Airplane food is one of those things you have to deal with. No, it’s not ideal. But if you’re going to be flying, you’re going to be eating it. Here’s some personal favorites in the airports I frequent.
Atlanta Hartsfield: I lived here for a long time, and even today, I spend a lot of time in this airport. It’s not pretty. Atlanta Hartsfield is big and beige and smells vaguely like cigarette smoke, with people-mover carts that will run you over. But the food – it ain’t bad.
My guilty favorite is Krystal’s. If you haven’t heard of this Southern establishment yet, think White Castle with augmentations. The burgers are tiny and strongly onion-flavored. They come with a vast amount of mustard (watch out when you bite into one – I’ve nailed a nice shirt before) and a few pickles. The meat itself is soggy and unobtrusive, but hey, the meat isn’t the point. The entire effect of the cheese and the pickle and the mustard and the onion soaked bun makes a “Krystal” a splendid experience. The fries offered are one of my favorite versions. They’re crispy, straight, and extremely heavily salted. Order a drink. Unsweet tea goes best.
Paschal’s is a Southern place, which specializes, in fried chicken and robust breakfasts. Essentially, it’s soul food in the airport and therefore an invaluable resource. If you eat anything, get the collard greens. If you haven’t had collards before, you owe it to yourself to try them – and make sure to add a decent amount of hot sauce. I hold out hope that its not a taste genetically coded into a Southerner’s blood.
When the urge to sit down on a chair that isn’t blue plastic hits, the Chili’s upstairs isn’t a bad choice. I’ve found the salads to be pretty dependable – because there isn’t much you can do to screw up a good salad combination. The fries are honestly great, with skin on and seasoning salt applied liberally. If you’re feeling fat and sassy, get an order of fries,sit yourself by the window, and ponder the plight of the workers directing traffic on the runway out the picture windows set into the side of the restaurant. The noise level is high inside and at any given time there’s a whole lot of people slamming margaritas at the bar. There is often a line, especially at peak times. Be forewarned. The Atlanta-Hartsfield location gets food out quickly from what I’ve seen. It’s also right across the way from the Delta Crown Room, which is a perk if you’re enough of a slave to Delta to get access.
Sacramento Airport: The food court here isn’t bad. I used to get the Baja fish tacos at La Salsa whenever I visited, but since, the airport location has stopped serving fish, to my consternation. La Salsa is a dependable place in general, but extremely slow, because everything is grilled to order. The salsa is usually excellent, although there are some bum versions of the franchise that screw it up. I especially like the black and extra-spicy version.
My backup plan these days is TCBY frozen yogurt and a salad from California Pizza Kitchen if I’m feeling ambitious. I was surprised to find their barbeque chicken chopped salad was actually pretty good. There’s jicama, lettuce, fresh tomato, cilantro, corn, and ranch dressing, which is provided in a small plastic container so you can dip your salad in it, preventing a heart attack.
I admit I have odd tastes in TCBY frozen yogurt. I tend to get chocolate with gummy bears. This probably isn’t legal in some countries, but no one asks for a bite.
Delta Airplanes: Delta has gone from giving you shitty food for free to giving you better food for inflated prices. If you’re flying out of Atlanta, the selection is usually from the Atlanta Bread Company, whose non-airplane franchises are pretty damn good. I had a turkey sandwich when I was flying back from North Carolina, and it was pretty decent, with sharp cheddar and nine grain bread. The tomato and lettuce was packaged separately, which was a good idea – and to my surprise, the tomato was very good, not to mention fresh. I can’t say it was worth the eight bucks they’re charging for a single sandwich, I don’t pay that much money for three course meals if I can help it.
Delta is also offering Caesar salads, cheese plates, peanut butter sandwiches (with a cookie) and something called an Italian Trio is a salami and roast beef and ham sandwich. The carts also feature a variety of mainstream snacks. We’re talking candy bars, Teddy Grahams, and Lay’s Stax, all of which taste good but will kill you. Everything is overpriced, but I will freely admit it’s a step up from re-constituted lasagna.
San Francisco International Airport: I flew to London from here and the international terminals food court was simply awe inspiring. Instead of making do with mediocre food, my family and I scored with Thai barbeque chicken, hot and sour soup, and noodles as we waited for the plane to London. The food court is streamlined with a base theme of brushed steel and sophisticated restaurant front displays. A list of what’s offered can be found at International Terminal Selections.