If holiday travel is hell, being hungry on a plane with nothing to eat except a handful of pretzels is surely the 10th circle.
Prepacked snacks and hidden nips can take you only so far in the face of inevitable delays. That’s why we’ve picked out the best places to eat in 23 of the biggest U.S. airports. All that stands between you and wheels down is one wisely chosen meal and a nap. Welcome to Project Runway.
Illustration: Paul Tuller
Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI)
You can't leave Baltimore without one last Phillips crab cake. Head to this 60-year-old seafood haven, where there's also cinnamon vanilla French toast, should you somehow be maxed out on crustaceans.
Boston Logan Airport (BOS)
Ask the locals, and they'll tell you to skip the airport eats and just pack a carry-on of cannoli from Mike's. But if it’s too late, Legal Test Kitchen is your best bet: You might not think fresh seafood is synonymous with airport, but that's because you've never had the lobster-crabmeat omelet for breakfast.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
You have two options in Bad Daddy's Burger Bar: Go to the take-out side if you're in a hurry or settle in at the large runway-side window, where you can have a staring contest with an airplane over a thick patty melt.
Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD)
Fly the W, Tortas Frontera. Rick Bayless's Mexican sandwiches have been called the "Maserati of airport food," feature local produce and are cause enough to schedule your layover in Chicago. You can even order online to avoid long wait times.
Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
You have one last shot at Texas barbecue before jetting off to inferior brisket elsewhere. Luckily, it comes by way of Cousin's Bar-B-Q, where you can load up on pulled pork, sliced brisket or smoked German sausage—or a combination plate of all three.
Denver International Airport (DEN)
Pro tip: If a spot also has a wildly successful location in the city itself, chances are you're in good hands. That's the case with Root Down, a farm-to-table place that will make you forget you're in an airport—just be careful not to miss your flight.
Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW)
The thin, biga-fermented crust on the pizzas at Bigalora Wood Fired Cucina automatically set it apart from thicker Detroit-style pies. There's also gluten-free pizza, risotto balls and crispy Brussels sprouts.
Hartsfield Atlanta Airport (ATL)
Ludacris has been promising a restaurant for 13 years, so now that the long-awaited Chicken-n-Beer is finally here, you owe it to yourself to go. We don't care how good or bad the food ends up being, but considering there's bourbon peach shortcake and fried apple pie, you should be just fine.
Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)
Steel yourself for that flight like an Iron Chef at Cat Cora's Kitchen, which opened earlier this year. There’s an open kitchen, colorful Mediterranean food and mascarpone-topped waffles—the type of place to make you forget all about how you'll be spending the next few hours.
LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
This is notoriously New York's most dreadful airport, and the food situation is no exception. Go to Biergarten, where at least you know the beer will be good. It's also a good spot to spend a couple hours relaxing—your flight is probably delayed anyway.
Las Vegas McCarran Airport (LAS)
Take a break from the airport slot machines for a low-key, inoffensive meal at PGA Tour Grill. Sleeper hits like the breakfast sandwich, hummus trio and turkey "power burger" await you.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Though the original Border Grill recently closed, there are still a few locations, including the one in LAX. Think modern Mexican staples done right, like carne asada tacos and chiles rellenos, as well as dulce de leche churro tots that'll have you counting down the days to your return trip.
Miami International Airport (MIA)
When it comes to Cuban restaurants, Versailles is a legend. And the airport version, Cafe Versailles, is just as destination worthy. Ham croquettes and guava-cheese pastries cost less than two dollars each, and with five locations throughout the airport, you're never too far from a café con leche.
Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport (MSP)
A Bloody Mary at Minnibar comes loaded with a garnish that doubles as a charcuterie platter, so order one and call it a meal. Should you want more, there's a menu featuring upscale sandwiches from none other than local chef Andrew Zimmern.
New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
Yes, we're telling you to skip Shake Shack and head to Eat & Go, a generically named, unsuspecting cart in Terminal 1. Order the baklava, flown in from Istanbul. Trust us.
Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
Cross your fingers that you're flying out of Terminal C, which recently benefitted from a $120 million face-lift. Saison is one of the classier options, a French restaurant with a Nutella budino that the New York Times calls "deliciously obscene."
Orlando International Airport (MCO)
This isn't a great food airport, so save yourself for that Mickey-shaped ice cream cone awaiting you. In the meantime, surrender to the sports bar at the pre-security McCoy's Bar and Grill. Because if you're going to grab an airport meal, you might as well accompany it with a good beer.
Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
Pie before you fly at Aldo Lamberti Trattoria, an unassuming space (granted, it's in an airport) with top-quality pizza. There are also cannoli, so take some to go in case you need an icebreaker for your cute seatmate.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
Le Grande Orange is best for a quick bite and offers the likes of kale-quinoa salad and incredible pizza, vegan and otherwise. There are fresh-baked goods (homemade English muffins!) to round it out.
Vegan food can be quick, healthy & delicious even on the go! I just ordered this beauty ��� (hold the cheese!) from La Grande Orange restaurant in the Southwest Terminal 4 at the Phoenix, AZ airport ??. Check it out the next time you're passing through (they also have gluten free crust available as well as vegan sorbet�)!
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)
In a world of chatty seat neighbors and flight delays, it's nice to feel like you have control over something. Even if it's just a dinner from &pizza, a D.C. favorite that emphasizes customizable pies. Eat your pizza before you board (no one wants to be that person) but take a house-made soda with you for mid-flight fuel.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
The airport-sized edition of mini SF chain The Plant Café is right next to a Pinkberry, so should you want to chase your acai berry smoothie and house-made veggie burger with a frozen yogurt swirl, the option is there.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
Take note that there are two lines at Beecher's Handmade Cheese: The one on the right is infinitely shorter, for whatever reason—and both offer the same melty sandwiches and mac 'n' cheese. Don't say we never did anything for you.
Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)
If anything, go to Bar Symon for the Lola ketchup, a spicy dip that goes well with the rosemary fries. But there's plenty more to love at Food Network star Michael Symon's now-recurring airport spot, including his famous pastrami-topped Fat Doug burger.
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