Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Best (Worst) Food for Your Next Airport Layover

Traveling as much as I do, the reality is that meals happen in airports now and then. It's tough to eat well on the road, especially in the airport, which can sometimes be a wasteland of quickly reheated frozen entrees.

That said, there is a trend of better food coming into airports. If you have an extended layover, there are even good options in some terminals. If you've got 90 minutes in Seattle, Anthony's is the place. Even Phoenix Sky Harbor, recently home to disgusting options in Terminal 4 has opened some full-kitchen places where you can get good Mexican food and more.

But you don't always have 90 minutes. Fast food - or something quick - is often a necessity. That or you get to take your chances with whatever food your airline happens to be selling on your flight. From traveling around, here are some of my favorite bad-for-you-but-local options, many of which can offer a taste of the city where you are laying over. Fair warning: many of these could kill you.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), B Concourse - Bojangles'
We'll start with the one that inspired the blog. I'm sure you have KFC or whatever in your neck of the woods. If you live anywhere near North Carolina, you probably are already nodding your head. Tucked away at the far end of the B concourse at CLT is Bojangles' and to compare it to KFC is an insult to Bojangles'. Fried chicken is the main thing, though I prefer the Chicken Supremes meal with seasoned fries and a biscuit. This has about a zillion calories in it. Or as I like to call it, a zillion little pieces of delicious. They have other southern sides, too. If you're having trouble finding it, just look for the always-present long line.

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), Throughout - Soft Pretzels
Philly folks can remember sitting in traffic on the Boulevard or leaving a Phillies game... there was always a guy selling soft pretzels. Not hot. No no... these are room-temperature pretzels. But what a deal! Back in the day, it was three for a dollar. At PHL, it's three for $2. Also, they now come individually wrapped in plastic, which somewhat sullies the experience of pretzels simply wrapped in a brown paper bag. That said, the new wrapping also notes the date the pretzels were baked and every time I am in PHL, I am pleased to see it was same day. You can find a decent cheesesteak in PHL, but you can find the signature soft pretzel.

Houston Intercontinental (IAH), Terminal B Food Court - Harlon's BBQ
Those of us who are enlightened and know that Texas BBQ is the only BBQ have this option at the United hub. Beef. Chicken. Turkey. Ribs. Not messing around. And not like the other crap in the airport. You have this, you know you are in Texas. Speaking of...

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), Main Terminal - The Salt Lick
Let's just be clear: Austin is doing it right. They have plenty of local food vendors and you can even hear live music in the terminal. This is a fantastic airport and the only thing that makes it even better is The Salt Lick. When I am in town, I plan on eating at the airport just for this. If I already ahd BBQ once that day, I still get Salt Lick before my flight. Because, to borrow a phrase, it is The Truth. Such good food that might one day kill you.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), near main food court - Ivar's
At my home airport, where are plenty of good eats, this is my favorite local quick-service spot. The fish and chips is the draw, though you could be a baller and want salmon and chips. Or you could really be a baller and want halibut and chips. Whatever. It's good stuff. The same stuff you could get down by the ferry terminal, just in the airport. There's a Wendy's and a Qdoba around the corner. Ivar's wins.

Denver International Airport (DEN), B Concourse - New Belgium Hub
This is more of a beer stop. If you cannot get to the brewery, this is not a bad choice. And the food is good! And yes, lots of airports are seeing the light and putting in decent local brew pubs, but they're still too rare for my liking. Where's Four Peaks in Phoenix, for instance?

Speaking of, there are some disappointing airports that seem to be ignoring low-hanging fruit. Los Angeles International (LAX) doesn't have an In-N-Out, which seems like it shouldn't even be legal. Disappointments: Chicago O'Hare (ORD) has Pizzeria Uno, but no Geno's East or Lou Malnati's. Big miss there.

Of course, I don't hit every airport... what did I miss?