Once a well-deserved punch line, airport cuisine is undergoing a major renaissance. High-profile chefs, local street food purveyors and award-winning cocktailers are checking in at the once humble concourse. JS contributor Emily Saladino explores the world’s best airports for hungry travelers
Photo courtesy of Cava Grill
Stuttgart Airport (STR), Terminal 1
Despite an unceremonious location, the white tablecloth Top Air is the world’s only Michelin-starred airport restaurant and has been consistently awarded its star since 1992. Chef Marco Akuzun’s tasting menus include caviar-topped diver scallop ceviche, tender veal in a vibrant curry and South African langoustines with speck and chanterelles.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Terminal 2
In addition to Cat Cora’s Kitchen, the Iron Chef’s tarmac-to-table comfort food spot, Terminal 2 is home to Napa Farms Market, a food hall that offers gourmet goods from beloved local purveyors like Acme Bread and Cowgirl Creamery. Add an organic Rainforest Alliance–certified brew from Equator Coffee, and you’ve got yourself a Bay Area trifecta.
Singapore Changi Airport (SIN), Terminal 3
The hawker-style stalls throughout Singapore’s remarkably well-appointed airport are the stuff of legend, and the best reason to arrive early for any departure. (Sorry not sorry, TSA.) Sample chili crabs, Hainanese chicken rice, coconut-scented nasi lemak, roast duck and rainbow-colored ice kachang, and instantly forget the last time you settled for a $6 bag of pretzels.
Barcelona Airport (BCN), Terminal 1
The airport branch of Catalan chef Carles Gaig’s eponymous eatery might not share the Michelin star of his Eixample original, but the concourse-adjacent Porta Gaig serves signature dishes like veal-stuffed cannelloni in a light bechamel sauce, plus elegant snacks like fresh Cantabrian anchovies atop tomato-and-garlic-rubbed toast, and rare Spanish wines by the glass.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Terminal 4
Last December chef, author and man about town Roy Choi parked his popular Kogi truck at American Airlines’ Terminal 4, giving travelers a taste of his Korean, Mexican and utterly Angeleno street food. We recommend the classic short rib tacos, made with Korean barbecue, salsa rioja and cilantro-lime relish.
Narita International Airport (NRT), Terminal 1
Airport sushi is not usually advisable, but Narita’s Sushi Kyotatsu is exceptional in all regards. High-quality fish — such as the same wild bluefin tuna sold at Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji market — chilled mugs of Sapporo, convivial staffers and dramatic tarmac views make the occasional wait for takeaway or sit-down service well worth it.
LaGuardia Airport (LGA), Terminal D
Once the ugly duckling of New York City’s airports, LaGuardia has been seriously upping its gastronomic game. In addition to boldfaced toques Andrew Carmellini and Michael White opening spots in Terminal C, Terminal D has Bisoux, a très Gallic bistro from two Balthazar alums; Taste of Tagliare, a pizza place from Brooklyn superstar Dom DeMarco; and all-American meaty mains from Custom Burgers by Pat La Frieda.
Portland International Airport (PDX), pre-security between Concourse A-C and D-E
There are more than 600 food trucks in Portland. Last winter the airport added a few more. The rotating cast of mobile maestros in the minicart pod at PDX currently includes Pok Pok Wing, which serves hometown hero Andy Ricker’s dangerously addictive “Ike’s” fish sauce wings, as well as a branch of chef Bo Kwan’s beloved Korean-Mexican-Oregonian spot Koi Fusion.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Terminal E
One Flew South is an anomaly among airport restaurants. The James Beard–nominated spot has superlative cocktails (we like the Pretty Brown Eyes, made with Eagle Rare bourbon and benedictine), and chef Duane Nutter’s Southern-accented gastropub menu includes the likes of local trout with stone-ground grits and a duck confit sandwich with fig and peanut relish. Mercy.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Terminal B
Washington DC's finest are landing on the Northern Virginia airfield this fall. Top Chef alum Mike Isabella will debut a branch of his Arlington eatery Kapnos Taverna, Richard Sandoval is planning an outpost of Mexican comfort food spot El Centro DF, and fast-casual counter Cava Grill will introduce breakfast items like steel-cut oatmeal and Greek yogurts to its lineup of health-conscious, Mediterranean-leaning build-a-bowls. Now that's change we can believe in.