Flying is perhaps the most stressful part of any vacation. Pesky delays, cancellations, and inclement weather always manage to pile on, and don’t even get us started on dining options. Luckily, some airports have stepped up their game in this regard, so you don’t have to settle for that sad Hudson News sandwich. Here are some of the best domestic and international airports for great—and local—food.
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Dallas-Fort Worth International
Any airport that has four options for barbecue will forever be in our good graces. That’s the case for the Dallas airport, where you can indulge in Cousin’s Bar-B-Q, Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse (both Dallas institutions), Hickory (also local), and Salt Lick Bar-B-Que (representing Hill Country).
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Want a burger instead? No problem, chef Tim Love has an outpost of Love Shack here. If you have time to kill and fancy some fine dining, there’s White Tail Bistro, Dallas chef Kent Rathbun’s restaurant (who also owns Hickory). There are also plenty of big Texas chains like Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen and Pappasito’s Cantina. Football fans will want to visit the Dallas Cowboys Club for a drink.
John F. Kennedy International
Ignore everything else about New York’s finest transit scourge, and JFK is actually a pretty decent place to dine. There’s the newly opened TWA Hotel, whose all-day restaurant, Paris Café, is backed by chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The complex also has a cocktail bar in an actual plane, Connie, known for breaking the transcontinental speed record in 1946. Today, it’s known for its negronis.
There are many other joints from celebrated New York chefs and restaurateurs across terminals. Danny Meyer is well-represented, with a Blue Smoke on the Road and two Shake Shacks. Andrew Carmellini has Croque Madame and Marcus Samuelsson has Uptown Brasserie. Lynnette Marrero, of Brooklyn Peruvian spot Llama Inn, does Mexican street food at Mi Casa Cantina and Restaurant. Laurent Tourondel created the food menu at BKLYN Beer Garden, where there are 20 beers on tap. Mark Ladner—who was the executive chef of Del Posto and quit to go casual with Pasta Flyer—put together the Italian menu at AeroNuova. Frenchette chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson consulted in French restaurant La Vie.
Los Angeles International
LAX’s strength comes from its impressive number of outposts of popular restaurants from across the Greater Los Angeles area. This includes Cole’s (self-described “originators of French dipped sandwiches since 1908”), Ashland Hill (Santa Monica gastropub), The Parlor (West Hollywood bar), Cassell’s Hamburgers (by chef Christian Page), James’ Beach (a Venice mainstay), Border Grill (by chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken), and many more. The original Campanile, opened by Nancy Silverton and then-husband Mark Peel, may have closed in 2012, but it lives on in terminal 4. Other spots of note include Michael Voltaggio’s upscale sandwich spot Ink.sack and Hung Huynh’s Asian Street Eats.
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The Nashville airport earns a spot here because you can enjoy two of the city’s most famous foods: barbecue and meat-and-three. For the former, there’s Neely’s Bar-B-Que; for the latter, there’s Swett’s, which has been around since 1954; and if you can’t choose between the two, Whitt’s Barbecue does both.
If you need some caffeine, head to 8th & Roast Coffee Co., which was founded in Nashville in 2009 and now has a location at BNA. Fancy a local beer? You’ve got options. Go to Fat Bottom Brewing or Tennessee Brew Works, both Nashville-based, or Yazoo Brewing, which hails from nearby Madison. For comfort food with a side of music memorabilia, try Gibson Cafe, from the folks at Gibson Guitars, which is headquartered in Nashville (naturally).
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San Francisco International
There’s a lot of love for Napa Valley at SFO. Chef Cindy Pawlcyn’s Mustards Grill has an outpost here, as does local favorite Gott’s Roadside, which started in St. Helena in 1999 and now has seven offshoots. There are two locations of Napa Farms Market, a deli backed by chef Tyler Florence. It sells food to-go from Bay Area purveyors like Acme Bread and Cowgirl Creamery, as well as wines from Napa, among other food gifts to take home.
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Tartine is repped at Manufactory Food Hall, where you can also grab tacos from Tacos Cala or Thai food from Kin Khao, both local favorites. Other San Francisco restaurants with outposts at SFO include Limon Rotisserie (Peruvian rotisserie), Bun Mee (banh mi sandwiches), and Koi Palace (Daly City spot for dim sum). Farmerbrown and 1300 on Fillmore, both recently shuttered, have locations here for people who miss them.
You can get coffee at Peet’s Coffee & Tea, a chain that was established in Berkeley in 1966. Baseball fans will fit right in at SF Giants Clubhouse.
You better believe it! The Amsterdam airport has a wealth of options, many of them serving local delicacies. Try Dutch smoked sausage at HEMA Food, or enjoy the traditional salted herring with a glass of Champagne at Bubbles Seafood & Wine Bar. For even more Dutch fare, including Dutch pancakes, waffles, croquettes, and more, head to Dutch Bar & Kitchen or Tastes from the Lowlands. Café Rembrandt, named after the famous artist from the Netherlands, and Grand Café Het Paleis are two slightly upscale Dutch-style cafés worth seeking out. For coffee and pastries, go to Amsterdam Bread Co. or Douwe Egberts Coffee Bar. The latter was established in 1753 in the Netherlands and is now an international chain. And finally, yes, there’s a Heineken Bar.
Hong Kong International
Strap your seatbelt in—and we don’t mean for your flight, but for the sheer amount of food goodness there is at the Hong Kong airport. There are more options than we can mention here, but your best bets for Hong Kong and mainland fare are Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao for soup dumplings and hand-pulled noodles; Duddell’s, a Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant; Ho Hung Kee, a wonton noodle shop founded in 1946; Tsui Wah for tea and sweet buns; and Maxim’s Jade Garden, Putien, and TamJai SamGor for regional cuisines from Guangdong, Fujian, and Yunnan provinces, respectively.
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Sure, British food can be a tough sell (and this coming from a Brit), but London’s biggest airport might make you a convert. There’s Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food, of course, and you will find a bajillion pubs on every corner and in every terminal. You can also try local specialties like Welsh rarebit toasties and Dorset crab at the iconic Fortnum & Mason. The Perfectionist’s Café is celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s joint. More British classics are served at The Commission, a concept by the Drake & Morgan group, which has several restaurants across London. And then there’s Wagamama, the popular UK-based chain offering “Asian food inspired by the flavors of Japan”—it may not make sense here, but it’s been a favorite among Brits since the early ’90s.
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The best place in the Sydney airport to go for Australian food is Kitchen by Mike, a concept by Aussie chef Mike McEnearney serving local, seasonal fare. There’s also Coast Café and Bar, from Sydney chef Luke Mangan, which brings great food and beach vibes to terminal 1. Sydney-based Italian spots like Mach2 and Bar Coluzzi have offshoots here. If you’re looking for a snack, the sourdough loaves at Brasserie Bread are made with 100 percent Australian flour. Be sure to refuel at Toby’s Estate, the cool Aussie coffee shop known for its specialty brews. And for a completely different kind of brew, go to Coopers Alehouse, showcasing pours from the largest brewery in Australia.
Tokyo Narita International
There’s an embarrassment of riches of Japanese food at the Tokyo airport. Sushi options abound: Sushi Yuraku, Tatsu Sushi, and Sushi Kyotatsu are among the best-regarded. You’ll also find all kinds of noodle spots, such as Tomita, for ramen made with 100 percent domestic wheat noodles; Kineya Mugimaru and Miyatake Sanuki for udon; and Sanbei for udon and soba. Tentei specializes in tempura. Gihey, from the team behind famous rice brand Hachidaime Gihey, is—you guessed it—all about the rice; each dish is served with an all-you-can-eat rice option. If all these choices are overwhelming and you’re not sure what you’re in the mood for yet, head to Keisei Yuzen or Nanosato, which both serve a variety of Japanese fare.
- Baltimore-Washington International for Obrycki’s, established in 1944 in the Charm City’s Fells Point neighborhood.
- Boston Logan International, not just for its four locations of Legal Sea Foods, but mostly for the Legal Test Kitchen, where the team tests potential menu items on airport diners.
- Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport for Dook’s Place, run by the great-grandson of legendary chef Leah Chase, founder of Dooky Chase.
- Portland International Airport for its local food carts section, which includes Pok Pok and Koi Fusion.
- Stuttgart Airport for Restaurant Top Air, the only airport restaurant with a Michelin star.
Header image courtesy of Getty Images / winhorse