The Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney points out that more travelers — an affluent group willing to spend money — consider themselves foodies and expect to eat quality food when traveling.
As a result, the quality of airport food has vastly improved at most terminals, with the help of celebrity chefs, sit-down restaurants, farm-fresh ingredients and quality wines.
“Travelers eat out a lot at home, and they want the same kind of choices at the airport now,” said Chief Executive Rick Blatstein.
Since quality food brings higher average prices and more volume, airport operators have been supplanting fast-food outlets in favor of sit-down restaurants.
Restaurant sales increased at much as 50 percent after OTG Management, which operates restaurants at 10 airports in the U.S. and Canada, replaced many chain restaurants with locally based eateries.
In fact, the airport in Austin, Texas, demands all vendors be local brands. There’s not even a Starbucks, said Mike Glenn, Austin general manager of Delaware North Companies, which operates concessions at the airport.
McCartney notes the Salt Lick, a local barbecue favorite, cooks meat in nearby Driftwood, Texas, and reheats it before serving at the airport. Last year, more than 55 tons of brisket sold at Austin International, Mr. Glenn said. Salt Lick posted the airport’s best restaurant sales totals in 2013.
At San Francisco International Airport, National chains account for an only 5.5% of current sales, said Cheryl Nashir, head of concessions for SFO. One reason: Higher-quality food is more expensive, so the average bill at local eateries is higher than fast-food outlets.
We listed the 10 busiest US airports by international passenger traffic and featured our pick for the best restaurant at each one.
Best Places To Eat At 10 Major International Airports
John F. Kennedy International Airport
Queens, New York
Deep Blue Sushi
Terminal 5, post-security, Marketplace
Some say it’s the best sushi you will ever eat in an airport. Deep Blue features an extensive menu by Michael Schulson—formerly of Buddakan—includes sushi, tempura, yakitori and entrees like Shiso Lamb Chop with braised daikon.
Miami International Airport
North Terminal, Gate D37
With nine locations throughout Dade and Broward Counties, La Carreta is Miami’s Original Cuban Kitchen. Croquetas, cortaditos, biztec empanizados, jugos and a flan that has been acclaimed as one of the best by the Miami New Times, are all available in generous portions and reasonable prices.
Los Angeles International Airport
Los Angeles, California
Located at the center of LAX is the 1961 Theme Building, a freestanding structure designed to look like a flying saucer. It’s home to this space-age restaurant, known for 360-degree views, and California-style dishes like organic salads and mushroom ravioli with grilled asparagus. They also serve signature martinis and the alien beer tap.
Newark Liberty International Airport
Newark, New Jersey
Terminal C, past Gate 121
Delish points out that the 120-seat airport outpost of the 1928 Manhattan restaurant is outfitted like the original (dark wood, red-checkered tablecloths), and serves steaks, burgers, and a fine selection of wines.
O’Hare International Airport
Terminal 1, Gate C26
Berghoff Café was originally opened by German brewer Herman Joseph Berghoff in the 1880s. Besides Berghoffés beer and root beer, they offer hand-carved roast beef, turkey and corned beef sandwiches and their signature house specialty the Reuben. Herman Berghoff immigrated to America from Dortmund, Germany, in 1870 and expanded the market for the family’s beer at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
One Flew South
Terminal E, near Gate 26
This sushi restaurant is complete with a menu created by chefs Todd Richards and Duane Nutter of The Oakroom at the Seelbach Hilton in Kentucky. Diners can enjoy spirited global fare featuring premium ingredients from regional farmers and purveyors. One Flew South serves cocktails and features an exceptional sushi menu and takeaway items.
San Francisco International Airport
San Mateo County, California
Cat Cora’s Kitchen
Gate 55 in Terminal 2
Cat Cora’s Kitchen serves a superior grilled cheese sandwich with caramelized onions and spiced fresh tomato soup. The sandwich is a cheesy blend of cheddar and feta cheeses on grilled sourdough. It’s well worth the $10. The also offer oysters, lobster mac-and-cheese, steak tacos, and seasonal drinks.
George Bush Intercontinental Airport
Le Grand Comptoir
Post-security, Terminal C
A French bistro/wine bar in the middle of the Houston airport with a superb menu including classics like baked Camembert and croque-monsieur. Many recommend the tuna tartare. Try the Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel from Napa or the Simmonet-Febvre Chardonnay from France.
Washington Dulles International Airport
Concourse C, near Gate 3; Concourse B, near Gate 62
Vino Volo tasting room offers wines produced nearby in Virginia. They also offer wines from around the world, and maps them on a taste graph to help you discover your favorites. Menu offerings include salads, sandwiches, heavenly pork tacos, and delicious pasta dishes.
Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport
Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Texas
Grand Hyatt Grand Met and M Lounge
D23, pre-security, lobby level
The Grand Met offers a menu with Mediterranean and Pacific Rim influence and a comfortable setting to enjoy a multi-course meal. Flavors from around the world are seasonally inspired and artfully prepared. The Grand Met also offers an extensive wine list and a well-trained staff. M lounge adjacent to the Grand Met is best known for signature martinis, tasty sushi, and an energetic atmosphere.