10 airport restaurants so good you won’t want to leave the terminal
Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in the world’s airports. I remember when it wasn’t a great experience. If you were hungry, you were in a culinary wasteland offering newsstand food, no-name snack bars with hot dogs cooked on rollers or generic sit-down restaurants that sold bland and boring meals.
But two things changed that. First, television's Food Network exploded onto the scene, making people more aware — and much more discerning — about the food they ate. Second, as airlines merged, rent and landing fees they paid to airports were slashed, forcing the airports to find ways to replace that income. A lucrative option was to offer better food and beverage choices to travelers.
Related: Here’s a handy guide on where to eat in each major U.S. airport
I started covering airports for Aviation Daily in 2006, just when the food renaissance was beginning. I saw -- and ate -- at great restaurants at airport terminals around the world. My traveling friends also shared with me which airport eateries were worth a stop. The pandemic has caused airport eateries around the world to close temporarily -- or permanently. I've updated this story to highlight 10 of my favorite airport restaurants that are still open.
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Goldilocks Filipino Cuisine, San Francisco International Airport, Terminal 1
San Francisco is one of my favorite airports for food because it puts such a heavy emphasis on local dining. Thanks to time living in an international dormitory in college, I grew to love Filipino food. So imagine my delight when I found this restaurant in the Harvey Milk Terminal. If you want to get a taste of different foods, order the Filipino street food sampler, which includes a pork lumpia, a chicken empandita, a ukoy veggie fritter and a steamed siaomai pork dumpling. These are all dunkable with Filipino sweet and sour or garlic vinegar sauces.
If you're really hungry, try the classic Filipino dish Chicken Adobo, chicken pieces marinated in soy sauce, cane vinegar, garlic and peppercorns. Just give me an order of pork lumpia and side of Pancit Sotanghon glass noodles stir-fried with chicken and topped with veggies and egg.
Caviar House and Prunier Seafood Bar, London Heathrow Airport (LHR), Terminals 2 and 5
Sometimes when you have a long layover with time to kill, you want to indulge yourself. This seafood bar is one of my favorite spots to do that. I've had the caviar with all the fixings, the Scottish salmon with a salad and seafood platter of smoked salmon, gravlax, salmon tartar, shrimp, king prawns and crayfish.
But if you don't have the time to lounge, you can grab a meal that comes out 15 minutes after ordering. Or you can order an inflight picnic with a selection of your favorite seafood.
One Flew South, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Terminal E
This is, hands down, my favorite airport restaurant. Opened in 2009, it was Hartfield’s first fine dining concept, offering a mix of Asian, upscale Southern food and surprisingly good sushi, all served with craft cocktails and a great selection of wine. Although I miss the pimento cheese they used to serve as an appetizer, the poke tacos make up for it. The collard green ramen is a dish that shouldn’t work, but does, thanks to a perfect combination of tender greens, a smoked turkey broth, peppered pork belly, seaweed, kimchi, scallions and a hard-boiled egg. The pulled duck confit sandwich is also a hit.
Aburi-EN, Singapore Changi International Airport (SIN), Terminal 2
I'm a fool for a good donburi rice bowl, and Aburi-EN serves a good one. What makes it so tasty is that it uses the finest Japanese and Australian wagyu beef. It's a good portion size if you don't get access to a premium lounge but you still want to eat before boarding your flight.
Leah's Kitchen, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY), Concourse B
The late legendary Chef Leah Chase, founder of the city’s iconic restaurant Dooky Chase, put creole food on the map worldwide. It’s only fitting that the iconic Chase's legacy remains at the airport via her kitchen. She was known for classic Louisiana dishes such as gumbo and étouffée, but the most popular dish is her fried chicken cooked to order and is some of the best on the planet. The restaurant is covered with photos of Chase and her family, along with chandeliers made from hanging pots and pans.
Obrycki’s, Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI), Concourse B
In Baltimore, we love our crab houses, and you can get your fix before boarding your flight at this long-time local family-owned restaurant. If cracking blue crabs doesn’t appeal to you, get the crab cakes, crab soup or the hot crab dip. For breakfast, try the crab cakes Benedict or a breakfast sandwich. Obrycki’s will even pack up frozen crab cakes for you to take home.
La Carreta, Miami International Airport (MIA), Concourse D
Fans of authentic Cuban food know that this airport outlet of the popular chain of restaurants is the place to get it just in case you didn't have it in Miami. Most go for the popular pressed Cuban sandwich, made with ham, roast pork and Swiss cheese on Cuban bread with mustard and pickles.
But I recommend the La Carreta special, a version of the Cuban sandwich that also includes chorizo. Get either sandwich with a side of plantain chips and have a guava pastry for dessert. Other classic Cuban dishes include pastelitos, rope vieja and croquetas. Buy a cup of Cuban coffee if you need a strong caffeine kick.
Nonna Bartolotta’s, Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE), Concourse D
I had some time on my hands after touring the airport's Mitchell Gallery of Flight. I was walking around the terminal and this restaurant, which has different branches in the city, was near my gate. I liked that it has "outdoor" and indoor seating. If you have time, sit down and enjoy a plate of the pork bucatini or the stone-fired pizza with a glass of red wine. If your time is limited, then try the fried mozzarella bites or the Caprese salad.
Harry & Izzy’s, Indianapolis International Airport (IND), Concourse A
When I worked for Rolls-Royce North America, I went to Indianapolis regularly to visit our aircraft engine plant. Most times, the evening would end at the city’s iconic St. Elmo Steak House, famous for its ginormous spicy shrimp cocktail. This offshoot of St. Elmo’s at the airport also offers spicy meatballs seafood, steak, salads, sandwiches and thin-crust pizza — plus that amazing shrimp cocktail.
Berghoff Cafe, Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Terminal 1
Be warned: You do not want to walk into this restaurant unless you're really hungry, because portions here are are generous. Give me the Reuben sandwich washed down with a local beer from the Adams Street Brewery, and I'm a happy girl.
Feature photo of the International Terminal's food court at San Francisco International Airport courtesy of the airport.