At some airports, you can bypass the fast-food feeding frenzy and enjoy a real meal at one of these 14 worthy eateries.
Which is the drearier prospect when you have multiple flights in one day? The meal service you get—or, increasingly, don’t get—aloft, or the hustle and crush of the airport food court during your layover? For most itineraries, those are your only two options, unless you bring your own food to eat. But now some airports have sit-down restaurants where you can spend a calm hour out of the concourse crush, and actually get a decent meal.
You may need to go to a different terminal building, but let the exercise sharpen your hunger and compensate for the hours of sitting. Some of these restaurants are branches of local places, or franchise operations of superstar chefs. None of them is the best eatery in whatever locale you’re biding time. But you aren’t looking for a transporting culinary experience. You’re looking for culinary relief from the experience of being transported.
One Flew South. It’s all about Southern regionalism here in Atlanta—surfaces of polished Georgia granite, a sweeping photomural of a pine forest and menu choices like smoked Georgia trout croquettes with a pecan-brittle studded salad, or roasted pork belly with black-eyed pea and arugula salad, parsnip purée and onion marmalade. There’s a sushi menu, too. The intimate space in Concourse E gives a glimpse of the passing throng, while shielding you from it. Tel. 404-816-3464, www.oneflewsouthatl.com.
Bonfire. Celebrity chef Todd English has expanded his empire in Boston with this South American-accented steak house in Terminal B, which has a window-wall overlooking the activity on the tarmac. Menu items include aged prime sirloin with sweet and sour mushroom sauce and creamy spinach; nachos with lump crabmeat, queso blanco and black beans; and fish tacos with lemon, caper aioli and jalapeño slaw. (There’s a Bonfire outpost at New York’s La Guardia Airport, too.) www.massport.com
Encounter. Think futurism circa 1961, when jet travel promised such glamour: A building like a flying saucer suspended from parabolic stilts above the Los Angeles airport with a 360-degree view, and an interior accented with boomerang shapes and lava lamps. While Encounter’s retro-modern look alone provides a respite from 21st-century airport reality, the menu is contemporary Californian—ahi tuna tartare with seaweed salad, wild mushroom ravioli with goat cheese, roast chicken with pesto-stuffed gnocchi. Tel. 310-215-5151, www.encounterlax.com.
AeroNuova. Forget the bustle on the tarmac, let alone the bustle in New York City when you enter the black, white and red environment at this Terminal 5 trattoria. Instead of windows there are big TVs screening vintage Italian movies. The extensive menu, conceived by Mario Batali protégé and chef of Manhattan’s famed Del Posto, Mark Ladner, includes such choices as rapini with green garlic and chili oil, mushroom and pepper salad with fried rosemary, and beef ravioli with gorgonzola fondue and parsley purée. JetBlue Terminal 5.
Figs. Another Todd English establishment—this time a New York City branch of his popular Boston pizzeria—Figs has a rustic look, comfortable banquettes and a high-energy ambiance. The menu offers pleasers like white bean soup garnished with crispy prosciutto, three-mushroom papardelle in tomato-mascarpone sauce, and a range of flatbread pizzas including one with caramelized onions and mozzarella topped with arugula and tomato salad. It’s in Concourse D of the Central Terminal Building. Tel. 718-446-7600, www.figslga.com.
Gallagher’s Steak House. Like the original Gallagher’s in Manhattan, this classic American steak joint in the New York area’s third airport is all dark wood, red-checked tablecloths, and film and stage memorabilia—plus a mural of the New York skyline. You’ll find the usual chophouse offerings such as shrimp cocktail, porterhouse and ribeye steaks, and ample side dishes like huge baked potatoes, creamed spinach and sautéed onions. There’s a serious wine list, too. It’s in Terminal C, with big windows for that airport view. Tel. 212-956-4328, www.gallaghersnysteakhouse.com.
Yankee Pier. With offerings like clam chowder and lobster rolls—not to mention its very name—this restaurant in Terminal 3 is channeling the New England shore fish shack. But San Francsico’s West Coast ingredients are prominent, too, such as fried Washington state oysters and a Dungeness crab-cake sandwich. The menu isn’t limited to seafood—there’s grilled local free-range chicken, several vegetarian pastas—but that’s this kitchen’s expertise.
Dakota’s. Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport has a restaurant decorated like a 17th-century sailing ship, one replicating a landmark Amsterdam art-nouveau tavern, and another channeling the classic Dutch “brown cafe.” But the theme at Dakota’s, adjacent to the airport’s rooftop observation terrace, is classic aircraft. It’s named for the famous workhorse Douglas DC-3 “Dakota” and decorated with that airplane’s authentic cockpit instruments, propellers and a wing section. “Plane spotter” hobbyists stop in for light fare and fascinating airport views. Departures 1 Terminal.
Himmel und Erde. There’s a traditional German dish by this name, which means “heaven and earth,” consisting of sausage, apple-potato mash and onion. You’ll find a lighter, modernized German fare at this colorful, casual Frankfurt eatery. But it’s still down-to-earth—both literally, with its location on the underground Level 0 of Terminal 1, and in its orientation toward serving airport and airline employees as well as travelers. Terminal 1, Area C, Level 0. www.airportcity-frankfurt.com
Ah Yee Leng Tong. People who don’t read Cantonese may need to ask for help identifying this Chinese restaurant on Level 7 of Hong Kong’s Departures East Hall in Terminal 1. Dim sum and a range of other dishes are offered, but the house specialty is rustic, restorative soups made with special herbs and unusual ingredients like black chicken. The place is atmospherically furnished with rosewood tables and stools. Level 7, Departures East Hall, Terminal 1. www.hongkongairport.com
Joe’s Kitchen. The funky diner style and the Coke floats and fruit smoothies Joe’s serves might make you think were in the United States instead of London. But English standards like baked beans on toast will correct that—and international options such as Thai green curry chicken will remind you that you’re at a major global hub. This kid-friendly spot in the North Terminal is hardly fancy, but travel-stressed diners like its homey vibe. North Terminal. www.gatwickairport.com
Plane Food. With its creamy leather seating, glass-walled kitchen and sophisticated contemporary menu, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has brought his distinctive style to the new Terminal 5. The menu ranges from a pea, leek and goat cheese tart, to a roast beef and horseradish sandwich on sourdough served with foie gras and green beans, to seared Scottish salmon with lemon and fennel. Natural light and tarmac views flood in through a soaring wall of glass. Terminal 5. www.gordonramsay.com
Brasserie Flo. Even if your time in Paris is restricted to the airport, you can still experience a traditional Parisian meal at this branch of the well-known Flo restaurant group, located in Terminal 2F. In addition to the classic brasserie shellfish offerings, there are choices like a chevre tasting served with tomato confit and mushroom salad, and filet of dourade with eggplant mousse and Antibes-style tomato-olive sauce. Terminal 2F.
Tokyo Wabo Fuwari. Narita has been a famous rice-growing area for centuries, and locally grown rice figures prominently on the menu at this tranquil Tokyo spot on the 4th floor of Terminal 2. While there are other ways to go, the specialty here is donburi, various combinations of meats and vegetables simmered in a rich sauce served over rice in an oversized bowl of the same name. Terminal 2. www.narita-airport.jp
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