Travel Tactics: Airport Restaurants Worth a Layover

These five major U.S. hubs are taking preflight bites to new heights.

By Hannah Wallace | Illustration by Traci Daberko

Gone are the days of dreading what to eat before catching your flight. Most domestic terminals are upping the ante with top-tier establishments that reflect the food culture of the cities they’re in and showcase local farms and celebrity chefs. This makes your decision tougher than it’s ever been: Will it be a Shake Shack cheeseburger or a salmon soba salad? Read on for our picks of where to wait out that weather delay or reward yourself for surviving a long security line.

Portland International

Oregon

Keep an eye out for the three rotating food carts in the food court near Elephant’s Delicatessen (meal for one, $8*), which, incidentally, is a great spot to pick up a kale salad or caprese sandwich. Between Concourses D and E, you’ll find Country Cat (meal for one, $25), Adam and Jackie Sappington’s Southern farm-to-table restaurant, where you can feast on skillet-fried chicken with bacon collard greens or seasonal quiche. In Concourse C, consider trying the delicious pho at the family-run Vietnamese joint Bambuza (meal for one, $10), or head to the outpost of the popular Portland deli Kenny & Zuke’s (meal for one, $10), which serves a mean Reuben (made with home-smoked pastrami) and bagels with cream cheese and lox.

San Francisco International

California

San Francisco’s vibrant food scene is undeniably present in its cosmopolitan airport. Terminal 2 offers a trifecta of standout restaurants: Napa Farms Market (meal for one, $12) is an upscale food hall complete with a cheese counter, a mini Acme Bread Company and made-to-order salads and sandwiches. Meanwhile, Cat Cora’s Kitchen (meal for one, $15) prepares salads, such as the grilled-avocado Cobb, and addictive sweet-potato fries, and Lark Creek Grill (meal for one, $15) has earned a loyal following, thanks to hearty fare such as steelhead sliders with spicy tomato relish, blackened-fish tacos and a grass-fed chuck burger. For something lighter, the green smoothies and organic frozen yogurt at Fraîche (Terminal 3) can’t be beat.

Denver International

Colorado

Denver, like Portland, embraced the farm-to-table ethos long before the rest of the country, and that’s evident at Denver International. The menu at Root Down (meal for one, $20), in Concourse C, is mostly vegetarian, with a focus on organic ingredients from local farms. Try the farro salad with arugula, pistachios, white beans and pecorino, or the salmon bento box with multigrain coconut rice and roasted-edamame salad. The menu at Elway’s (meal for one, $20), near the B gates, is more meat-focused; the lollipop lamb chops alone are worth the stop.

John F. Kennedy International

New York

Terminal 4 is a haven for traveling foodies. In addition to two outposts of acclaimed restaurateur Danny Meyer’s eternally popular burger joint Shake Shack (meal for one, $10), there’s Blue Smoke on the Road (meal for one, $20), his paean to fried Southern cuisine. If you have even more time to spend, consider Uptown Brasserie (meal for one, $20), chef Marcus Samuelsson’s sleek sit-down restaurant (the Delta catfish sandwich is top-notch). And at the JetBlue terminal, you can splurge on ultrafresh sushi at Deep Blue Sushi (meal for one, $25) or enjoy a glass of rioja at Piquillo (drink for one, $10), a Spanish tapas bar.

Boston Logan

Massachusetts

Some travelers purposefully fly airlines that use Terminal B. At Berkshire Farms Market, you can grab a to-go charcuterie-and-cheese platter or a sandwich made on naturally leavened Iggy’s bread. For a sit-down meal, Stephanie’s (meal for one, $20)—an outpost of Beantown standby Stephanie’s on Newbury—makes a tasty turkey club. Legal Sea Foods (meal for one, $20) has outlets in Terminals A, B and C, and anything on its menu, including crab cakes, can be ordered to go. But the Legal Test Kitchen (meal for one, $15) in Terminal A is the only one with a grab-and-go section of crab and lobster wraps. With food this tasty, you might forget, momentarily, that you’re in an airport.

  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Winter 2016