Moon Pies

Where to eat locally when you are stuck at the airport

Brisket sandwich available at Austin-Bergstrom Int'l Airport

Gastronomic guru Anthony Bourdain’s new Travel Channel show, “The Layover,” offers viewers tips on how and where to fill up on local fare if you have just a 48-hour layover in a city.

But what if your layover is much shorter and you’re stuck at the airport looking for a tasty local meal to tide you over?

Not a problem.

It’s getting easier to eat well — and to eat local — at an increasing number of airports where branches of hometown restaurants and gift shops serve signature dishes and locally made foods.

For a story on, I asked around for some tips.

Marcos Martinez, executive director of Entre Hermanos in Seattle, is partial to the breakfast tacos and fish ‘n’ chips served at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport outpost of Anthony’s, a popular chain of local seafood restaurants. Nancy DeWitt, historian at the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks, Alaska, says the blackened halibut tacos served at the Sea-Tac Anthony’s are a “don’t miss” for many of her friends and colleagues.

Rick Seaney, co-founder of, looks forward to having crawfish etouffee at Pappadeaux at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston (IAH). And recently, Las Vegas resident Chris Jones was pleased to see that the popular local company that operates Pappadeaux at IAH also has outlets at Houston’s Hobby Airport.

“I flew into Hobby in mid-November and was elated to see this company had — by my count — three concessions in Hobby Airport,” said Jones. “I got a milkshake at the burger concept on my way into town and enjoyed some amazing enchiladas and rice and beans before I flew home.”

There’s a branch of New York City’s infamous Grand Central Oyster Bar at Newark Liberty International Airport, and at JFK airport’s Terminal 8, outposts of Bobby Van’s Steakhouse & Grill and Brooklyn National Deli. For many travelers, getting a bowl of Gold Star Chili at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is a sure sign that they’ve been through town.

All the food outlets in the International Terminal at San Francisco International Airport are branches of popular local restaurants, and the recently opened Central Terminal B at Sacramento International Airport boasts branches of Dos Coyotes, Jacks Urban Eats and other restaurants found in town.

“Airports aren’t just a way station for passengers anymore, but a shopping and dining experience,” said Jean-Pierre Turgot, general manager for Delaware North Companies Travel Hospitality services, one of several national companies operating restaurants and shops in many airports. Turgot oversees Chef Allen’s Burger Bar at Florida’s Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where passengers can purchase the local chef’s signature sauces and catch an occasional cooking demonstration.

At Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, “pre-packaged, specially wrapped BBQ brisket from the Salt Lick BBQ is a big seller,” said Terry Mahlum, regional director for Delaware North Companies Travel Hospitality Services. The recipe for the BBQ sauce dates back to the 1800s. “We have regular customers who stop in our airport location just to get a to-go brisket for the holiday meal,” Mahlum said.

And it’s not just locally themed meals that travelers lap up during layovers. At shops throughout Nashville International Airport, Chattanooga-made, marshmallow-filled Moon Pies, in a wide variety of flavors, can be purchased individually or by the box.

Joe Brancatelli, publisher of the business traveler website, is a big fan of eating locally on the road and puts together an annual guide to some of his favorite places to eat in — and nearby — many airports. (This year’s edition, which he says will include new options in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Charlotte airports, will be ready by Christmas.) He’s found, though, that in some airports “the master franchisees at the airport license the name to a local place or pub and then run it … so the local operator known for the great steak or burger at their downtown institution is not actually running the airport branch.”

So while certainly providing travelers more interesting fare than that offered by the standard national franchises found in most airports, Brancatelli warns that a “local” airport eatery may sometimes be local in name only.