The Traveling Foodie

have a love-hate relationship with airport food. I love trying new types of food (especially when I am on the road), but when I am in airports I generally hate the results. This genre of fast food is generally overpriced and overcooked, not to mention unhealthy and under seasoned. (Full disclosure: My dad was a chef and my mom was a nutritionist while I was growing up, so I have been accused of having a persnickety palate.) But for those road-warriors out there, I am sure you can commiserate, especially since eating at the airport pre-flight is an inevitability of our lives and professions.

The greasy quesadilla must be the official food of the airport because it is just about as ubiquitous as the TSA security checkpoints and just as satisfying. As is the fried, the frozen and prefabricated fare in transit kiosks. However, on a recent trip from San Francisco to Portland my en-route meals weren’t so bad. I ate fresh eats that were well-seasoned and cooked-to-order.

I flew out of the San Francisco International Airport, which was rated “Airport with the Best Restaurants” by Airport Revenue News’s 2009 Frequent Traveler Awards. This doesn’t surprise me as the airport is a natural extension of the über-foodie city that I call home, where the fresh and tasty reign supreme. At the Portland Airport, I ate at a local brewery and had a juicy burger and a garden salad, both of which were delicious.

In most cases you can’t control where you fly, so here are a few of my tips for eating well on the road:

  • Pay attention to the color and freshness of food. You could score a decent salad as long the lettuce doesn’t have a brown tinge—and remember to ask when it was made.
  • Ask a local. Many of the airport workers eat in the airport on a regular basis and will give you good recommendations. Asking a local has paid off for me countless times. The airport brewery recommendation in Portland was courtesy of a friendly TSA officer.
  • Go with local chains. The local restaurants in an area airport have most likely been very successful in their home city and because of their popularity can afford to expand to the airport.
  • Don’t get too creative, stick with more mainstream options. I don’t order seafood on the road when its origins are questionable, and I try to stick with uncomplicated dishes that can be easily executed.
  • Read nutrition facts. Many eateries are required to provide nutrition facts. This will help you to make healthier decisions when you have less control over your meals.
  • Get it to go. Avoid the bleak airport food scene altogether and grab something for the plane from the city. This, however, depends on the airport as some security checkpoints are more strict than others.