as a welcome respite from the perpetually-packed eating tables in the rest of the terminal. Sip on a glass of Greek wine and you’ll almost forget about that dillhole who muscled you out of the last seat at Dunkin' Donuts.

Atlanta: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International

One Flew South
Terminal E
For an airport that is specifically courts as many layovers as possible, Hartfield-Jackson made a good move by seriously upping its food game in recent years. And while it's a hard call to name a single best in an airport where you can grab a hot dog from American icon The Varsity, legendary ATL southern food spot Paschal's, or chicken and beer courtesy of Atlanta laureate Ludacris at, um, Chicken + Beer, it'd be disingenuous to name anything but upscale One Flew South the airport's best. Specializing in sushi and amped-up regional cuisine (jerk cornish hen, coffee-rubbed lamb ribs) served amid marble ambiance, it actually garnered a James Beard nomination, which would be a big deal even if it wasn't in a goddamn airport. As such, this is probably the finest airport restaurant in the US, period. And maybe the best airport bar, too bar… get the sazerac.
MORE: Here's how to turn an ATL layover into a momentous food crawl

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

The Salt Lick BBQ
Gate 20
In the unlikely event that you arrived at the Austin airport and were suddenly like "oh, shit, I didn't eat any BBQ while I was here" -- or the more-likely event that you just needed one last bite of bark for the road -- Salt Lick is here to help. The joint's been famous for its tender brisket since its first location opened in 1967, so you're in good hands here. As a bonus, they open at 5am, so you can nab an iconic breakfast taco predawn. Will it be as good as the original location in Driftwood? No. You're in an airport. Does it make a strong argument for airport BBQ's legitimacy? Yes, yes it does.
MORE:The best (non-airport) BBQ joints in Austin

Baltimore-Washington International

Obrycki's Restaurant & Bar
Concourse B2
If you think you’re going to come to a Baltimore airport and not eat crabs, you are silly (and/or allergic to seafood?). Get a Crabby Mary, the famous spicy deviled crab cakes, and the Crisfield roasted oysters with crab and breadcrumbs on top. About those crabcakes: They've been a mainstay of Baltimore since 1944, so make sure you score some, whether at brunch in benedict form or by purchasing a six pack of frozen cakes to take on the plane with you. Unless you're flying international. If those things melt mid-flight, you're officially a villain. 
MORE:Don’t sleep on the other great restaurants in Baltimore

Boston: Logan International

Legal Test Kitchen
Gate A3
For a while, Legal Sea Foods was among Massachusetts' best seafood joints. Then it morphed into one of the best chains in New England. Maybe you're here for the lobster roll. Maybe you're brave enough to house a fisherman's platter with shrimp, scrod, calamari, scallops, and clams before hitting a long flight -- in which case, good luck when the turbulence hit. Regardless, you can't skip the clam chowder, a creamy little masterpiece that's been a feature of every single presidential inauguration since Reagan, though we're pretty certain that the current POTUS probably passed on it, given what we know of his dietary preferences. 
MORE: Where to eat in Boston

Charlotte Douglas International

1897 Market
Atrium between Concourse A and B
If you’re thinking “I should probably eat something before hopping on this nine-hour connecting flight to Paris” but feel utterly indecisive as to what, just get yourself to 1897. This spot in the atrium has CLT’s most varied food choices, from a raw bar to a carvery, to a woodstone pizza oven. If you’re thinking “I should probably have at LEAST four drinks so I sleep right through this nine hour connecting flight to Paris,” this is likewise your go-to. It's got a full bar featuring small-batch bourbons.

Chicago: Midway

Café L'Appetito
Triangle Food Court
There are many advantages to flying into or out of Midway. Shorter train ride. Fewer crowds. It’s not O’Hare! Sadly, food is not one of them. Your best option is this classic Italian deli where Parma sandwiches, meatball subs, and sesame-crusted hoagie rolls filled with all varieties of Italian pork are the move.

Chicago: O'Hare International Airport

Publican Tavern
Terminal 3, Gate K1
If it weren't such a stupid idea, we might recommend touching down in Chicago just for one of America's best sandwiches at Publican Quality Meats. Luckily, if you're in O'Hare, the Publican Tavern's waiting to help you get a taste of the hand-crafted meats you've been missing, from stellar turkey sandwiches to pork chops, spicy pork rinds, and brats, because you're in Chicago. As with the real-world Publican locations, things rotate seasonally here, so expect something new every time you're trapped in O'Hare. There's a grab-and-go counter with daily sandwich creations if you're in a rush, but try not to be: This is a tavern, after all, and one where you can get (slightly overpriced) pints from a rotating selection of some of Chicago's best beers. 
MORE: The best places to eat everywhere else in Chicago

Dallas Love Field

Cru
Terminal 1
We're not aware of any hardcore sommelier-level training being required to work at an airport wine bar, but an hour or so at Cru really had us wondering, or maybe that's just how Southwest Airlines likes to roll. The staff at this small Dallas-based chain of wine bars know more about the 30 glasses of wine on the menu than some so-called experts, and they’ll happily explain what to pair with the grilled cheese tomato basil or tuna tartare.

Dallas-Fort Worth International

White Tail Bistro
Terminal D, Gate 22
The D Terminal at DFW has a better food scene than like 97% of the cities in Texas. Not one to be left out, Dallas’ Crown Prince of Restaurants Kent Rathbun opened this French-inspired spot with a Texas twist, which might boast the most creative menu you’ll find in a US airport. Your inevitable six-hour holiday delay at DFW is much more enjoyable when paired with sweet pepper-lacquered crispy duck or bobwhite quail on a johnnycake with sausage gravy. I mean, it definitely beats Friday’s.
MORE:Check out the rest of Dallas’ food scene too

Denver International Airport

Root Down
Concourse C
In addition to its excellent Beastie Boys/Jimmy Smith name drop, Root Down is the airport ideal of Colorado's farm-fresh restaurant philosophy of offering a little bit of everything, from ramen to pozole, burgers to broccoli salad. There are pork buns, duck wings, lamb sliders, Colorado beers, and curry-spiked vegan options for days. But the coup de gras might be the Traveler's Bento Box, which for around $25 (remember, you're at the airport) gets you a protein -- country-fried tofu, flatiron steak, salmon, or chicken breast -- rice, salad, and a fortune cookie. 
MORE:Wait, is the Denver Airport run by the Illuminati?

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport

Bigalora Wood Fired Cucina
McNamara Terminal, Central Link
We're not saying you should skip grabbing a Detroit-style coney dog at the airport outpost of beloved local chain National. Do that. Bring it on the plane and make a mess and have fun explaining to a fellow passenger the nuances of the cumin-spiced chili you're dripping everywhere. But before you do that, hit up Bigalora Wood-Fired Cucina. The pizzas from this local chain are not of the Detroit-style variety, but they're still bangers, going the wood-fired route for cheffy, Neapolitan-style, fermented-dough pies loaded with fresh ingredients both expected (pepperoni, Italian ham) to "wait, this is in Detroit" options like a Frutti de Mare piled with shrimp, clams, and calamari. There are pasta dishes, steak frites, and full branzino too, but stick with that pizza… gotta save room for that in-flight coney anyway. 
MORE: Where to eat in Detroit

Fort Lauderdale: Hollywood International Airport

Shula Burger
Gate C4
Big ups to the Corona Bar in the baggage claim, but unfortunately the dining options here don’t extend much past vending machine M&Ms. For actual food to soak up the residual liquor from your cruise, hit this spot from former Dolphins head coach-cum-restauranteur Don Shula. The burgers are a char-grilled delicacy made from brisket, chuck, and short rib, and could stand up as Broward’s best burgers even if it were up against stiffer competition than Chili’s.

Honolulu: Daniel K. Inouye International Airport

Lahaina Chicken Company
Central Concourse, by Gates 14-23
We admit that we also think it’s weird to name a buffet-style place -- complete with ribeye carving station -- as the best place to eat in an airport, but we promise Lahaina has amazing roasted chicken. We can’t vouch for the pizza and stromboli, but we're willing to give it a chance in an airport whose other options are limited to Gordon Biersch and Burger King.

Houston: George Bush Intercontinental

Hugo's Cocina
Gate D6
It’s not every layover you get to sample eats from a James Beard Award winner for Best Chef -- Southwest. So there’s absolutely no reason, other than an irrational hatred of cilantro, to eat anywhere other than Hugo Ortega’s airport outpost. A trip to one of his restaurants is a must on any visit to H-town, even if that visit doesn’t include leaving the terminal. 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 been to the city proper. Just maybe make sure you have an aisle seat.
MORE: Definitely get out and eat when you’re in Houston

Houston: William P. Hobby Airport

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen
Central Concourse
If you don’t like food from the Pappas family, you’re kind of out of luck in this airport. They control most of the big-name restaurants across Hobby, but luckily, their seafood kitchen is delicious. Start with oysters and work your way into the gumbo.

Kansas City International Airport

Pork & Pickle
Terminal B
We're not here to bemoan the fact that the hub of KC BBQ and its exquisite burnt ends is completely free of said delicacy. We're here to tell you that the fine folks at Pork & Barrel have a perfectly decent spread of BBQ options -- especially for an airport -- with smoked meats that include shredded chicken, a nicely smoky paprika turkey breast, wings, and ABSOLUTELY NO BURNT ENDS. Sorry. It just… doesn't make sense. 
MORE: Where to eat BBQ in Kansas City

Las Vegas: McCarran International

Metro Pizza
Between Gates D34 and D36
Your Sunday flight out of Vegas will expose you to the most miserable swath of humanity you’ll find outside the presence of correctional officers. This is why McCarran has never put a lot of effort into its food options, since the average person leaving the city has a stomach full of vodka and a wallet full of nothing. The best thing to accommodate both is Metro Pizza, a must-visit pizza place whenever you’re in Vegas. But if your antics caused you to forget about stuff like “eating,” the airport is the perfect place to try it.
MORE: Where to eat in Vegas

Los Angeles International Airport

Trejo's Tacos
11A
We would make a case for Cassell's, the iconic LA burger joint that has set up shop in a new-ish food court in LAX, but YOU try ordering up a fried egg-topped burger when you have the smirking visage of Machete watching. Actor Danny Trejo's taco concept has been surprisingly successful across LA County on the strength of spicy shrimp and juicy asada, in addition to two vegan options -- jackfruit and cauliflower -- that seem like the kind of order that would get you pummeled by most Trejo characters, actually. There are options for bowls, burritos, tacos, you name it. And considering Trejo's face is the place's logo and preferred decour, you'll never feel alone when grabbing a pre-flight meal. 
MORE: Here's the best restaurant in every single LAX terminal

Miami International Airport

Icebox Café/Fig & Fennel
Gate D28
Though it can be tempting to go Cuban in Miami, remember a good amount of Cuban food's deliciousness comes from delicious, delicious lard, which might not sit so well on an eight-hour flight to Argentina. Instead opt for this healthy local favorite that serves up fresh sandwiches, smoothies, and the best chocolate chip cookies in the city. Its grab-and-go offshoot, Fig & Fennel, has stuff like pita bread with sun-dried tomato pesto spreads and turkey meatball pitas. Both will leave you satisfied without the heaping side of regret.
MORE:Where to eat in Miami

Minneapolis-Saint Paul International

Mill City Tavern
Terminal 1, Concourse G, near Gate 17
We’re in love with this place both as a bar (gotta get the Aviation here) and also as a delicious restaurant you’d want to eat in outside of an airport. Also, name another airport where you can have mushroom fondue. NAME ONE! Sure, if you want to get something fancy like a Buffalo-sauced pork chop or a crunchy piece of local walleye it's gonna cost you around $30 or more. You're at the airport -- land of the price gouge. Have another Aviation and treat yourself to that $30 meatloaf. Maybe throw in some fondue. You earned it. 
MORE:Our best restaurant recommendations for the Twin Cities

Nashville International Airport

Swett's
Concourse C
Go to Swett’s. Get the squash casserole and the fried okra and the mac & cheese and the fried chicken. Digest for at least 20 minutes. Order a slice of pie. Leave Nashville happy that you’ve sampled one of the most iconic restaurants in the Southern meat-and-three game, period. 
MORE: The best places to eat in Nashville right now

Newark Liberty International

Belgian Beer Cafe
Gate B2
You're stuck in Newark, so you might as well get something from Dunkin'. Then you're… still in Newark, so you might as well grab a beer or three at Belgian Beer Cafe, which has some choice beer-geek imports like Leffe to pair up with beef stew and sausage. Then you might as well have another beer, because Belgian beer is delicious and you're… still in Newark. Only now you've missed your flight, because Belgian beer is strong. Might as well go get something from Dunkin'....
MORE:Spend your time in Newark learning all about Belgian beer

New Orleans: Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport

Leah's Kitchen
Concourse C
MSY got a huge overhaul this year, and with it came a big boost in its food, courtesy of Mondo, Bar Sazerac, and Emeril "BAM!!!" Legasse. But only one place can make you cry into your gumbo. Where once there was an outpost for legendary soul food kitchen Dooky Chase's, now we have Leah's, a stellar addition to the airport erected in homage to Leah Chase, the late and legendary chef who (wo)manned the kitchen at Dookie and who passed away earlier this year. Expect game-changing fried chicken and exceptional shrimp. And expect to tear up at the giant mural of The Queen of Creole therein. 
MORE: Here’s your big guide to visiting the Big Easy

New York: John F. Kennedy International

Deep Blue Sushi
Terminal 5, post-marketplace
Airport sushi sounds about as appealing as, well, flying out of JFK. But Deep Blue is perhaps the most shockingly good dining experience you’ll ever have at an airport outside of Atlanta. Ignore, for a moment, that you’re in the busiest international hub in North America, or that the place looks like an '80s version of the future. An airline ticket is all you need to get a table (or a to-go bag from Deep Blue On the Fly), and enjoy the extensive sushi menu, pad Thai, jazzed up lobster rolls, or teriyaki filet mignon.
MORE: Where to eat at every JFK terminal

New York: LaGuardia

Osteria Fusco
Terminal B
We tend to say LaGuardia gets a bum rap in general, but to be honest its food options aren't doing it any favors. But hey, there's a Shake Shack. And also Fusco, a restaurant run by longtime Chopped judge Scott Conant that gives you a chance to criticize his cooking for once. Except you won't. Because the chances that he's there are 0%. And actually, apparently Scott's nonna inspired a pretty great ragu. 
MORE:All our best restaurant recommendations in NYC

Oakland International Airport

Andale
Gate 28
Yes, it’s a chain, but it’s a very good one. And no, you’re not doing any better in this airport, so enjoy your chile verde burrito and be grateful.

Orlando International Airport

Cask & Larder
Terminal 2
If airports are good indicators of their cities, the arrival of this local food scene pioneer in Terminal 2 should convince everyone O-Town is about a lot more than chain restaurants. The farm-to-table favorite relocated from charming Winter Park to MCO in 2016, bringing with it comfort foods like burnt ends meatloaf, a southern Cuban sandwich with collard greens, and country ham sliders. All of which cost about as much as a hamburger combo in any of the theme parks.

Philadelphia International Airport

Tony Lukes
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. And it'd be even worse if we didn't tell you that they also make one of the best roast pork sandwiches. And lest you doubt us, the airport also has a Geno's, in case you want to do some comparisons/ensure you're going to fall asleep before your flight's in the air. 
MORE:Go beyond the cheesesteaks with this full-blown guide to Philadelphia International Airport

Phoenix Sky Harbor

Blanco Tacos + Tequila
Terminal 4
Burritos might be the perfect layover food: filling, small, and edible in enough time you won’t bother the person sitting next to you. The best airport burrito in the country is at the small window attached to one of the valley’s best Mexican eateries. If you’ve got more than a few minutes, the fajitas are among the best you’ll have, period, airport or not. And if you’re the type who likes to catch a buzz before catching a flight, the margarita menu is better than most Mexican restaurants’.
MORE:Where to eat in Phoenix

Portland International Airport

The Country Cat
North Lobby
The Country Cat is dead: Long live the Country Cat. This year, hipster hearts across Portland broke when Adam and Jackie Sappington's butcher-driven, Beard-nominated, Fieri-approved southern-fried mainstay closed shop in Portland's' rapidly gentrifying Montavilla neighborhood. But there's still a place where you can get the Sappington's iconic pimento-style Judy cheese: stuffed in an olive floating in a martini at PDX. The surviving Cat has a pared down menu of greatest hits, among them impossibly good cast-iron fried chicken and a cinnamon-swirl challah French toast for brunch, plus grab-and-go sandwiches. They're not as good without a cheese-spiked martini, though. 
MORE: Our top picks for where to eat in Portland

Raleigh-Durham International

42nd Street Oyster Bar
Terminal 2
There are few places where we’d recommend ordering crab cakes, oysters Rockefeller, or shrimp cocktail at an airport, but, at 42nd Street Oyster Bar, you should really just get all three.

St. Louis: Lambert-St. Louis International

Schlafly Tap Room
Gate C1
As in Kansas City, there are some local culinary icons missing from the roster of St. Louis's airport. But until we get St. Louis-style pizza in the form of a satellite Imo's, at least there'll be Shlafly. The city's second most iconic brewery has a gastropub in the terminal, where you can score pints of the iconic pale ale and seasonal beers while housing burgers and toasted ravioli, another St. Louis food icon that's basically like a ravioli and a mozz stick had a baby. We'll take that over Provel pizza anyway
MORE:What to do while you’re in St. Louis

Salt Lake City International

High West Distillery
Terminal 2, Concourse E
Not long ago, the prospect of getting a sip of whiskey in SLC seemed dubious. Now, you can get a taste of one of America's most revered whiskeys -- made right in Utah, natch -- right at the airport. High West's gastropub outpost does some killer things with cocktails, but your best bet flight of the distillery's world-class whiskeys, ranging from the spicy Rendezvous Rye to the smoky Campfire and silver options like Silver Oat and OMG, a spirit that proves that playful blasphemy AND booze are now tolerated here. Oh, and food. Grab a bison & black angus-blended burger or a platter of Whiskey Hummus "Nachos" loaded with pulled pork and smoked cheddar. Then chase it with a shot of chocolate whiskey pudding -- not just because you can, but because you should.

San Diego International Airport

Stone Brewing
Terminal 2
Along with being one of the most influential breweries on the planet, San Diego's Stone is known for striking a fantastic balance between great beer and fantastic food. Here, a rotating selection of 10 Stone brews flows, while the kitchen pops out some greatest hits from Escondido's World Bistro and Gardens and a few of its own tricks. You're in San Diego, so you want tacos. Grab the airport-exclusive red snapper tacos, or take a chance on the BBQ duck confit version. Just make sure to get the hemp-seed pretzels, a snack as iconic as the IPA used to make its accompanying stone-ground mustard. 
MORE: All our picks on where to eat in the San Diego Airport

San Francisco International

Farmerbrown
Gate 42
Look, we're not going to dissuade you from going to the fancy new Manufactory Food Hall and indulging in pastries from iconic bakery Tartine, or Mexican and Thai food from world-renowned chefs. Do that. You'll be happy. More importantly, you won't be taking up a table at Farmerbrown. Once a beloved soul food joint in SF's Tenderloin, the place closed a while back, leaving a chicken-and-waffles-shaped hole in many a San Franciscan's heart. The surviving airport restaurant still has those immaculately fried pieces of crispy fowl, spicy jambalaya, and other favorites, along with a full cocktail menu and a selection of local beer (pray for Pliny!). Follow it all up with… well, probably some Tartine pastries. Honestly, they're famous for a reason, and this was a very hard choice.
MORE: The best restaurants in San Francisco right now

Santa Ana, California: John Wayne Airport

Javi's
Terminal B/C, Gates 13 and 14
Rumor has it the Duke existed on a steady diet of red meat and horrifying racial politics. But at the airport that bears his name, folks are advised to exist on a diet from Javi's. It's a tequila-filled oasis in a relative airport-restaurant desert, one where influences from across Mexico converge. Think tamarindo margaritas paired up with seafood enchiladas and killer Micohacan tacos. It's a surprisingly rich menu in a relatively food-starved airport.

Seattle-Tacoma International

Beecher's Handmade Cheese
Terminal C, near C1
Don’t dismiss this local legend as merely a cheese shop: it's got ridiculously good (“World’s Best”!!!) mac & cheese, grilled sandwiches, and everything else you need. Also, if I may say -- considering how delicious Seattle’s food actually is, the fact that this airport isn’t more of a culinary destination is somewhat ridiculous.
MORE: Where to eat in Seattle

Tampa International Airport

Cigar City Brewing
Airside C
Florida's most storied brewery slings its outstanding Jai Alai and other favorites alongside Miami favorites like Cubanos, and charcuterie boards at its airport location. The food's great, but this would be a draw for beer nerds regardless, thanks to the presence of the airport-exclusive Tony Jannus Pale Ale -- named for the pilot who flew Tampa's first commercial flight back in 1914, presumably not after drinking in the airport bar -- and the fact that this is one of the only breweries that actually brews beer in the airport. It still tastes the same, but it's pretty damn cool nonetheless. 
MORE: What to do while you’re in Tampa

Washington Dulles International

Bar Symon
Terminal D, near Gate 16
Cleveland-based Iron Chef and James Beard winner Michael Symon’s comfort-food pub has power outlets at every table and a very solid list of craft beers, cocktails, and mighty fine burgers (get the Fat Doug and you won’t need to eat again for 11-14 hours). Is it a chain? Yes. Will you care once you've bitten into one of chef Symon's age cheddar/potato-stuffed pierogi, a sandwich stacked with house pastrami, or crab-meat guac? Unlikely. 
MORE: The best places to eat in DC

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Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer to Thrillist. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.
Andy Kryza is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Editor.