While airplane dining has deteriorated (see previous entry) over the years, one nice air travel related dining change in the last few years is the introduction of upscale restaurant options at a growing number of airports around the world.
For decades, the “best” food at airports was limited to bags of snacks, McDonalds, and Chilis Too. But we’ve been finding that as we spend ever more time at airports, our options for a decent meal with reasonable table service have drastically improved from pedestrian fast-food fare. Note that you will pay a premium for such dining experiences, so if you’re looking to dine at an airport on the cheap, you’ll unfortunately still need to stick with fast food for the most part.
In the last couple of months, we’ve been in about a half dozen airports. We have had time and opportunity to have real meals at four of those: Houston’s George Bush International Airport (IAH), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), Miami International Airport (MIA), and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).
In Houston, where we typically end up for hours waiting for our red-eye flight back to Bonaire, we’ve become fans of Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, a southern chain of restaurants which specializes in creole-style seafood. They have a reasonable wine selection, a broad menu (try the Oysters Pappadeaux and the Blackened Catfish Opelousas), and consistently decent service. The prices are pretty good as well. The only negatives are that the tables are a bit close to each other, making for snug seating, especially when you have large carry-on bags. Pappadeaux is located near gate E5, and is open daily 9am to 10pm.
In Newark, another airport we pass through whenever we use the Newark/Bonaire connection, has a steak house called Gallagher’s. Service has been variable, and while pricey, the food has generally been very good (I particularly enjoy their ribeye steaks), and the wine list better than we’ve been used to in airports. Make sure to ask for a table in the back, where you can overlook the airport’s plane traffic. There’s also ample space in the back section for the storage of carry-ons while you dine. However, make sure you budget an hour for your meal at Gallagher’s in order to properly enjoy your steak or other selection. Gallagher’s Steak House is located at terminal C and is open daily 6am to 9pm.
At Miami, the best dining option we’ve found is actually outside of security, the Top of the Port Restaurant, appropriately enough on the top floor of the MIA Airport Hotel at the entrance to Concourse E (at least until MIA renames its terminals in the coming year or so). While the MIA Airport Hotel is a truly horrid place to stay, at least in my experience – with closet sized, dingy rooms, the restaurant is actually quite good and reasonably priced, and there’s a nice view of the airport from one side of the restaurant. My favorite items at the Top of the Port are the Caesar salad and their grilled fish. Service is generally good and efficient. But make sure to give yourself ample time to dine (budget forty-five minute or an hour) and then another at least a half hour minutes to clear security (which can take a long time in Miami) to get to your gate. Open daily 7am to 11pm.
And a couple of days ago, at Washington D.C.’s Ronald Reagan National Airport, we were fortunate to find a newly opened extension of the Sam & Harry’s family of restaurants. They opened their doors this past Saturday for the first time, and while they are still working out a few kinks in service, I can truly say they served the best breakfast I have ever had in an airport. Sam & Harry’s is located at the end of the terminal near the security lines for gates 35-45,and offers ample seating and a diverse breakfast and lunch menu. And their wine list on the lunch menu features mostly wines from small boutique vineyards which should make for fun wine tastings. Monday morning we had Eggs Benedict and a short rib hash with poached eggs. The egg yolks (from organic farm raised chickens, incidentally) were perfectly gooey as they should be, with a rich orangey yellow color and fresh flavor, and the short rib was delicious. They were also able to accommodate variations as all their food is cooked fresh to order. They will soon also be offering free Wi-Fi and a special area near the bar where power computers can also find power jacks. And you can get an inside table overlooking the jetways and runways of the airport if having a view is your thing. The menu is a bit pricey though, so review it first so you don’t get a surprise when your bill arrives. The next time I fly through National airport near meal time, I will make extra time to come back to eat here.
In addition to the aforementioned restaurants, I think that terminal D at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport (DFW) deserves an honorable mention. There are a number of sit-down restaurants there with table service and good food, such as Cantino Laredo, but the feel of the restaurants is a bit rush and impersonal. However, there’s no question the food there is a notch up from typical airport fare.