Airport food has always had the reputation for being notoriously bad. As if long security check-in lines and delayed flights weren’t frustrating enough, our grumbling stomachs were often met at the terminal with a dismaying spread of stale croissants, rubbery eggs and floppy pizzas. And if there’s anything worse than sitting in the airport, it’s sitting in the airport hungry, with a floppy pizza.
Understandably, most people have come to expect very little when it comes to airport food, even from the two international NY airports, one of which is considered among the best and busiest in the world. (The other has been called the worst busy airport in the world, but they’re working on it.)
When presented with the options, some would’ve much rather starve at the airport, while others chose to satiate their hunger with as many bags of Doritos and peanut M&Ms as they could stomach instead (me).
At least that’s the way it used to be. But if you’ve traveled through these hubs over the past few years, you’ll know that the food game in NY airports is changing for the better.
It took a while, but eventually someone – namely OTG Management, the airport food and beverage company behind the redesign of terminals in JKF and LaGuardia – decided that a change was in order. Now with grab-and-go counter options that extend beyond fast food chains and stylishly designed full-service restaurants driven by renowned chefs, plus menus that feature locally-sourced ingredients and the integration of iPads for easy ordering and paying, airport dining has taken off to a whole new level.
Here are some of the best options for JFK Airport food and LaGuardia Airport food. If not for the rumble of airplanes taking off, some of these places may make you forget that you’re in an airport at all.
JFK AIRPORT FOOD
Deep Blue Sushi – Post-security, Terminal 5 (Marketplace)
Among the upscale options in JetBlue’s Terminal 5, Deep Blue is far from typical airport sushi (aka the kind you avoid at all costs). Serving fresh, high-quality sushi and Asian specialties in a relaxing blue space with an under-the-sea vibe, this NY airport restaurant will not only help to make your flight delay bearable, but may even convince you to enjoy it. The restaurant comes from Chef Michael Shulson of Asian street food joint Sampan in Philly and Izakaya Japanese pub at the Borgata in Atlantic City. And if you’re strapped for time and need to catch a flight, Deep Blue on the Fly has grab-and-go options.
La Vie – Post-security, Terminal 5 (Gate 22 concourse entrance)
This adorable little stop-in is not much more than a bar and some high-top seating, but between the coffee, the simple French country fare and bistro setting, you will feel like you’ve already escaped on vacation – to Paris! Chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson, formerly of Balthazar and Minetta Tavern, created the menu, which features brasserie staples such as Nicoise salad, croque monsieur and madame sandwiches and steak frites. The breakfast menu also has a nice selection of better-than-average basics like brioche French toast to start your day.
AeroNuova – Post-security, Terminal 5 (Marketplace)
AeroNuova brings rustic Italian comfort to weary airport travelers in a simple, modern and open setting. Another upscale dining option in the JetBlue terminal, the trattoria, developed by Del Posto chef Mark Ladner, offers a selection of antipasti and salumi platters to pick on, along with salads, sandwiches, pastas, entrees and made-to-order pizzas – a nice change of pace from the standard thaw and bake airport pies. Stop in and treat yourself to a full meal or enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine. Flat screens playing classic black-and-white Italian films in the background add to the ambiance.
Piquillo – Post-security, Terminal 5 (Marketplace)
Located within a cool warped wooden enclave, Piquillo is squished seemingly literally between AeroNuova and American steakhouse 5ive Steak in the Terminal 5 “marketplace.” Said to be the first tapas restaurant in a US airport, it definitely doesn’t look like the kind of place or menu you would expect to find in an airport – it’s much better. Chef Alex Raik of NYC restaurants El Quinto Pino, Txikito, La Var and Tekoa brings a variety of hot and cold tapas to the cozy space, from ceviche and stuffed peppers to cheese and charcuterie platters and potato tortillas. For something a bit heartier, there’s paella and a list of sandwiches, both pressed and regular.
Shake Shack – Post-security, Terminal 4 (Gate B23, B37)
For a nice send off or an even better “welcome home,” everybody’s favorite and affordable New York hamburger can be found at two separate locations in JFK. Both spots offer the full Shake Shack menu with everything including the classic ShackBurger, the Chick’n Shack Sandwich and the Shack-cago Dog, plus breakfast sandwiches daily until 11 a.m. Of course, there is also ice cream, shakes and floats, featuring the just-for-JFK Toffee Takeoff Concrete made with vanilla custard, salted caramel sauce, chocolate toffee and malt powder.
Blue Smoke on the Road – Post-security, Terminal 4 (Gate B37)
Another beloved establishment from Danny Meyer’s restaurant group, Blue Smoke on the Road can be found right near the Shake Shack at Gate B37. If you find yourself in need of a place to chill, this is the place to do it. The communal setting features a large bar with TVs and high-top seating against a large window, where you can fill up before your trip with barbecue classics like baby back ribs and pulled pork and brisket sandwiches while watching the airplanes come and go. Several breakfast options are available in the morning.
LAGUARDIA AIRPORT FOOD
Cotto – Post-security, Terminal C (Gate C30)
A full-service trattoria from Chef Michael White, offers both full-service dining and counter service with full menu, a coffee bar and gelato counter. White brings a taste of the Italian cuisine that has earned him acclaim at his NYC restaurants Marea, Ai Fiori and Osteria Morini to LaGuardia with fresh made pastas and pizzas in a bright, airy space with windows that overlook the planes outside. Items on the menu include salumi and cheese plates; rice fritters, calamari and Bolognese meatball antipasti; mouthwatering panini such as the salami and goat cheese with marinated peppers, artichokes and arugula on ciabatta; pastas from spaghetti and clams to tagliatelle ragu; and rosemary roasted chicken, salmon and burger entrees.
Empire Tavern – Post-security, Terminal C (Gate C15)
From chefs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr (also behind the French Bistro, Bisoux, in Terminal D), this full-service restaurant is designed to emulate the relaxed atmosphere of a classic New York City tavern and has the menu to match. Here you can expect the likes of crispy chicken wings, fresh salads, filling sandwiches and hearty meat and fish entrees, along with 24 beers on tap and 24 wines by the glass. Or order from the raw bar if you’re feeling fancy. Tablets at every table make service quick and easy if you’re in a hurry to catch a flight, which makes it a great stop for an egg sandwich or pastry for breakfast. Bonus points for being able to charge your gadgets while you eat.
WiBar – Post-security, Terminal C (Gate C29)
Relax and have the much-deserved drink you’ve been pining for at Wibar, where 101 Master Sommelier-chosen wines from around the world await. Browse and order from the menu on iPads, which you can also use to stay updated on your flight and surf the Web for free. The wines are served by the glass and are dispensed from a wine serving system that measures pours, so you can choose a tasting, a flight, a half bottle or a full bottle. If you need something to munch on while you sip, the menu offers a list of suggested pairings. You can easily spot Wibar by its centerpiece canopy chandelier. If beer is more your style, head to BierGarten, also in Terminal C, for a selection of 24 beers on tap.
Prime Tavern – Post-security, Terminal D (Food Court)
Sometimes the only thing that satisfies is a big fat, juicy steak. Michael Lomonaco of Porter House restaurant developed the menu for Prime Tavern and it does not disappoint. Alongside the aforementioned big fat juicy steaks, the menu features several burgers, sandwiches (roast beef, steak, crab cake, lobster roll) and a concise list of fish and chicken entrees. Located in Delta’s Terminal D, which was redesigned in 2012 with foodies in mind, it’s a stylish and comfortable place to have a cocktail or a meal, though as you might expect, a bit pricier than some of the other options in the airport. Treat yourself!
Custom Burgers – Post-security, Terminal C & D (Food Court)
Despite what it says on the sign, Custom Burgers is not affiliated with Pat La Frieda except for that their burgers are made with a blend from the famed meat purveyor (Shake Shack also uses La Frieda meat). Their standard single patty burger, called “The America,” is served with American cheese on a potato roll with your choice of fixings. There are also a couple of two patty options, and the three patty “Gordito” which comes stacked with all the good stuff. Try the fried pickles on the side. All burgers are reasonably priced and made-to-order, and there are homemade milkshakes too, if the mood strikes. Tasty burgers and an easy iPad ordering system make this a good grab and go option.
Taste of Artichoke – Post-security, Terminal C (Food Court)
Pick up a a slice at the LGA outpost of the popular pizzeria from pizzaiolos Francis Garcia and Sal Basille – one of several throughout the city, known for its long late night lines and its crispy crusted Margherita and creamy spinach-and-artichoke pies. Italian specialties and breakfast items are also on the menu, but the large, filling, better-than-average (for an airport) pizza is what has people talking.
Another good option for pizza is Taglaire, in Terminal D, where the family from one of New York City’s best-known pizza institutions, DiFara, brings their traditional-style pies to hungry travelers.
If you’re going on a trip soon, be sure to explore all of the new and improved food options available at JFK and LaGuardia.
What’s your favorite place to stop for food at the NY airports? Share it with us in the comments.