The reputation that airlines have with food quality is well-trodden comic fodder by now, and it’s almost become the gold standard to open your wallet and hold your nose while eating and waiting for your plane to depart.
Nevertheless, there are a handful of establishments in the airport world who’ve gone above and beyond the call of dietary duty; these institutions give us hope that before or after you land, there’s plenty of opportunity to satiate your tastebuds and temper. Here are our top spots to catch a bite in each market we serve.
AUS – The Salt Lick: Gate 10
The popular BBQ joint from Driftwood, TX has already established itself as the finest food option in Austin-Bergstrom with its quick and casual take on their sister restaurant’s fare. Salt Lick’s tender, smoky brisket is the culinary king of the hill at their airport location, but other menu items like biscuits & gravy or pulled chicken get the whole pre-flight crowd to gather round and dig in.
DFW – Papadeux: Terminal A
Perhaps the best case to be made for Papadeux’s ragin’ Cajun cuisine comes straight from its Yelp page, where one user describes the restaurant as “a ray of light that pierces through the inexorable hopelessness of DFW’s Terminal A (and perhaps the entire Dallas metro area).” If that’s not enough to get you saddled up with some of their dirty rice, we don’t know what is.
IAH – Le Grand Comptoir: Terminal C
French food might not be the first thing you think of when discussing the Houston cuisine scene, but George Bush Interncontinental has a little gem (lettuce pun intended) in Le Grand Comptoir. Their wine menu may be a bit confusing (watch out for the vaguely-labeled $7 shots of Champagne), but the inventiveness and quality of their menu items is a real standout within the hit-or-miss confines of Terminal C.
LAX – Lemonade: Terminal 5
Lemonade—like many eateries on this list—is an establishment that found success in its own brick and mortar location before heading over to the city’s local airport. The fare at its Terminal 5 location has one of the best reputations in the country for a reason: they serve fresh, healthy, and tasty food—from kale to kumquats—that’s worlds away from Panda Express or Mickey D’s.
PDX – Chelsea’s Kitchen: Terminal 4
Getting out of the Phoenix Sun can be a workout in and of itself, and one of the best places to refuel before a flight comes by way of Chelsea’s Kitchen in Sky Harbor’s Terminal 4. The sleek American bistro separates itself from the rest of PHX’s options with some elevated dishes like French dip sandwiches and tuna tartare; also make sure to check out their key lime pie for some mouthwatering dessert in the desert.
SAC – Iron Horse Tavern: Terminal A
Northern California’s dark horse airport has some serious contenders for your pre-flight meal, but Terminal A’s Iron Horse Tavern might distinguish itself as the cream of the crop. The restaurant’s understated—but tremendously satisfying—gastro-pub menu is accompanied by a wide variety of libations that can be caught from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day.
SAN – Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant: Terminal 1
The biggest complaint many have about Bankers Hill is how busy it can get, but that’s really more of a testament to their consistency and quality than lack of service. San Diego International’s bright spot in Terminal 1 has a wildly diverse selection of beers on tap and serves up well-rounded, intensely-flavored menu items (garlic-truffle fries, marinated steak street tacos) in record time.
SEA – Beecher’s Handmade Cheese: Concourse C
This Seattle mainstay was one of the first real artisan cheesemakers in the city, and the group’s delicious array of handmade cheeses have luckily made their way from the city’s Pike Place Market to SeaTac’s Concourse C. Mac and Cheese is the golden standard here, but their cold-cut sandwiches are equally formidable.
SFO – Cat Cora’s Kitchen: Terminal 2
The famed Iron Chef has similar locations at airports in both Houston and Salt Lake City, but the flagship San Francisco restaurant has been deemed “an oasis of calm” within the chaotic confines of SFO’s busy Terminal 2. If you’re not interested in the elevated, locally-sourced menu of impressive ingredients, be sure to check out the inventive cocktail list.