Whether you’re shopping name-brand chefs or craving a certain country’s cuisine, the airports of the world are now your culinary oyster. In the past, the thought of terminal restaurant food may have had your stomach rolling at the prospect of shady salads or greasy burgers and bar snacks. Fear not, foodies. These days, the airfields at most international destinations are proud to provide local specialties and regional bounty crafted by homegrown kitchen talent or offer celebrity-chef outposts earning Michelin kudos.
Of course, you can find delicious fare no matter where your destination or layover city is. Airport websites often do a good job of highlighting local and regional specialties on offer. Reputable guides such as Zagat and Fodors are great resources for discerning travel diners. Foodie sites such as Eater and review sites like Yelp offer localized advice on finding the best eats — even at the local airport. Rounded up below is a selection of airport grub that makes the culinary cut.
San Francisco International
As one of America’s culinary capitals, San Francisco's main airport does the city right by providing an array of dining options that even the snobbiest gourmand would adore. The city's Asian communities are well represented at delicious eateries like Bun Mee, which serves up Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches on the fly, or the Koi Palace with offers mouthwatering dim sum. Like a true Californian, SFO also has an endless list of restaurants that cater to the healthy crowd like Napa Farms Market or Amy’s Drive Thru where every menu item is vegetarian. There’s even a lineup of food trucks located just outside the Departures area. Whatever you do, don’t miss the chance to grab a fresh loaf of San Francisco’s famous sourdough bread from Boudin, located in the International Terminal near Gate A2.
The little sister to Tokyo’s larger Haneda Airport, Narita takes the cake for the best airport grub in the largest city in the world. You’ll find everything from the finest, handmade sushi to freshly fried tempura and steaming bowls of ramen. Indulge in onigiri whipped up right in front of you at Ginshari Hokkaido or stop by Kawatoyo for expertly grilled unagi. Of course, there are Western options too, like the ever-ubiquitous McDonald's and Starbucks, but when you have a flavor wonderland of udon and soba at your fingertips, why wouldn’t you get your first (or last) taste of Japanese cuisine while you can? Terminal 1 is home to the most restaurants and takeaway stalls if you’re looking for a wide variety of options, but there are plenty of spots in all of the concourses.
If you’re looking for classic American fare, look no further than Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. As the busiest airport in the entire world, this busy travel hub delivers enough mouth-watering meals to satiate every passenger who passes through. Grab a bite at Atlanta staple Paschal’s Southern Cuisine where catfish and fried green tomatoes are front and center. Take it up a notch at One Flew South, one of the most highly-rated airport restaurants in the world, which offers a perplexing yet delicious mix of Southern dishes and sushi. For those who are looking to grab something quickly, all of the typical American fast-food joints are present too like Popeyes, Five Guys, or the southern favorite, Bojangles. With more than 100 options to choose from, spread out through six concourses, you won’t go hungry.
Singapore Changi Airport
Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants are truly global in scope and his empire has long included airport eateries. Casual and quick with a decent price-point for quality food, the eateries range from kiosks to counter service to sit-down spaces. Puck’s third venture in Singapore, The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck at Changi Airport, joins his Michelin-starred eateries Cut and Spago, both in the city’s Bayfront area. At all of his restaurants, the international chef offers interpretations of global comfort food, which uses the best available, locally-sourced ingredients. The location of his casual kitchen concept in Changi Airport’s sprawling Terminal 3 — a buzzing cultural crossroads — inspired Puck to incorporate dishes from various cuisines into the menu. Here that means soothing sour and spicy soup with chicken and shiitake mushrooms and scrumptious Korean kimchi short ribs.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
In a city with such a thriving food scene, Seattle's Airport has for years lagged behind in providing passengers an equal array of interesting dining options. Recently, that has started to change. As the Port of Seattle moves forward with modernization and expansion, it is also significantly increasing customer choices — expanding from 85 to 135 dining and retail establishments. Among the new additions are unique local standouts including Floret, the airport’s first full-service vegetarian restaurant operated by Seattle’s standout vegetarian place, Café Flora.
Seattle’s iconic Skillet started as an airstream trailer food truck and is now a city institution with multiple brick-and-mortar restaurants. The restaurant is set to offer its elevated comfort food menu at Sea-Tac. Prominent Seattle chef Jason Stoneburner is behind the food at Seattle Beer Union, where his fresh, seasonal menus will accompany the region’s best beer, wine, and spirits. As a recent Seattle success story, Sunset Fried Chicken is thriving in its Capitol Hill spot and is bringing its succulent chicken sandwich to travelers passing through Concourse D.
Hong Kong International
Foodies flock to Hong Kong for classic Cantonese dishes like dim sum, char siu, and creamy milk tea, but you won’t even need to leave the airport to get a taste. Crystal Jade dishes up succulent xiao long bao and Super Super offers piping hot bowls of congee, while the famous Duddell’s is busy plating the perfect dim sum feast, 24 hours a day. Nearby Macau is also represented through their delightfully custardy egg tarts at Terminal 1’s King Bakery, the perfect snack to carry on the plane. Both Gordon Ramsey and Wolfgang Puck have restaurants and takeaway options to satisfy any cravings for an elevated take on Western food and the usual fast-food joints like McDonald’s and Burger King are also in attendance. If you’re concerned about getting sick on the long flight home, stop by Hung Fook Tong for an herbal remedy to-go.
Michael White, the culinary luminary behind New York’s famed Michelin-starred Marea and Ai Fiori, brought his signature Italian fare to the airport in 2014 to offer everyday folks a more accessible outlet for his food. Located near LaGuardia’s Gate C30 in Terminal C, his restaurant Cotto was fashioned as a hyper-modern version of a traditional trattoria. The chef envisages the concept as “farm to terminal,” offering the freshest, locally-sourced products. As you enjoy the bright ambiance of the space itself with its floor-to-ceiling windows and mint-green furnishings, you can indulge in freshly baked pizza, pasta, antipasti, and paninis. Try the tangy meatballs or a white pie with melty mozzarella, ricotta, provolone, parmesan, and sundried tomatoes. Another specialty is garganelli pasta tossed with radicchio, smoked ham, and truffle butter. For convenience, you can even order from an iPad right at your table.
Los Angeles International Airport
Located in the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX you'll find a modern take on Mexican in the terminal spinoff of the L.A. landmark Border Grill from famed restaurateurs and chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken. The pair launched the new location in 2013, which offers elevated tacos, quesadillas, and tamales in a relaxed cantina setting. If you aren’t a foodie or local in the know, you might not realize the pedigree of your chile rellenos. After honing their skills in Chicago and Paris, Feniger and Milliken opened City Café (later renamed City Restaurant) in L.A. in 1981. Along with two of their other concepts, Border Grill (1985) and Ciudad (1988), the kitchen super-duo is often credited with re-shaping the culinary landscape of Los Angeles.