From Tokyo to Paris to Atlanta, readers share stories about the best airport meals of their lives
After reading through nearly 600 submissions, we’ve chosen our favorites. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
The best airport meal I ever had was back at Christmas of 1972, when I was a college student headed for the West Indies, where my family had a winter house. I had to stay in JFK airport in NYC waiting on a 7 am flight for San Juan and stayed up all night with some GIs who were in on a charter flight from Germany and were headed home for the holiday. Around 6 am, before anything was open, they asked a maintenance man where we could get breakfast. He opened a door and the five of us went downstairs to the Eastern Air Lines employee cafeteria underneath the main level of the terminal. They had everything. Pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, coffee … and for I think only $2 or $3. It was amazing. I haven’t had that good a meal in an airport since.
In 1962, I saw off my then-boyfriend at Idlewild Airport in New York. We ate at the (very fancy) airport restaurant. I ordered a bouillabaisse. The waiter lifted the lid of the terrine, and fish eyes were staring at me. It turned out to be delicious, and still is one of my (rare) favorites. But it wasn’t just the food: We were surrounded by a bunch of huge neckless guys. We asked the waiter — we were eating with the New York Giants.
When I was a kid (65+ years ago), Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix was one of the places to get a great meal. Folks went there just to eat … and to see the celebrities who came through. I remember both the prime rib and the fried chicken! Also, I can honestly say that not only did Clark Gable sign my child’s “Sky Chef” menu but he also called me “sweetheart.”
Linda Clements, Dayton, Nev.
My favorite airport moment was having a Wild Turkey bourbon with Hunter S. Thompson on his Rolling Stone expense account. It was at the Columbia, SC, airport in the early ’70s; I was a just-out-of-college reporter who’d been sent to cover a politician’s campaign visit. That evening, after filing by reading my copy over the phone, I’m at an airport gate waiting for my flight when Hunter comes over from his gate and tells me, “You asked the best (BLEEPING) question of the whole day, and you were ready to follow up by quoting him saying something else when he tried to (BLEEP) you. I want to buy you a drink, and we’ll let that (BLEEP) Wenner pay for it.” It was only one bourbon on the rocks, and we both made our flights because I think that, at least while he was working, a lot of that “Gonzo” stuff was an image.
Gregg Wiggins, Indian Harbor Beach, Fla.
In December 1968, at Haneda Airport in downtown Tokyo, my Cathay Pacific flight to Taipei was delayed. The airline gave me a voucher for a “special dinner” in Shapiro’s restaurant. Surprisingly elegant setting, excellent service and the food was exquisite. That evening I had an incredible multicourse dinner served on seventeen (17!) separate plates: soup, salad, bread, shrimp Newburg, small perfect steak with vegetables to match, dessert and wonderful coffee. One of the best and most memorable meals I’ve eaten in my 76 years — all gratis.
George Wolske, Bumpass, Va.
When I was in school locally, the Williamsburg, Va., airport was a dining destination for those in the know. Pilots would land there just to eat lunch. They made their own bread and desserts. The French dip sandwich was probably my favorite. I can still taste the salty broth that soaked into the interior of the roll, as my teeth penetrated the crisp, egg-washed exterior and hit hot roast beef pay dirt.
Charles Sweedler, Philadelphia
I would have to go back to 1957, when my parents took me from home in Bayonne, NJ, over to Newark Airport and the restaurant there called the Newarker Restaurant. It was located above the main contest. I can have remembered a huge filet mignon (at least to a 7-year-old). One other thing that I remember well was a man in a chef’s coat, a large toque and a metal box strapped to his chest handing out slices of garlic bread. I still remember it well 65 years later!
My family lived as expats in Tokyo from 1988-1991. Our home leave trips were only once a year and involved flying around the world, literally. Once while waiting in Narita Airport, we found a noodle shop outside the airline lounges on the upper floors. The udon in particular was amazing! It has lived on in family lore as “airport soup,” the best and most comforting airport food of all.
Jessica Chapman, Golden Valley, Minn.
October 2006, Hippopotamus, CDG Paris. Steak and fries, of course. But amazed that a chain could have such perfect caramelized shallots. Deep brown. Also amused that a uniformed firefighter sitting opposite me ordered sole meunière.
Mic Fleming, Agios Nikolaos, Greece
Easily and clearly No. 1: After spending spring break sweating our way through Cambodia in the middle of the hot dry season, checking in to the Siem Reap airport and finding a Dairy Queen inside the terminal brought more pleasure to my family than you could imagine .
Brian Sapp, Howard, Colo.
By far, my best airport meal was at the Burlington, Vermont airport (2018). It was from The Skinny Pancake – incredible cheeseburger, fries and perfect crepe 👏🏻 pic.twitter.com/DS2CuMuS78
— Ellen Jones (@EllenJ8) August 3, 2022
The Sternen Grill, housed in a shiny Airstream trailer outside one of the entrances to Zurich Airport, serves the best St. Gallen sausages, gold Bürli rolls and homemade potato salad that easily cures the worst jet lag. I place an order almost as soon as I’ve dropped my bags in my hotel room, always order the traditional brat. After you order, it’s ready in 1-2 minutes, and you take the brat wrapped in a napkin over to an outdoor table with an umbrella. Don’t forget to get some hot mustard, guaranteed to take the top of your head off just a little.
Terry Terhaar, Davenport, Calif.
London Heathrow. The Caviar Bar, smoked salmon and cream cheese on rye. They have perfect cappuccino. It is light and nourishing after several really stressful days. I look forward to it every time I travel through London.
Diane Nelson, Charlottesville
Duck cassoulet in 2014. When Ecco first opened an outpost at the international terminal at Hartsfield, they were trying hard to keep the neighborhood gem feel, including the amazing dinner specials. That duck cassoulet changed how I end my vacations. Now I linger over one last good meal. Laundry can wait.
The dosa booth at Singapore’s Changi Airport. One by with the best dosas I’ve ever had!
Andrew Tynan, Brisbane, Australia
One Flew South, Atlanta — it’s really the first time I ever had food in a restaurant at an airport on par with food you’d find from a good place not adjacent to boarding gates. The pork belly is amazing; the bar whips up an incredible pisco sour. It’s become the place I schedule layovers around whenever I’m flying through ATL, and I know I’m not alone.
I ate dinner One Flew South in the Atlanta Airport in September of 2012 while on a layover flying to Albuquerque NM for vacation. I had a glazed pork belly with pickled onions over arugula with a demi-glace jus. It was unexpectedly great. Meaty and unctuous, and perfect sides! pic.twitter.com/lTyOjIOWZ4
— Sara Gellhorn (@sgellhorn) August 3, 2022
Sit-down meal at Oslo Airport waiting for a Norwegian Airlines flight to the USA, in summer of 2017. Fish soup, of course.
Earlier this summer we had a quick stop at Keflavik Airport in Reykjavik, Iceland. At the wood-fired pizza place in the C gates they make a fresh Icelandic cod dish that is so, so good. I think it’s roasted in the pizza oven, and is served on a sweet potato puree with seasonable vegetables. I’d go back to Iceland just for another serving.
Susan Pierson-Brown, Seattle
Authentic Polish pierogies at Wroclaw Airport [Poland]. I am willing to travel to Wroclaw just to taste these pierogies again. They remind me so much of my mother’s homemade pierogies.
Bartosz Szewczyk, Manville, NJ
At Munich Franz Josef Strauss Airport, a local brewery had a counter and they served warm “leberkäse” — a Bavarian specialty of beef and pork loaf paired with a laugenbrezel.
The best meal I had was a Malaysian curry laksa at the Melbourne International Airport. It was a small, no-frills sit-down restaurant, but the meal I had was authentic and can well pass as good in any Malaysian roadside place.
Christine Orita, Madera, Calif.
Jonesy’s restaurant at the Napa, Calif., airport, in 1973. They served wonderful steaks that were grilled on a flat-top grill under a Napa River rock, with hash brown potatoes. Wonderful with a bottle of the local wine, which was a great deal at that time.
I got the best deep-friend cod I’ve had outside of Newfoundland, at Humpy’s in the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. So good I had to snap a pic and text it to my Newfy husband!
Sue Steinacher, Nome, Alaska
Chicken and waffles from Flyrite Chicken in the Austin airport. The chicken was good, but the waffle was absolutely fantastic. They had one of those cheap waffle makers like the kind your mom buys after you move out, and she suddenly buys all the appliances she should have bought when you were still living at home.
Ian Curtis, College Station, Texas.
Pizza from Varasano’s in the Atlanta airport! It’s a perfect margherita, and a welcome respite from the chaos of traveling inside the world’s busiest airport. I have intentionally scheduled long layovers in Atlanta around lunchtime in order to consume my pizza. During peak hours there’s a piano bar.