Elevated Airport Dining: Airports Across the Nation Are Setting a New Dining Standard

By Suzy Badaracco, Foodable Industry Expert

Dining area at Jet Blue Terminal 5 at JFK in NYC 

Dining area at Jet Blue Terminal 5 at JFK in NYC 

Airport restaurants and lounges have been elevated to destination dining and have been sought after by popular chefs and global restaurant chains. They are setting a new standard for fresh, quick fare and design elements to cater to the world traveler. These locations are now influencing brick and mortar locations and their offerings.

Besides the upgrade in food offerings, technologies are expanding in airports including food cart tech, refrigerated open vending, and others. The bar scene inside airports are also getting attention for their forward thinking style, décor, and offerings. Frequent travelers are drawn to various airports for their layovers between flights because of their restaurant / bar offerings. This trend birth is a Ricochet which occurs when a trend moves laterally into a new arena. In this case, its birth parent resides in the fresh and authentic movement occurring in traditional brick and mortar restaurants. More upscale restaurants are popping up in airport terminals as restaurateurs seek affluent travelers with a taste for gourmet fare.  

Some of the Most Elevated Airports in the Country

New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport will add 28 new restaurants beginning summer 2015, as part of a $120 million airport upgrade. The restaurants will be created by 24 well-known chefs. Ratha Chaupoly will open a banh mi spot. Dale Talde will open Caps Beer Garden and Little Purse, a dim sum parlor. Josh Capon will have SRF Bar, a surf and sushi bar, and Wanderlust Bar for burgers. And Mario Carbone will create a clam bar, an Italian steakhouse and Casciano’s Italian Specialties.  

The push toward healthier, more interesting airport dining has been encouraged by travelers. Newark Liberty International Airport will require chefs to shop at greenmarkets three times a week. JetBlue opened a shop, New York Minute, that sells New York produce, honey and other local products in the renovated Terminal 5, and the airline is considering growing potatoes or other crops at John F.  Kennedy International Airport. This is similar to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, where an aeroponic garden provides herbs and vegetables to restaurants.  

Increasingly, when you're between flights, you can find dishes from roast duck noodles to short rib tortas and soft shell crabs. Here are a few to sample next time you are traveling:

  • Lemonade - LAX, Terminal 5 offers cafeteria-style a la carte dining encompasses freshly prepared salads, veggies, proteins, pastas, sandwiches and soups. Lemonade flavors include cucumber mint, watermelon rosemary and blood orange.

  • Root Down - Denver Intl.  Airport, Terminal C features items like lamb sliders and Thai carrot curry soup.

  • Café Versailles - Miami Intl.  Airport, Terminal D, E and F offers Cuban sandwiches, pastries, empanadas and coffee at a counter.  

  • Surdyk's Flights - Minneapolis-St. Paul Intl.  Airport, Terminals 1 and 2 offers an airport wine bar serving charcuterie, cheese plates, salads, sandwiches and a breakfast menu. It sells signature wine flights and cocktails, and a buy & fly service for wine by the bottle.  

  • Legal Sea Foods - Boston Logan Intl.  Airport, Terminals A, B, C has a test kitchen in Terminal A and locations in B and C where you can order a crab cake or a lobster roll.  

  • High West Distillery and Saloon - Salt Lake City Intl. Airport, Terminal 1/Concourse E features the airport version of High West Distillery and Saloon is known for spirits and small plates, breakfast fare like its sourdough waffle with real maple syrup.  

  • Tortas Frontera - Chicago O'Hare Intl.  Airport, Terminal 1, 3 & 5 where Rick Bayless offers Griddle-baked tortas, local ingredients, guacamole, and margaritas.  

  • One Flew South - Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Intl.  Airport, Terminal 2/Concourse E offers seaweed salad, thyme-roasted pork belly, pulled duck sandwich, salmon bruschetta and a full sushi menu.

Pepito Torta: Beer-braised Beef Short Ribs, pickled Jalapeños, Chihuahua Cheese, Black Beans, Cilantro Crema & Arugula at Tortas Frontera at Chicago O'Hare | YELP, D K. 

Pepito Torta: Beer-braised Beef Short Ribs, pickled Jalapeños, Chihuahua Cheese, Black Beans, Cilantro Crema & Arugula at Tortas Frontera at Chicago O'Hare | YELP, D K. 

National chains are following suit including Darden Restaurants, which is expanding into airports as a LongHorn Steakhouse opens in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Wolfgang Puck will have three new airport-based fast casuals– including Wolfgang Puck Fresh Express, in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Terminal D. Other locations will open in Cancun International Airport, Calgary International Airport, and Dubai International Airport in 2015’s first quarter. Smashburger will open locations in airports at Phoenix, AZ, Washington, DC, and Dallas, TX. Additional restaurants are already located at Newark Liberty International, Salt Lake City International, Philadelphia International and Juan Santamaría International airports. And Yum! Brands Inc. will open a Vietnamese-inspired fast-casual sandwich shop, Banh Shop, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport’s Terminal D.

Now travelers can sip, snack, and dine their way through airports without compromising their palate. Travel schedules can be oriented to meal times and layover options to create a more interesting, three dimensional experience. So next time there is a kid kicking your seat or the person in front of you has reclined his seat into your lap, just keep thinking – “lobster roll, lobster roll, lobster roll…”