Airport food is usually processed and mediocre. Thankfully, airports around the nation are finally catching onto the fact that travelers want a taste of what’s local — have a chance to see a slice of the city, really — even if they only have a few hours to spare during a long layover. No one said that terminal bites had to be terrible. Here, we explore five delicious stops en route to your final destination.
Chicago O’Hare International Airport: Terminal 5, Concourse M
The refurbished Terminal 5 at Chicago’s O’Hare reopened in April 2014, bringing 24 new, luxury retail and dining destinations, including the Windy City’s own Tocco, a modern Italian eatery with roots in Wicker Park. A native Italian who grew up in Milan, Tocco chef Bruno Abate spends two to four days a week at the airport location, ensuring it lives up to the high standard he set in the original. The ultra-modern space is best known for authentic dishes such as wood-fired margherita pizza with fresh mozzarella and basil; gnocco fritto, fried dough served with prosciutto imported directly from Italy; and a host of wine, beer and aperitif selections. Even if you’re heading to Tuscany, you don’t want to miss Tocco.
Jekyll Island Seafood Company
Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport: Terminal F
In a well-lit corner of Hartsfield’s quiet Terminal F, Jekyll Island Seafood Company is a temporary respite from the chaos of international travel. Named for the coastal isle located an hour and a half south of Savannah, this Atlanta establishment (from the same company that’s behind another Hartsfield favorite, One Flew South) gets a personal seafood delivery three times a week from a local JI shrimper. The shrimp tacos, topped with a housemade cream sauce, pineapple and red pepper are a must. The crab cake doesn’t disappoint, either — full of succulent lump crab, it rivals anything you can find in the Golden Isles. Though the restaurant features a fun list of craft cocktails — the Jekyll Breeze (grapefruit juice, vodka and simple syrup) is a winner — we’d suggest ordering a glass of the Jekyll Reserve merlot. While it’s made and bottled in Lodi, California, by Young International Beverage — interestingly, YIB is owned by Walter F. Young, brother of Atlanta civil rights icon Andrew Young — proceeds from the wine go to benefit the Jekyll Island Foundation, which works to preserve and protect the area’s wildlife, beaches and history.
Garden by Tender Greens
San Diego International Airport: Commuter Terminal, Gate 4
No one said airport food had to be unhealthy. Garden by Tender Greens at San Diego International Airport opened in 2013, bringing simple, organic California cuisine to travelers on the move. Produce comes from Oxnard’s Scarborough Farms, and meat and poultry likewise are sourced from grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free cows and free-range chickens. Meats are prepared on a Brazilian-style rotisserie. Salads are not your typical spring mix — the Scarborough Farms young lettuces salad features fennel, radish, cucumber and balsamic vinaigrette; the Little Gem lettuces salad combines avocado with queso fresco, cilantro, green onion and lime vinaigrette. There are cocktails and wines for those who have time to spare, and hot soups for those who don’t.
Denver International Airport: Concourse C
As the nation’s fifth-busiest airport, providing service for more than 52 million passengers per year, Denver International seems like it’s always growing. In 2013, Root Down debuted in Concourse C, after much success in the field-to-fork genre in Denver’s historic Highland neighborhood. The breakfast menu features standouts such as the fried egg sandwich with Romesco sauce, steel-cut oatmeal with mango compote, and the chorizo omelet with poblano pesto. With a full lunch and dinner menu, local beers on tap and more than enough options for vegans and omnivores, Root Down is worth the train ride to this part of the airport.
Crú Food & Wine Bar
Dallas Love Field
A restaurant is doing something right if it draws a crowd, and Crú, which opened in Dallas Love Field’s sole terminal in 2013, is never empty. The spot feels less like an airport restaurant and more like a bar you wish existed in your own neighborhood. With tall bar seating, romantic lighting and a team of bartenders that knows every bottle, vintage and tasting note of the wide selection, you can order a glass or even a flight (get it?) of wine. The latter consists of three generous pours of select labels, varying by grape. The dishes range from a high-end pâté and artisan cheese plate to roasted wild mushroom pizzas that always pair well with the pours. Best of all? Service is quick, friendly and knowledgeable — three things that mean a lot to a busy traveler.