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When we fly, whether for work and for fun, eating at an airport sometimes becomes unavoidable. But in a sea of shrink-wrapped tuna sandwiches and overpriced day-old muffins, it is possible to find a decent meal when awaiting our flight. We know this because we asked America’s best chefs where they love to eat when on the fly.

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Steve McHugh: Two time James Beard Awards Finalist; chef at Cured in San Antonio, Texas.

Photo courtesy of Josh Huskin

Since I suffer with Motion Sickness I like to have a pre-flight cocktail. Chef Johnny Hernandez’s libations from the Fruteria at the San Antonio airport always hit the spot. It’s a great place for small bites and has an amazing tequila collection. Chicken + Beer at the Atlanta airport is a must for me. It’s rare when airport service matches the food and these servers never make you feel like just another traveler. A thoughtful, locally-focused craft beer menu is also a plus.

 

Anthony Lamas: Extreme Chef winner; has appeared on America’s Best Bites, Beat Bobby Flay and Bar Rescue, chef at Seviche in Louisville, Kentucky.
When flying through D.C. at Reagan International Airport, I always make a stop at Kapnos Taverna by Mike Isabella. I have always loved his food and his Greek restaurant always hits the spot for me, my wife and kids. I typically choose the roasted spiced cauliflowers with raisins, yogurt and mint because I find the combination to be amazing. Additionally, I will go with the Brussels sprouts with burnt coriander honey and almonds, which makes for a delicious and flavorful dish. And lastly, it’s unlikely I would ever stop by Kapnos Taverna without ordering the addictive Fried Greek Potatoes served with their special Greek Island sauce.

 

Brian Riggenbach: Chopped winner; chef at the Mockingbird in Nashville, which he co-owns (alongside husband and general manager Mikey Corona) of the Mockingbird in Nashville, Tennessee.


When flying through an airport lucky enough to have a Whataburger, I am sure to hit it up! Founded in Mikey’s hometown, Whataburger is a staple in Texas and a pure delight of indulgence. Fantastic burgers, innovative combo meals, and just a perfect comfort, treat-yo-self kind of meal. It is totally crave-able, greasy and a perfect late night go to!

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Jeffrey Saad: Chef and host of United Tastes of America on the Cooking Channel.

As a self-proclaimed wine aficionado, I couldn’t believe it the first time I learned something new about wine was at a Vino Volo in an airport! Whenever I am in an airport that has one, I am there. I even had a killer mini taco plate which matched perfectly with my Viognier. First it was nasty sticky buns, then it was a Wolfgang Puck pizza or okay gourmet sandwich and now it is mastering wine! With that said you will still see me grabbing a bag of Cheetos for the plane!

 

Sarah Grueneberg: James Beard Award Winner, runner up on Top Chef Texas and Iron Chef Guantlet; chef at Monteverde in Chicago.


When flying out of her base of Chicago O’Hare, like most chefs, Grueneberg will frequent Tortas Frontera. Her go to picks are a nice margarita or shot of tequila, something she learned from her mentor Tony Mantuano. Grueneberg likes the Milanesa with crispy chicken, artisan Jack cheese, pickled jalapeño, black beans, cilantro crema, tomatillo-avocado salsa. Celebrated chef Paul Kahan just opened Publican Tavern which is a great option if one has time to squeeze in a sit down meal. When traveling home to Houston, Pappas Burger at the Hobby airport is where she’ll indulge in a cold beer and fried pickles with ranch. At Dallas Fort Worth, Grueneberg’s go to is Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, sister restaurant to Pappas Dough. There she’ll have the fried shrimp and Pappas Greek salad. If she’s at London Heathrow, a visit to Caviar House & Prunier Seafood Bar is a must for caviar and chilled vodka or some bubbles.

 

David Guas: TV personality and chef at Bayou Bakery, Arlington, VA and Lil’ B, Washington DC.

Chef and Owner David Guas

Being from New Orleans but living in DC now, I would definitely have to give you my two cents of going through Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and you will inevitably get a whiff of the Lucky Dog cart and do a quick look at your watch to see if you have time for the classic dog of fresh cut onions and yellow mustard. Ignatius Reilly would agree it is worth the stop and worth the run to catch your plane. Reagan National Airport [in] Washington, DC made a serious change to the dining options by having local chefs and restaurateurs man the concession stands and not just a chain. There is a trust factor there that you are getting quality choices because you frequent their popular restaurants in and around the metro area. I especially like that Lebanese Taverna is usually in the terminal I frequent and they have the best hummus I have tasted anywhere. I get two of the app portion size, one for while I wait and one for the plane.

 

Daniel Orr: Co-host of Earth Eats, cookbook author and owner of FARMbloomington Restaurant in Bloomington, Indiana.


My guilty pleasure is the trashcan nachos at Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen Bar in the Cancun airport. While waiting for a flight home from vacation, there’s nothing better than one last indulgence. The heaping pile of nachos is a must-have. I also enjoy the theatre of the tableside guacamole. 

 

Katsuji Tanabe: Top Chef contestant, Chopped winner; also Food Fighter, Master Chef México. Owner at Barrio Chicago and Mexikosher in Los Angeles and New York City.

That’s actually a tough decision because most of the food tends to be awful. The only two places that I have been to more than once at an airport are at Chicago O’Hare airport. [At] Frontera Tortas I get the cochinita pibil torta with habanero and this habanero salsa is actually real spicy. My second choice, and I am a little ashamed, but I can’t say no to a McMuffin at McDonald’s. It doesn’t matter which airport, at least I know it’s going to be the same sh*tty quality that I am used to.

Tagged: Atlanta, Celebrity picks, Chicago, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Midwest, New Orleans, Texas

Aly Walansky
Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyles writer.

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