Where to Eat in Southern Airports

Frequent fliers share their favorite foods in Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami, and more

Photo: courtesy of Miami International Airport

Inside Miami International Airport.

As Southerners navigate another season of hectic travels, they’re divulging the bites and sips that soothe their airport anxieties. Find picks for the top Bloody Marys, barbecue plates, cortaditos, and even sushi offerings at terminals across the region. Plus: One Southern-transplanted family’s must-visit seafood counter in Boston.

Atlanta Hartsfield–Jackson International Airport (ATL)

Paschal’s is a legendary Atlanta institution; what a treat, then, that an outpost can be found at the airport (in Concourse B)  in a sea of chains and Starbucks spots. I’ve made it a habit to stop by whenever I fly through Atlanta—which, like every Southerner who travels, is all the time—for golden fried catfish, fluffy biscuits, and tender corn muffins. —Rossi Anastopoulo, contributor

Nothing brings more comfort to this nervous flier than the ATL outpost of Grindhouse Killer Burgers (Gates T-11 and D-30). When I go, I order my usual: the Euro Style with Swiss cheese, sautéed mushrooms, mayonnaise, and mustard along with a side of crinkle fries. For a moment, the chaos of the world’s busiest airport slows down. —Lia Picard, contributor

Ever since the Varsity in my hometown of Athens, Georgia, closed in 2021, I take every opportunity to stop by one of the outposts at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson (Gate C21). Just one bite of a chili dog makes me feel at home—even if I’m just passing through. Although the menu here is smaller than at their other locations, they also serve burgers, fried pies, and their famous Frosted Orange drink. —Caroline Sanders Clements, associate editor

photo: courtesy of Atlanta Hartsfield–Jackson International Airport
The sushi bar at One Flew South.

The only airport restaurant that I actually look forward to is One Flew South in Atlanta. If I have a layover there, I always hope that it’s at Concourse E and that I’ll be there long enough to have sushi and an old-fashioned. I even do this at breakfast time. —Bill Smith, chef and contributor 

(Read G&G’s oral history One Flew South.) 

Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)

photo: Courtesy of HMSHost
Bar seating at Beaudevin.

I like to pretend that I’m swanky when I travel, so I order oysters and gin martinis at 1897 Market (Terminal, Level 2) if I have a solid layover. I pop into Beaudevin (Terminal, Level 2) wine bar if I only have time to sip a glass of wine. —Ally Sloway, social media editor

Normally, I only get stranded at Charlotte airport late at night when everything is closed. One exception was in 2019 (I think) when about a dozen of us RDU (Raleigh-Durham) folks were on the way to the annual Southern Foodways Symposium. It was early and something messed up our connection. I remember several tables of us sitting in Tequileria (Terminal, Level 2) with a cup of coffee in one hand and a margarita in the other. Both beverages were fine as I recall. —Bill Smith, chef and contributor

I have a love-hate relationship with the Charlotte airport. The hate: My flight gets delayed every time I fly through there. The love: It’s the only airport I’ve found that has good barbecue—Brookwood Farms Carolina Pit BBQ (Terminal, Level 2). Tangy, succulent pulled pork soothes my seething when I’m stuck in travel hell. —Rossi Anastopoulo, contributor

Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU)

You can sample a few worthy Triangle institutions at RDU: Grab a Mexican latte with dark chocolate, cinnamon, and nutmeg and a cranberry-orange muffin at the outpost of Durham’s Beyu Caffè in Terminal 1 (and via the getREEF Virtual Food Hall in Terminal 2). Grilled-cheese truck American Meltdown (Gate C9) is also available through getREEF, and their patty melt is pure comfort. Local beer fans should grab a pint of Sweet Josie’s Brown Ale at Raleigh’s Lonerider brewpub in Terminal 2 (Gate C7). Cary’s La Farm Bakery + Cafe is also in Terminal 2, and yes, you can get their famous white-chocolate baguettes. —Matt Lardie, contributor

Charleston International Airport (CHS)

Few things in life are better than an airport beer. No matter the time, no matter the day of the week, it always hits. When I fly away from my hometown, I stop into the airport’s outpost of the downtown favorite Charleston Beer Works (Concourse A), which pulls drafts from tons of local breweries, including Holy City, Palmetto, and Low Tide, and also serves a selection of area spirits like High Wire Distilling’s rye whiskey. —Rossi Anastopoulo, contributor

Nashville International Airport (BNA)

photo: dclark_media
The Pharmacy Burger Parlor.

Music City is awash in great burger joints, and one of my favorites, East Nashville’s Pharmacy Burger Parlor (A/B Rotunda), opened a new location this year in the Nashville airport, making it even easier to satisfy a craving for one of their impossibly juicy ham-and-bacon laden Farm Burgers. —Caroline Sanders Clements, associate editor

Depending on where you’re flying, your best buy at Barista Parlor (Gate C-22) might be a box of the local roaster’s instant coffee bags, proven to protect you from a great-aunt’s affection for jarred coffee crystals. But if you’re in need of an immediate cup, the espresso is strong and expertly pulled. —Hanna Raskin, contributor and editor of The Food Section

Orlando International Airport (MCO)

Orlando favorite Cask & Larder (Airside 2, Gates 100–129) moved from its Winter Park storefront to the airport, an unorthodox decision by its owners, James and Julie Petrakis, James Beard–nominated chefs. Its tagline is “farm to terminal” and the food is lovingly prepared. During a recent flight delay, I ordered chicken and waffles and was delighted by crazy-crispy chicken skin and sauce that was sweet and spicy, all sandwiched between two fluffy waffles.This is the type of cuisine that a bustling international airport should have: comfort food. —Nila Do Simon, contributor

The only way I can talk myself into buying a Spirit ticket is reminding myself that I can go to Zaza Cuban Comfort Food (Hub Gates 30–59) in Terminal A for toasted Cuban bread and a cortadito, half sugar. While that order works at any hour, the robust black bean soup ladled over white rice is an advisable upgrade later in the day. —Hanna Raskin, contributor and editor of The Food Section

Miami International Airport (MIA)

photo: courtesy of Miami International Airport
Café Versailles.

Café Versailles (Gate D-5)—talk about a pick-me-up! The airport outpost of what many consider the city’s best Cuban restaurant offers an authentic taste of the Little Havana institution. Have a steaming shot of café Cubano paired with guava and cheese pastelitos and a croquetas de jamón, and you’ll be ready to fly. —Larry Bleiberg, contributor

This airport is pure chaos, but the food and energy are testaments to the Cuban and Latin cultures that influence the city. My go-to is the ham croqueta and café con leche combo from La Carreta (Gate D-37), but if the line is too long, I stop by Juan Valdez Café (Gate D-23), Gilbert’s Bakery (Concourse H-J Connector), or Estefan Kitchen Express (Gate D-27), which is co-owned by Gloria Estefan. All of these places serve a variation of Cuban coffee, plus croquettes, pan de bono (gluten-free Colombian cheese bread made with cassava starch), pastelitos (pastries made with guava and cheese or ham or ground beef), and sandwiches. —Allison Ramirez, contributor

Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV)

Leopold’s Ice Cream (before TSA checkpoint) has been a Savannah staple for more than a century, and the peppermint is my absolute fave. I usually drive to Savannah when I visit my former home, but when I do fly, I love that I can grab an ice cream from Leopold’s before my flight takes off. It makes it a little easier to part with the city. —Allison Ramirez, contributor

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)

When in NOLA, the lines at the iconic French Quarter location of Café Du Monde can be daunting, so the airport location (Terminal, Level 2, near Gate B3 and B2) is a nice way to get your café au lait and beignet fix. I’ll usually grab a warm beignet covered in powdered sugar once I’m through security, plus a tin of their beignet mix, which makes a nice gift. —Jai Jones, contributor

If you’re leaving New Orleans a little worse for wear (and haven’t we all been there?), head to Bar Sazerac (Gate B4)  for a tall, cold Bloody Mary, garnished with pickled okra and green beans. It’ll fix you right up. —Kathleen Purvis, contributor

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)

Ben’s Chili Bowl, the U Street institution, found its following serving civil rights activists, politicians, and entertainers in the sixties. Its airport location (Gate C4) shows what all the fuss has been about. Your go-to order here is a half smoke, a D.C. institution itself. The quarter-pound pork and beef sausage comes on a steamed hot dog bun and gets topped with house-made beef chili. —Larry Bleiberg, contributor

Dulles International Airport (IAD)

Even if you never made it down to Nelson County, you can still enjoy the Charlottesville-area brewery Devil’s Backbone at its taproom in Terminal C. Order a pulled pork or fried chicken schnitzel sandwich with fried pickles, and wash it down with the brewery’s famous Vienna Lager or a seasonal offering on tap. —Larry Bleiberg, contributor

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) 

I always try to hit up the Breakfast Klub (Gate A7) if I have an early flight at IAH. It’s a hefty serving, but a plate of the wings and waffles—succulent fried chicken paired with fluffy, iron-pressed pastry—is a proper Texas-sized sendoff. Another bonus: There’s no line wrapping around the block like there are most days at this iconic Houston favorite. —Bao Ong, contributor and Houston Chronicle restaurant columnist

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) and Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

photo: Courtesy of Dallas Fort Worth Airport
Salt Lick BBQ.

Travelers passing through the Austin-Bergstrom (Gate 20) and Dallas Fort Worth International Airports (Gate A-16) are in luck with Salt Lick BBQ. Some of the state’s best barbecue is served up at the Salt Lick restaurants, where patrons chow down on smoked turkey sandwiches and savory brisket nachos or the venue’s famed barbecue platters piled with sausage and pork ribs, coleslaw, and baked beans. Before going to the gate, grab a bottle of the best-selling dry rub or barbecue sauce, and take a taste of Texas back home. —Sallie Lewis, contributor

Not all fast food is created equal. Just ask the droves of devout Texans who swear by the region’s Whataburger food chain, with locations in airports across its home state. One look at the brand’s brazen orange-and-white-striped signage is enough to activate cravings for the mouthwatering honey butter chicken biscuits, breakfast taquitos, and signature juicy burgers that inspired its legendary name. —Sallie Lewis, contributor

Flying Saucer is one of the best quick stops in DFW Airport (Terminal D, Gate 18). They have one of the largest beer selections on draft in Texas from beers around the globe, but I especially love the expansive local beer selection they offer. I always go for their reuben or a flatbread to pair with a North Texas brew. Richard King, co-owner of Ellerbe Fine Foods in Fort Worth

Boston Logan Airport (BOS)

My Boston-born parents have had their share of struggles adapting to the South since moving to South Carolina ten years ago—learning what a “buggy” is, using their blinkers to make turns, tasting grits (here’s to you, Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny). Too many jokesters have asked them to “pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd” (and butcher the accent in the meantime). So whenever we go back home to visit family, there’s no better sight to my mom and dad than the shiny gates of Legal Sea Foods (Terminal A, Terminal B, Terminal C, and Terminal E) waiting to welcome them with open arms and fried clams. And Legal (as my parents call it) must know its impact—there are six locations at the Boston Logan airport alone. For as long as I can remember, every time we step off the plane, my mom has demanded we roll our suitcases over to Legal to order fried clams, fried shrimp, clam chowder, and scallops (bonus points if you pronounce it SCAW-lops). On occasion, if we’re South Carolina bound, we’ve stuffed fried seafood in our carry-ons for the ride home (sorry, everyone else on the plane). In the wise words of my mother: Don’t forget the tahtah sauce! —Danielle Wallace, editorial intern