Eat @ Joe's



February 12, 2003 -- As road warriors, it's clear that we travel on our stomachs. In fact, all too often, our waistlines keep pace with our expanding territory or job responsibilities. But now that we spend more and more time in airports prior to boarding flights that are virtually food-free, finding good food on the concourse is vital.

Who's leading the pack? According to the 2003 Airport Concessions Poll, an annual survey conducted by an airport trade magazine, four airports can be singled out. Minneapolis-St. Paul International was selected by the judges as tops overall for large airports. Pittsburgh International won for mid-size airports and Norfolk International was named the best among small airports. And Terminal C at Newark Liberty International won the single-terminal competition.

At MSP, the varied selection of restaurants and pubs includes California Pizza Kitchen, Burger King, Hot Dog City, Big Apple Bagel, Pizza Hut Express, Malibu Al's, Miami Sub's & Grill and Nathan's. One standout, The Split Rock Grill, showcases local favorites such as walleye pike in a space with iconic décor that includes a grain silo, wheat field and indoor waterfall.

PIT's AirMall, America's largest and arguably most famous airport retail complex, offers more than 100 shops and services. Dining options include a mix of sit-down restaurants and fast-food eateries, including Auntie Anne's, Au Bon Pain, Ben & Jerry's, Fat Tuesdays, the Original Oyster House, Samuel Adams Brewhouse, Schlotzsky's Deli, TGIFriday's and Wok & Roll. Ranch 1, opened last year, is the first airport location for the New York-area chicken-sandwich chain.

Norfolk offers Back Bay Bistro and USS Norfolk, both of which serve specialty sandwiches and microbrews; A&W, the root-beer chain; and the Beach Bully Restaurant and Bar-B-Que, a long-time Virginia Beach favorite that sells pulled pork and beef brisket. The Foggy Bottom Brew Pub offers seasonal beers, a seafood bar and a selection of pub classics. Chesapeake regional cuisine shines at the Freemason Abbey Restaurant and Tavern.

EWR's Terminal C, the airport's busiest facility and the home of Continental Airlines' hub, features many national and local brands. Newest options include the first airport location of Gallagher's Steakhouse, a New York culinary landmark, and an award-winning favorite, Maui Tacos. The Garden State Diner, located near Terminal C's sprawling food court, offers passengers a taste of the kind of food served at diners that flourish in New Jersey.

The poll also picked four "Best New Food & Beverage Concepts." Hudson Euro Cyber Cafés, where you can catch up on E-mail while you dine on New York-style food, are now open in several airports. Rapido's, which claims to offer "fresh food fast" and "meals made to fly" (carry-on choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner), now operates at 10 airports nationwide. Famous Famiglia, a family-owned chain of New York-style pizzerias, has recently begun opening in airports. And Seattle's Best Coffee cafés give Starbucks a run for their money in many airport locations, some within the confines of the airport branches of Borders bookstores.

Hungry for more? Of course you are. Business travelers can't eat only at four airports, so I recently conducted an informal sampling of frequent flyers. Here are some places that you say are close to your traveling culinary heart.

ATLANTA HARTSFIELD   The two Pashcal's locations score high for their biscuit breakfasts and "meat and three" Southern plates.

CHICAGO/O'HARE   Burrito Beach is a hit with travelers and flight crews, who carry on its fresh breakfast burritos, the tasty house-made guacamole and chipotle chicken burritos.

CINCINNATI   Lefty's Bar and Grill is praised for its grilled tuna steak sandwich.

DETROIT/METRO   Never known as a culinary beacon, DTW now gets high marks for food in the new Northwest terminal, especially the Middle Eastern food at Mediterranean Grill.

LOS ANGELES   Temporo, in Terminal 2, has legions of fans that rave about its Japanese fare.

MIAMI   La Carreta serves great, quick food with a Cuban twist, including the cafecito Cubano (Cuban coffee) and pastel de guayaba (guava pie).

MONTREAL/DORVAL   Eggspectations, an airport outpost of a popular local spot, serves breakfast favorites.

NASHVILLE   Nashville frequent travelers tout Whitt's Barbecue and many flyers mention the pit-smoked beef or pork in a take-home platter.

NEW YORK/LAGUARDIA   Figs, fronted by noted chef Todd English, is tops for both sit-down and grab-and-go rustic Mediterranean-style dining.

PHOENIX   Vegetarians are especially pleased with the regional specialties offered at Oaxacan Mexican Food.

PORTLAND/PDX   Capers Café serves up a fresh taste of the Pacific Northwest and offers more than 100 made-from-scratch dishes daily.

SAN FRANCISCO   The new reigning favorites at SFO include Emporio Riuli (try the portabello mushroom sandwich) or sushi to go from Ebisu.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL   The Legal Sea Foods outpost of the famed Boston chain is popular with Delta and US Airways shuttle flyers commuting to and from New York and Boston.

Still unhappy with the food choices at the airports that you use most frequently? Help may be in sight. Airport food-service operators like the captive nature of our minds and wallets and they are constantly testing new concepts and ideas. The Port of Seattle, for example, has just announced that it is seeking 10 local retailers and restaurateurs to operate businesses suited for its new Pacific Marketplace inside Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Of course, Pacific Marketplace isn't slated to open until 2005. So why not help other fellow travelers find good airport fare now by sharing your personal favorites. Send me your recommendations for the first Eat@Joe's Airport Dining Guide. Include your choice of dish/dishes and any relevant details on terminal/concourse location. Many thanks and buon appetito!

This column originally appeared at

Copyright © 1993-2004 by Joel Ann Rea. All rights reserved.