Trying out the best new restaurants is half of why we travel, but chances are that you’ll have to spend at least one meal at the airport during your trip. We have no shame in admitting that after a particularly brutal flight, a burrito from Chipotle often hits the spot, but with a little planning, an airport lunch can become another opportunity to fill up on good local eats.
Here are some of the Journy team’s favorites:
Shuttling over 100 million passengers each year, the world’s busiest airport also boasts an excellent restaurant. One Flew South has a decidedly Asian influence—soba noodles, unagi fried rice, and a “Seoul burger” all feature on the menu—but there’s plenty of Southern comfort along the lines of okra, golden raisin slaw, and Carolina grits.
Rick Bayless is a local celebrity in the Windy City: his flagship Frontera Grill updates Mexican food with inventive shared plates, while Topolobampo takes it even farther in a series of elaborate tasting menus. So when Tortas Frontera opened at O’Hare International Airport, the hype was, understandably, overwhelming. Expect lines as long as McDonald’s, but food that’s way better.
Hong Kong (HKG)
Wildly popular local chain Beef & Liberty has two outlets in Hong Kong and, as of this year, a third in the airport. You can get the signature classics, like the bacon cheeseburger and The Notorious P.I.G., but if you’re not ready to part ways with Hong Kong’s delicious barbecue meats, opt for a char siu burger, an airport exclusive.
Los Angeles (LAX)
With multiple health-conscious options available in LAX, the land of kale smoothies and quinoa bowls doesn’t disappoint. A favorite is the bright and cheery Lemonade, the popular chain that offers seasonal salads, bowls, and main dishes. Vegetarians and vegans can also get their fix at plant-based Real Food Daily.
Grab a pint of beer at London’s Pride, styled after an English pub and spacious enough to pass the time during a long layover. The restaurant serves simple food like sandwiches and burgers to go alongside your drink. You can also try Heston Blumenthal’s The Perfectionists’ Cafe for English staples like fish and chips, a salt beef sandwich, or, if you’re there in the morning, a full English breakfast.
Iberico ham is famous the world over, so you should take advantage of getting it as close to the source as possible. Madrid-Barajas Airport has sit-down restaurants, but you should pass these over in favor of one of the several chains, including Rodilla and Origins by Enrique Tomás, that offer to-go sandwiches.
New York (JFK)
Burgers are part and parcel of American dining, and Shake Shack is integral to the New York burger scene, so what’s the logical thing to do while waiting for a flight in Terminal 4? Grab a ShackBurger. Mark Rosati’s formula for putting a patty, American cheese, lettuce, and tomato on a bun may be simple, but it’s delicious. If you’ve got an early morning flight, the Stumptown coffee is perfect.
The hottest addition in 2018 to Incheon International Airport is Pyunghwaok, opened by the two-Michelin-starred chef-owner of Jungsik, Yim Jung-sik. Chef Jung-sik serves cutting-edge takes on Korean cuisine at his eponymous restaurant, but the dishes at Pyunghwaok are more accessible: think braised pork with kimchi or a beef and rice stew.
Only in Tokyo would it be worth hazarding a meal at the airport sushi bar. The unassuming Sushi Kyotatsu is legit, offering plenty of à la carte options, and even an omakase for about $73. There’s usually a wait for seats, but as is customary in sushi counters across Japan, turnover is fast.