Top Airport RestaurantsGourmet Cuisine is Landing in Airports
As a ramp up for the holiday travels, gourmet food now begins at the airport. In the mood for a fine wine, aged steak, perhaps some tinkling jazz piano? Just show your boarding pass. It used to be that the only thing worse than airplane food was airport food. No longer. Gourmet cuisine is landing in airports, from Miami to Malaga. Traditionally, airports could afford to be blasé: The throngs of passengers passing wearily through were, after all, a captive audience. Why worry about offering more than Panda Express or Chex Mix at Hudson News?
Several factors have sparked the restaurant renaissance. Due to increased security measures, passengers are arriving earlier for their flights, which translates into more time (and dollars) spent at the restaurants and concession. These days, dinner on the plane is often little more than a bag of pretzels, so passengers are filling up at airport restaurants and buying takeaway meals. Also, the ever-growing awareness of healthy eating and organic food means that a 1000-calorie, fat-laden Cinnabon doesn’t cut it anymore. We tasted our way through airports to find worthy culinary picks around the US and internationally, and what we discovered along the way is this: When the inevitable announcement is made about a flight delay, you may, for the first time in your life, actually smile.
New York area JetBlue, with the opening of its glossy Terminal 5 at JFK (www.panynj.com), helped spark the airport’s culinary makeover. New York chefs were commissioned to inject international flavor, which included Piquillo, the first Spanish tapas restaurant in a US airport; La Vie, a French brasserie helmed by Balthazar chefs; and Deep Blue Sushi, by Buddakan chef Michael Schulson. A wave of upscale eateries followed throughout JFK over the last year: The sleek steakhouse Palm Bar & Grille is the first airport outpost of the New York original, while Seafood Bar is from British import Caviar House & Prunier, and making a push into airports across the globe.
Bypass Budweiser at a sports bar, and relax at the cocktail den Stone Rose (www.gerberbars.com), the snazzy airport debut by nightlife guru Rande Gerber. As for wine: One of our favorites is the stylish lounge Vino Volo (www.vinovolo.com). Sink into a soft-leather banquette for a pre-flight tasting flight of local wines, like Hudson Valley and Long Island vintages. And, if you don’t finish your wine, they’ll cork the bottle for you, and you can take it on the plane, where the flight attendants will serve you the rest.
LaGuardia may lag in upscale cuisine (the recent opening of Five Guys Burgers was considered exciting news) but this is where chef Todd English savvily opened one of the first gourmet airport restaurants. Figs (www.toddenglish.com), now a grandfather among airport cuisine, is still turning out creative, quality dishes like the Fig & Prosciutto pizza, which pits salty against sweet in every bite. Chef English (he who is often voted sexiest chef in the US) has continued to venture into airports, introducing some much-needed sizzle to Boston Logan airport (www.massport.com) with his ranch-style Bonfire. Carnivores can happily sink their teeth into Newark’s offerings, which includes Gallagher’s Steak House (www.gallaghersnysteakhouse.com), Nathan’s Hot Dogs (www.nathansfamous.com), and a branch of Vino Volo. Note also that Gallagher’s has a surprisingly varied selection of Bordeaux (splurge on the Lynch-Bages) and Napa Valley wines.
Los Angeles (LAX) LAX (www.lawa.org) has long had a reputation for dismal cuisine. Frequent travelers snickered about this with special glee, because LA, after all, puts such a premium on looking good in a bikini. But LA’s glamour is slowly rubbing off on its airport. If you can’t make it to the famed seafood restaurant Gladstone’s (www.gladstones.com) in sunny Malibu, dine at its first airport location here. Sparkling picture windows frame the busy airfield and if you crane your neck, you can spy the Hollywood sign shimmering in the distance. Hollywood’s star-magnet Pink’s Hot Dogs (www.pinkshollywood.com) arrived at LAX this year, where it satisfies with juicy dogs. Chef Wolfgang Puck (www.wolfgangpuck.com) also continues to dominate the gourmet snack market with his express eateries. The biggest changes at LAX are on the horizon. In a smart move, the airport is looking to capitalize on (and celebrate) local cuisine and celebrities, by opening outposts of LA favorites Bertha’s Soul Food and Homegirl Café, and eateries from big-name LA chefs like Nancy Silverton, and former LA Lakers star Magic Johnson. Of course, special mention goes to Encounter restaurant, built in LAX’s famous space-age building from 1961, complete with giant lava lamps inside. The continental food is ho-hum, but it’s worth popping in for a martini – and to see how the future was envisioned back in the day.
Houston Houston airport (www.fly2houston) received a Parisian upgrade with the first US branch of the French bistro Le Grand Comptoir, which features a wine cellar, an elegant brass-lined bar, and Frenchified cuisine, from grilled filet mignon to strawberry crepes.
Miami Miami’s (www.miami-airport.com) airport restaurants reflect the festive, Latino vibe of the city: The Bacardi Mojito bar, helmed by rising-star Venezuelan chef Lorena Garcia, serves Caribbean jerk chicken and spicy shrimp ceviche. The stylish wine bar Beaudevin, which is making its US debut here, features both international and domestic wines.
Scandinavia | Stockholm Chef Marcus Samuelsson owns Aquavit in Manhattan, is a Top Chef winner, and helped prepared President Obama’s first state dinner. Now, he’s venturing into airports. This year, Samuellson introduced his unique Street Food restaurant to Stockholm-Arlanda (www.arlanda.se) airport. Here, travelers can start their “culinary voyage,” as Samuelsson puts it, before they even jet off from the airport. The menu includes Pad Thai noodles, perfectly salted miso soup, fat burgers spiked with wasabi mayonnaise, and hometown favorite Swedish sausage heaped with sautéed onions.
Copenhagen Plump pork frigadeller (meatballs), herring layered in crème fraiche, and, of course, Danish pastry (here called wienerbrød): You can eat like a Dane at Copenhagen Airport (www.cph.dk). “Nordic cuisine” has emerged as a unifying concept for the region, with chefs rediscovering Scandinavian cuisine, from wild berries to musk ox. At København restaurant, chef Nicolai Poulsen features Danish cheeses, Swedish vinegar, Arctic salmon and horse mussels, and smorrebrod topped with a tangle of spinach. Eyecon serves “Scandinavian tapas” prepared in an open kitchen. The choice of drink is easy: A strong Danish Carlsberg (or three).
Malaga Airport Malaga Airport (www.aena.es), which is the fourth largest in Spain, and funnels the majority of tourists to the Costa del Sol and Marbella, has gone through a makeover, with a shiny new terminal and restaurants. At La Moraga, from Michelin-starred, Marbella-born chef Dani Garcia, the design is sleek – glass panels and all-white furnishings offset by bright red glasses – while the tapas are Andalusian with a twist, like the chilled cherry gazpacho.
Also worthy contenders are Switzerland and Sydney: Zurich airport (www.zurich-airport.com) features the inviting Center Bar, with floor-to-ceiling views of the tarmac, while Sydney (www.sydneyairport.com) has upped its culinary game with such spots as Bambini Wine Bar and the Montreux Jazz Club.
Asia Tokyo’s Narita airport features a range of sushi restaurants. While none compare to what you’ll find in the city center, the sushi chain Kaisen Misakiko is decent. Food courts conjure up eating off a plastic tray and fast food fried to within an inch of its life. Asia’s food malls, though, reveal some worthy options, like the spicy chicken, jasmine rice, and noodles (common throughout Asia’s airports) in Bangkok. Also, keep an eye out for Singapore Airlines: They impressively hired an “International Culinary Panel,” which includes UK superstar Gordon Ramsay, to devise their onboard meals and overall culinary approach.
And finally: Statistics show that people become more indulgent while traveling. Sometimes, all you really want is glazed sweetness: The Manhattan Doughnut Plant (known for its creative flavors from crème brûlée to peanut butter and jelly; www.doughnutplant.com) has opened in Seoul’s Incheon airport (www.airport.kr). See? Suddenly the flight delay doesn’t seem so bad after all.