A Traveler’s Guide to Authentic Restaurants at America's Airports
To frequent flyers, airports can often seem monotonous. You check in, get through security, grab a quick coffee, and park yourself at the gate until your flight is called. Layovers can seem even more tedious, wandering the airport to get to your connecting gate, surrounded by a wasteland of fast food options and Hudson News kiosks.
Recently, however, airports have put more emphasis on elevated experiences. Travelers can book a massage, have a manicure, grab a shoeshine, and yes, sit down to an excellent meal. The influx of fine dining in airports has opened doors to local cuisine that travelers might not otherwise get to experience, especially those who are just passing through on a layover.
You no longer have to leave the airport to sample the best of what a city has to offer. Here are just a few of our favorite options at some of the biggest airport hubs in the United States, plus some hidden gems at surprising smaller destinations.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)
What is a brief trip through Texas without barbecue? The Salt Lick is one of the most famous and popular barbecue spots in Austin, but if you can’t make it to their HQ location, you can sample everything this delicious restaurant has to offer without straying too far from your gate.
Texas-style bbq means a platter of meat and sides served with a slice or two of Wonder bread is standard. You can choose from classic options, like smoked brisket or turkey, pulled pork, or barbecued pork ribs. Add in some potato salad and baked beans, and you’ll head to your flight with a full belly ready for the best plane nap you’ve ever had.
If you have an early morning flight, don’t miss the breakfast tacos at Tacodeli. Texas is known for its TexMex and there’s no better place in AUS than Tacodeli to get your fill of it. With selections like a sirloin, egg, and cheese taco or the migas royale plate, you can sample some of the best of Austin TexMex before the sun rises, taking the sting out of a 5am check-in. Tacodeli is also open for lunch and dinner.
Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
Whitetail Bistro at DFW offers traditional French fare with a Texas twist. The menu showcases gourmet meals made with local ingredients. It’s a bit of bonjour with a heaping helping of howdy mixed in.
If you’re passing through DFW for breakfast, consider the griddled country ham and egg panini served with aged gouda and a deviled egg aioli. If you find yourself at DFW for lunch, you might choose the provençal turkey club. And for dinner, make the most of your brief time in Texas and try the grilled grass-fed flat iron steak with rosemary butter.
Denver International Airport (DEN)
Elways has been a Denver staple for years, and traveling through DEN means you can try it for yourself. Elways offers a wide range of USDA hand-cut prime steaks, a raw bar, shellfish, and seafood. Open daily, you can stop here for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.
Try the steak salad, the smashburger, or a USDA prime filet with all the trimmings. And don’t forget to save room for their twist on the classic Ding Dong for dessert.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
Touting itself as, “The first upscale dining experience at the world’s busiest airport,” One Flew South boasts “Southernational” cuisine. For a taste of the South for lunch, try the Dirty South, an open-faced meatloaf sandwich with pimento cheese and a fried egg.
One Flew South has an ample sushi menu, featuring 16 different rolls, nigiri, sashimi, hand rolls, and more. They also offer a full cocktail menu and an extensive international wine list. Don’t panic if you don’t have a long layover at ATL; One Flew South offers rushed travelers a convenient grab-and-go menu.
O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
The Berghoff is one of Chicago’s most famous restaurants. Thanks to the Berghoff Cafe, travelers can now get a taste of tradition without ever leaving the terminal. Offering a mix of German and American cuisine, this restaurant is your number one spot for hand-carved sandwiches on fresh, locally-baked bread.
You can’t miss ordering a Reuben or a pretzel with beer cheese. Plus, try the famed Berghoff Root Beer or any of the house-brewed beer options from Adams Street Brewery.
From famed celebrity chef Rick Bayless, Tortas Frontera is a must-try at ORD. The Chicago Tribune raved about this hidden gem, saying, “Finally, a reason to get delayed at ORD!”
A torta is a Mexican griddle-baked sandwich. Try the smoked pork Cubana or the crispy chicken Milanese. Tortas Frontera also offers mobile ordering, so a short layover is no reason not to grab a gourmet meal on the way to your connecting flight.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
Blanco is a hidden gem of gourmet dining at PHX. Relax and unwind from your long day of travel with a stop in this delicious spot, known for its tasty Mexican food, made from fresh and local ingredients.
Try the carne asada fajitas or one of the many burrito options, including short rib machaca or caramelized sweet potato. Top off your feast with a jalapeño pineapple margarita to add some refreshing spice to your day.
Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
Seattle is a rainy city full of foodies seeking warm bowls of comfort to escape the gray, cloudy days. Thanks to an airport full of local delicacies, you can taste your way through the city right in the airport.
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese is one of Seattle’s most notable stops in Pike Place Market. Try the famous Beecher’s “world’s best” mac and cheese and don’t miss the flagship grilled cheese options, especially the tomato basil version. And, with mobile ordering available, you can place your order while in line for the restroom and grab it on the way to your next gate.
Cafe Flora is one of Seattle’s most popular vegetarian/vegan hotspots. For travelers who crave fresh, local, wholesome ingredients, don’t miss Floret. The restaurant boasts gallery windows that surround diners with natural light and views of the busy tarmac. The menu changes seasonally, so check before you fly, but you can’t go wrong with items like the portobello mushroom French dip or forager scramble packed full of in-season veggies.
With so many airports moving toward elevated food options, travelers have more opportunity than ever before to sample the best of what hub cities have to offer. Next time you fly the friendly skies, be sure to plan your menu accordingly.
Learn more about Etta, the corporate travel management software that’s designed for travelers, at Deem’s upcoming virtual event, Miles Ahead.