ABQ > LAX > SEA: a guide to layover eating
November 8th, 2010
10:00 AM ET
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Food in the Field gives a sneak peek into what CNN's team is eating, and the food culture they encounter as they travel the globe. Today's contributor, photojournalist Jeremy Harlan is based in Washington D.C., but he travels. A lot.

It’s a simple math problem. You may want to grab a calculator. You will have to show your work.

If my United flight from Washington-Dulles into O’Hare arrives at Gate C6 at 2:15 PM CST and my connection to Des Moines departs Gate B4 at 3:10PM CST, how much time (if any) do I have to haul myself and my belongings all the way to Gate C22, where my all-time favorite airport food, a Chicago-style hot dog, awaits me?

And even if I make it to C22, is there enough time for the vendor to apply all of the necessary toppings? Or Will I have to make the difficult decision to forego the nuclear-green relish in favor of an extra shake of celery salt?

These are the dilemmas I face as a constant air traveler. Where can I find the best food at airports I'm lucky to spend an hour or two in, at most?

For a CNN cameraman, food while flying is essential. I promise you there is never time for us to grab grub once we land at our final destination. What precious time we have between the plane to pressing record is devoted to pulling our multiple equipment cases off the luggage carousel, lugging those cases onto a cart, pushing the cart to the arrival curb, throwing the cases onto a rental car shuttle, throwing them off the rental car shuttle, playing Tetris with them in the back of a rental vehicle, slapping the GPS onto the windshield, and finally making our way to the shoot location - if we are lucky enough to know in advance where that may be.

Do you see any time in there for a baguette with cheese and a glass of wine? You don’t need a slide rule to figure that one out.

So, to help others who might find themselves in a similar crunch, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite food spots in airports around the country. These are spots where I or my colleagues must stop at if we get a chance to eat.

Are these the most elegant food choices? No. Will everyone agree with me? Certainly not. Could trying these spots leave you with indigestion? Sure, there are a few likely offenders on the list.

Hopefully, though, some of these suggestions will prove helpful when you find yourself in a Philly pinch or a Detroit delay.

Note: The airports I’ve included are hubs of major airlines. Consequently, these are places where you’d most likely have a layover between connecting flights.

Albuquerque (ABQ) – La Hacienda
Between Concourse A and B you’ll find this little place that serves great New Mexican food on the go. On your inbound Southwest flight, you’ll have time to make up your mind: red or green? We're talking chiles, of course.

Atlanta (ATL) – Chick-fil-A
It’s not flashy, and it’s a chain, but I always make a beeline for this Hartsfield-Jackson institution and its waffle fries. It’s located across from Gate A11 - and you usually can see the line somewhere around A22.

Baltimore (BWI) – Obrycki's
Baltimore. Crab cakes. Concourse B. Enough said.

Boston (BOS) – Legal’s Test Kitchen
The weather is chilly most of the time you find yourself in Beantown. There’s not much better to warm the insides than a warm cup of "chowdah." You can find this and some oyster crackers in Terminal A between Gate 4 and 5.

Charlotte (CLT)
I don't know as much about the fare in Charlotte because I spend most of my layover time in the NASCAR store at Douglas Airport, They do, however, have Jamba Juice. For me, Jamba is the easiest breakfast, energy pep, make-me-think-I’m –ingesting-something-healthy item at an airport. If you are looking for actual food, I suggest one of the various BBQ joints.

Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) – Reggio’s
This is the one food I will go out of my way for EVERY time I’m in O’Hare. I love Chi-dogs. If you’re not feeling the tomatoes, hot peppers, celery salt, relish, mustard, and other toppings, Reggio’s offers the Windy City’s other food staple: Italian beef sandwiches. Reggio's have a few spots at O'Hare (I know of the one at Gate C22). Bonus points: If your expecting wife is with you or waiting at home, it’s best to stop at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate store at Gate B14 and get her a caramel apple. Trust me, I know this from experience.

Cincinnati (CVG) – Gold Star Chili
Don’t trust Webster and his dictionary cronies. You can’t spell Cincinnati without C-H-I-L-I. After you hop off your Delta regional flight, run to Gold Star in Terminal 3. If you’re up to the challenge and don’t care about the well being of your fellow passengers on the next flight, go with the 5-Way. [Cincinnati-raised editor's note: That'd be Greek-style chili over spaghetti with shredded cheese, onions and beans. YUM.]

Dallas (DFW) – The D Terminal
I had to ask our CNN Dallas correspondent, Ed Lavandera, for help on this one. He didn’t have any specific places in mind, but he did say the new Terminal D has a lot of good options. Maybe try the Reata Grill or the La Bodega Winery - and let us know your findings in the comments below.

Denver (DEN) – New Belgium Brewing Hub
Denver International Airport is my native airport. I'll admit I am completely biased about this great structure on the plains of the Rocky Mountain Front Range. But back to food - or, rather, beverage. New Belgium has excellent craft beers. I love, really love, the Sunshine Wheat. Their monarch is Fat Tire, but the rest of the king’s court is pretty darn good, too. The hub is a little out of the way, around Gate B80, but it’s worth the walk.

Detroit (DTW) – National Coney Island Express
They take their Coney Island dogs seriously in Motown. Families have gone to war with each other over the best recipe in the city. Fortunately for us passing through, we can grab a quick bite of the battle near Gate A46.

Houston (IAH) – Pappadeaux
The quarter of Cajun blood running through my veins always leads me to crave some Southern comfort food. The gumbo and other Cajun delights in Terminal E are hard to pass up.

Kansas City/Milwaukee (MCI/MKE)
I’ve combined these two airports for a reason. These are both hubs for the former Midwest (recently merged with Frontier) Airlines. You should never be hungry flying into these airports because you should have devoured several of their amazing fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies on the inbound flight. No one can argue with warm chocolate chip cookies.

Los Angeles (LAX) – In ‘n Out
This entry differs from my other suggestions because it's actually not in the airport. But go with me here. If you are connecting through LAX, odds are good that you’re flying international - which often means a several hour wait. So hop in a cab, hit up this California icon on Sepulveda Blvd., and thank me later. [Editor's note: Fries well-done, and ask for the burger "animal style."]

Memphis (MEM) – Interstate BBQ
BBQ, barbecue, bar-b-que is a no-brainer in Memphis. Get off of your Delta flight and follow your nose to Gate B14.

Miami (MIA) – La Carreta
Every connection I’ve made through Miami leads me to Latin or South America. Cuban food is the perfect way to get me in the mood for these trips. Do yourself a favor and have a Cubano sandwich - ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard - at La Carreta in Terminal D Gate 37.

Minneapolis (MSP) – Dairy Queen, A&W, Axel’s Bonfire
This is a great airport: friendly folks, clean, and just a good feel to the place. Throw in a Dairy Queen chocolate banana shake or A&W root beer float and I might just have to volunteer my seat for the next flight. If you’re in MSP and want something fancier, in the comments below, let me know what Axel’s has to offer. It looks intriguing and located in the Mall area of the airport.

Newark (EWR) – Gallagher’s Steak House
We’re talking about Newark here. If my original layover is 45 minutes, I plan on being there for three hours (and not being happy about it). A nice juicy steak is just what I need to extinguish my flames of fury - and I know I’ll have plenty of time to eat one. Terminal C, Gate 121.

New York LaGuardia (LGA) – Tagliare
See Baltimore above. Substitute large slice pizza for crabcakes. Terminal D.

Philadelphia (PHL) – Chickie and Pete’s
Did someone say crab fries? That cannot be a bad thing. These guys serve them alongside cheesesteaks and a whole slew of other foods that will make you want to love your brother, or the stranger sitting next to you at the bar. Terminal A, C, E.

Phoenix (PHX) – El Bravo
When it comes to tamales…Bravo, indeed. Terminal 4, Gate D.

Pittsburgh (PIT)
I can’t say if I’ve actually ever flown through Pittsburgh. Nothing comes to mind. I looked on the airport’s website and it looks like there are several pubs, grilles, and brewhouses to try from. Please assist your fellow passengers in the comments below.

St. Louis (STL) – Budweiser Stadium Club
Back when I was in college at Mizzou, I flew out of Lambert a lot, when it had a cool replica of the bar from Cheers. I’m pretty sure it’s as long gone as some of the homers Sam Malone gave up in his career. So, if you can find a place that serves the St. Louis-staple of toasted raviolis, I’d go there. If not, you can’t go wrong with a cold Bud from the city in which it's brewed. Near Gate E10.

Salt Lake City (SLC) – Dick Clark’s Grill
It had me at “Not Your Mom’s Meatloaf.” Listen for the oldies rocking between Concourse C and D.

San Francisco (SFO) – Boudin
I can only speak to the domestic terminal at SFO, but the chance to order a fresh sourdough round in San Francisco earns this my nod. It’s located in a food court in Terminal 3. I’ve heard the Burger Joint in the International Terminal is pretty tasty as well.

Seattle/Tacoma (SEA) – Anthony’s
If, say, you're on the way up to Alaska for a fishing trip, Anthony’s in the Central Terminal is a solid place to stop for good seafood. Plus, it may just give you extra motivation when you’re trying to reel in that 35-lb. halibut from the ocean floor.

Washington DC-Dulles (IAD)/ Reagan National (DCA) – Five Guys
Dulles and National are my base airports. Five Guys hamburger chains have exploded across the country, but the first store was in northern Virginia, so Dulles and National can both claim it as their own. The Terminal A location in Dulles provides a welcome respite en route to the far-outlying gates of the United regional flights. At National, look for it tucked around the left-corner on Concourse A. Their bacon cheeseburgers are tough to beat.

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Filed under: Airlines • Airports • America • Bite • Food in the Field • Restaurants • Travel

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soundoff (163 Responses)
  1. Neopets

    Fantastic issues altogether, you simply gained a new reader. What might you recommend in regards to your publish that you simply made a few days ago? Any sure?

    January 17, 2013 at 12:44 am |
  2. brian

    sorry sir your taste buds have just not matured yet! anthonys is one of the worst choices of seafood on the west coast.
    i would eat at a hotdog stand before there!

    November 17, 2012 at 2:07 am |
  3. tryecrot

    Yes there should realize the opportunity to RSS commentary, quite simply, CMS is another on the blog.

    August 26, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  4. Juiceman

    DFW, for those who fly Delta/NW, check out the Dickie's BBQ. Dickie's is a Dallas BBQ standard and you can't go wrong with the hot-links sandwitch. Enjoy.

    December 20, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  5. CLT

    For local flavor in Charlotte, go down the B concourse and get some spicy fried chicken and a big delicious homemade biscuit at Bojangles. It is a chain that started in Charlotte. Even the hot sauce is made in NC. But the biscuits are awesome. Not real good for your arteries, but delicious.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:37 pm |
  6. kgfromDFW

    DFW: Right on about Terminal D – great food available there, both compared to rest of DFW and to other airports too. I'll speak up for Cantina Laredo (outpost of a small Tex Mex chain from outside the airport) and Blue Mesa (ditto) in Term D. FWIW, Urban Taco is over in Terminal C - great food compared to fairly big-chain-heavy choices.

    November 14, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  7. Karl

    PS – There's a great pizza place in Charlotte, but I can't recall the name.

    November 14, 2010 at 9:41 am |
  8. AR

    I appreciate this article as well. I usually have to connect in either DTW or MSP to fly internationally, and I always end up choosing the worst places to get a meal or snack. Due to security, it's difficult to bring your own food from home or from a hotel. Most of the time you have to throw it out before passing through security. On top of it all, if I'm flying internationally, I like to load up on good snacks and food to save and bring with me on the plane. Like most, I am not a fan of the hot food served on board. When you're flying overseas for 13 hours, you're going to want something tastey to hold you over. I sure begin to miss a pizza (even if it's cold!) when I am 6 hours into my flight and they start serving chicken slop. :)

    November 14, 2010 at 9:20 am |
  9. Karl

    Best deal in DFW is Auntie Anne's Pretzels – I always get a pretzel dog – they're great, and for airport food, you can't beat the price!

    November 14, 2010 at 9:19 am |
  10. Dave

    Appreciate the article. I will look for some of these places to eat when I travel. I have to say though, I was born and raised in the Chicago Land area and if all of these airports had a Vienna Beef Hot Dog stand, that would be my first choice!

    November 14, 2010 at 8:39 am |
  11. Alexis

    Sept. of this year on our way to Disney World we had a layover in Chicago and I must say the food and service sucked big time. I bought chinese food from the main food court and found a big long black hair (mine is short and brown) in my food. After I brought it back since I had to pay an exhorbitant price for it... I went over a few stalls down and bought a slice of pizza for my son. The people there were so rude to me it wasn't funny. A security guard standing at the register chatting it up with the employees had to remind them to give me my food and drink as they seemed to have forgotten to give it to me after I paid my money... never again will I consider eating at that airport. A waste of my time and money. BTW the chinese rest. didn't even apologize and they didn't want to give me back my money... but alas I won once I told the crowded line of potential patrons that I had a hair in my food and showed it to them as I waited the managers decision. Not nice I know but hey... $20 for a hairy plate of chow mein is a lot of money if you ask me. They didn't lose any customers because of the hair... still stayed in line to get the delicious concoctions.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:26 am |
  12. Perry

    In Pittsburgh Airport (PIT), O'Brien's Grille & Pub is the best place to eat if you have at least an hour.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:12 am |
  13. Andrew

    Yeah, this is really a superb list. Believe me, I know. And who better to compile it than an intrepid CNN cameraman? Great work; I love it.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:00 am |
  14. stuman

    Geeeze... what happened to the grey turkey, jellied gravy, "steamed" broccoli (which next step would be soup), hard (I could use this as a weapon) rolls and a Brownie that had enough caffeine in it to keep you awake all of your flight served on a melmaline plate that was good for a soap dish at home? I really miss those days... the eatery foods in the airports pale by comparison.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:56 am |
  15. Patronus

    Wow, thanks for the lively conversation this morning. I will be flying to Orlando from the White Plains Airport and stopping through Dulles in January. I look forward to the layover so I can eat loads of crap!

    November 14, 2010 at 7:15 am |
  16. derbycitytexmex

    If you are at Reagan National, try Matsutake Sushi in front of terminal BC. Good enough to visit even if you aren't flying!

    November 14, 2010 at 2:49 am |
  17. reb146

    thanks for the article!

    In baltimore (BWI) i enjoy DuClaw, strange name but great craft beer(get the 8 shot glass sampler) and decent food.

    money is a issue for me, so i try to stay away from crab cakes!

    November 14, 2010 at 2:43 am |
  18. ringo

    Totally agree about Chicago. I once asked a travel agent for a *longer* layover so I could get a chili dog. (She thought it was hilarious). The fish chowder at Legals in Boston is also to die for. In New York, however, go for Nathans.

    (While I'm at it, if you're taking Amtrak between Boston and NY there's a Rosie's Bakery in South Station on the Boston side, and a floating Sushi Bar in NY that are both notable).

    November 14, 2010 at 1:34 am |
  19. dcw

    There's a pub/grill in PIT that I always seem to end up eating at whenever I'm there before a flight - the name escapes me at the moment, but it's off the central shopping area. It's not bad. Not stellar, but not bad. My bigger weakness in PIT is the Godiva shop, just because chocolate is infinitely portable and I can get some goodies for later and stuff 'em in my carryon and have chocolatey bliss wherever I roam.

    Anthony's in SEA is actually part of a local chain, but that doesn't change that I love the place. I always try to get to the airport early enough to sit down and enjoy a light meal and a glass of wine before subjecting myself to the vagaries of air travel. I seriously recommend planked salmon if you can get it. Alder- or cedar-planked salmon is one of the great food treasures of the Pacific Northwest, and Anthony's does this absolutely stellar roasted red-pepper beurre blanc sauce...damn it, now I'm hungry. Is it the best thing for you? Nah. Does it taste amazing? OH yes.

    Get to the airport early, leisurely check-in, nice pre-flight meal, make sure a big bottle of water and some light snacks are easily accessible in-flight (I like dried fruit and salted peanuts, personally), and I'm generally quite happy and relaxed by the time I get to my destination.

    November 14, 2010 at 12:50 am |
  20. DENFlyer

    New Belgium is a good choice at DEN. The food is good and filling, and the beer is first-rate. If you go there, see if they have any 1554. Absolutely, positively the best brew they make, and that's coming from someone who loves his Fat Tire and also enjoys the Sunshine.

    If you need something quicker on B, Itza Wrap Itza Bowl, in the center core just off the main thoroughfare, is quite good. They're affiliated with Que Bueno (there's even some cross-pollenation in the menus), for those of you who like Que Bueno. Quick, cheap, and incredibly tasty, not to mention healthy as airport food goes.

    If you want something more upscale, go to the Denver Chop House in the A Concourse.

    If you're on the C Concourse, La Casita is wonderful. Their tamales are outstanding with either the red or green chile sauce, and the portions are actually human-sized. Their breakfasts are very tasty, as well.

    November 14, 2010 at 12:31 am |
  21. Parrot cake

    Nice idea for an article, but the follow-through begs for this headline: "Sure-fire ways to have diarrhea at 35,000 feet."

    November 14, 2010 at 12:11 am |
  22. country cowgirl

    Best place to eat in MSP (Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport) is not DQ or A&W...how boring. French Meadows – it has a nice ambiance with healthier dinning options – a true rarity these days!

    November 14, 2010 at 12:00 am |
  23. thoroughbred

    I cant believe the author posted Chick Fil A as the place to go for the best regional food at Atlantas Hartsfield-Jackson airport. Granted its good chicken, but I can get that at the drive thru. I go thru ATL several times a year and make a beeline for Paschal's Southern Cuisine, there are 2 in the airport, I always go to the one in the Atrium. Wonderful fried chicken, mac and cheese, but the thing I crave are the sweet potatoes, they are unlike any I have ever had,after the 1st time I had them, thats the only thing I order, I even emailed them once asking what the spice was I couldnt identify, but of course got no reply. If you get a chance go to Paschals, have some sweet potatoes for me.

    November 13, 2010 at 11:53 pm |
  24. Stephanie

    San Jose International Airport in California now has MOJO BURGER! A Mojo with Cheese meal is the standard. You'll get a good old fashioned burger, thick shake and great fries. They are a local favorite! For Vegetarians they have Boca Burgers too!

    November 13, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
  25. cucountry

    In DTW, my suggestion is the Sushi restaurant near the center of the Delta (mid-field) terminal. It's quite good and almost qualifies as regional food, given the automotive connection between Detroit and Japan.

    In MSP, my restaurant of choice is Ike's, which has a local connection.

    November 13, 2010 at 11:04 pm |
  26. Jesse from Kansas

    Tigin Irish Pub in Terminal D at DFW ... the Irish breakfast is fantastic!

    November 13, 2010 at 10:49 pm |
  27. Allison

    You'd better not be hungry when you fly through Kansas City (MCI). In the Delta terminal, all the restaurants are OUTSIDE of the security area. Even then, it's slim pickings. The only thing inside security (at least at the Delta gates) is a little kiosk that sells yogurt parfaits, a few salads and a few sandwiches.

    November 13, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
  28. JR

    I recently went through Austin TX, about 4 miles from the airport is a place called Ray's, looks like a questionable neighborhood, but I got a 1/2 pound of brisket at 10:45 AM with two sides of BBQ sauce and walked the BBQ through security at the Austin airport. Got to my gate with an hour to spare and dang my belief in one off BBQ places stands firm, they know brisket. I can't get it that good up north.

    November 13, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  29. RIck

    PIT has like 5 Friday's and that's pretty much it. If you are there in the morning, don't waste an hour standing in line at McDonnalds or Au Bon Pain.....there is never a line at Sabarros! lol

    November 13, 2010 at 10:16 pm |
  30. briemarie

    Portland, ME airport! VERY good lobster roll! Small airport, but great restaurant!

    November 9, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
  31. goduke23

    Pittsburgh- Stop by Quaker, Steak and Lube- excellent wings.

    November 9, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
  32. gkingii

    You left out New Orleans... or is the only reason you go there is for the food?

    November 9, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  33. STL Girl

    Peeps – remember this article is about what "regional" foods to eat when on a layover!! We all know what's healthy to eat (fruit, bagel, water, etc.), but how often do you visit that you can't try something known to the area. Everything in moderation! (BTW, I'm still bummed that I missed out on Skyline Chili when I was in Cincy for a weekend a few years ago!)

    November 9, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  34. Les

    all the airports have fresh fruit – i stick w/ that and a pack of pretzels.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  35. Treynor

    If you would like to try a true Pittsburgh experience then you have to go to Primanti Brothers. Cheesesteak "No 2" bestseller complete with cole slaw and french fries in/on the sandwich. Also many more varieties all the better with the fries and slaw. There is not a Primanti's in Pittsburgh airport (yet) but there is a location relatively close by in the Moon Township business district near Robert Morris University. If you miss them in Pittsburgh they also have three locations coveniently located in the Fort Lauderdale area for those of us who need our fix before or after the beach. Of course Primanti's in the strip district in Pittsburgh is the best place to be around 2 am just after the bars close.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
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