What’s the best food to eat in an airport?

Gordon Ramsay's restaurant in Hong Kong International Airport in 2019
Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in Hong Kong International Airport in 2019
Photo: Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket (Getty Images)

We’ve been cooped up for 15 months and now that we’ve got those COVID antibodies shot into our arms, we are ready to move. The best way to get really far away really quickly is by flying. Which means a trip to the airport.

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We know our memories have edited out some of the worst aspects of travel, like the middle seat, the screaming child, the long security lines, the ceremonial removal of the shoes, the overpriced snacks, etc., etc., etc. Instead, we’re imagining the airport world of our dreams, where everything runs smoothly, where planes are never late, where the smell of Auntie Anne’s is the sweetest perfume, where we go to the airport to... eat!


Fine dining in an airport corridor

Arrival at the airport is, to me, a sign that vacation is starting, and that means the purse strings loosen and it no longer seems ludicrous to pay $10 for a hot dog. If I have the time, I’ll get the best meal I can find. Last time I flew out of O’Hare, I happened to be in Terminal 3, home of Publican Tavern, an offshoot of the Chicago restaurant The Publican. I was on my way to a weeklong dog sledding and winter camping trip in northern Minnesota at the time, so I decided I would give myself some fuel to burn and treat myself to a nice, greasy, meaty breakfast. The part I remember most vividly now is the coffee, served in a nice china cup. I knew it would be my last real, brewed coffee for a while. There was something beautiful about savoring it in an airport corridor as people rushed by. Farewell, civilization. (And, it turned out, farewell airport dining.) —Aimee Levitt

Keep it (very, very) simple

While I absolutely agree with Aimee on her above recommendation of Publican Tavern’s greasy, meaty breakfast platter, I like to keep things a little simpler before I fly, just in case it’s a bumpy ride and motion sickness starts feeding on whatever I last ate. A plain hot dog is the perfect airport food before any domestic flight, no matter what time takeoff is. For one thing, an undressed hot dog—we’re talking wiener in bun, nothing more—is less likely to break the bank than other airport foods sold at a steep markup. Furthermore, its portion size hits the spot without leaving you too full or too bloated before your body experiences unwelcome changes in altitude. It’s an order that can be fulfilled quicker than lots of other counter service options. And if you’re late to your gate, it can be easily snarfed before your boarding group is called. For more on why the plain hot dog is the perfect food (there are reasons aplenty), head here. —Marnie Shure

Cuisine for when Everything Is Fine

I’m a very, very nervous flyer, largely because of my loosely Pentecostal grandmother who taught me that Satan can read your thoughts and will use your weaknesses to “tempt you out of the light.” I’m pretty sure she was referring to, like, cussing and R-rated movies, but I took it to mean that if I ever allow myself to acknowledge my fear of flying—even internally—my plane will instantly drop out of the sky. For this reason, I still take the “everything is fine” approach when gearing up for air travel, and that approach calls for Panda Express orange chicken. Located in most major airport food courts, Panda Express offers deep-fried imitation Chinese food that leaves me feeling so sick, I don’t have the energy to acknowledge my terror upon takeoff. And if I can’t think about my plane crashing, Ol’ Scratch will probably move on to feast on someone else’s fears. You’re welcome, fellow passengers. —Lillian Stone

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DISCUSSION

By
PedanticEditorType

If you’re at O’Hare, the most correct answer is Tortas Fronteras. Publican has its merits, but Tortas Fronteras is probably the best food in the airport. (Hmm, we’re actually leaving town next week, I can’t remember what terminal we’ll be in...)

At Midway, the options are getting better, but they’re still kinda lackluster, so I usually stick with Gold Coast dogs or something from Starbucks.