Holiday travelers, take note: Your stopovers en route to Grandma's house this season need not include flavorless or diet-busting meals. Experts are reporting an increase in both exceptionally tasty and healthy airport food options.
Seventy-six percent of restaurants in 18 of the nation's busiest airports offer at least one cholesterol-free, plant-based entrée, according to a new report from the nonprofit Physicians Committee. And the options are far from mere crudite.
"The good news is you can now walk into Potbelly's and order a chickpea salad, lentil soup or Mediterranean vegetable sandwich," said Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine director of nutrition education Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D. "Cosi offers Smart Fit salads topped with sweet potatoes and Au Bon Pain now offers a 12 veggies soup... But having trendy items such as kale wraps, cauliflower parsnip soup, and garden mint sushi, offers a fun twist and makes healthful eating even more enjoyable."
The Physicians Committee, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., looks for meals that are high in fiber, packed with nutrients, contain zero cholesterol and are low in fat. They then rate the airport restaurants on a point scale. In order to receive a point in the Airport Food Review, a restaurant must offer or be able to customize at least one entrée to include two of the four food groups from the Physicians Committee Power Plate: vegetables, whole grains, fruits and legumes.
Denver International Airport soared to the top of the 2013 report with a score of 86 percent, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) tied for second place, while Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Airport rounded out the top five.
The general upgrade in airport food quality was confirmed by another list when Urbanspoon named its Best Airport Eats on Thursday, featuring the best selections at the country's top airports based on user reviews and editorial input.
Citing the number of independent restaurant chefs taking root in a historically chain-dominated arena, Urbanspoon flagged One Flew South (ATL), Brasserie La Vie (JFK), PIQ (SFO), Gaslight Club (ORD) and Pink's Hot Dogs (LAX) as just a few of the tastier airport highlights across the country.
"It's really exciting to see that many airports now have establishments from top-rated chefs such as Cat Cora, Marcus Samuelsson and, of course, Wolfgang Puck," said Laura Williams, community manager at Urbanspoon. "These chefs are finding ways to bring high-end, fresh ingredients and local flavors, giving travelers a quick taste of the city -- pizza and popcorn in Chicago, BBQ in Austin, etc."
Williams said she was looking forward to holiday travel this year as a result.
"Rick Bayless, a celebrity chef and former Top Chef Master contestant, has Tortas Frontera at O'Hare, where they offer fresh guacamole and hand-shaken margaritas -- it's a pretty nice layover for me when I'm flying cross-country to visit family."
The complete Urbanspoon list follows:
Best U.S. Airport Eats
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL): One Flew South • Atlanta Braves Allstar Grill • Cafe Intermezzo • Sweetwater Brewing Company
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX): In-N-Out Burger • Pink's Hot Dogs • La Brea Bakery
John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK): Brasserie La Vie • Shake Shack • Deep Blue Sushi • Uptown Brasserie
San Francisco International Airport (SFO): Ebisu • PIQ • Cat Cora's Kitchen • Andale Mexican Restaurant
Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SEA): Vino Volo • Beecher's Handmade Cheese • Anthony's Restaurant & Fish Bar • Dish D'Lish
Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD): Tortas Frontera • Wicker Park Seafood & Sushi • Gaslight Club • Garrett Popcorn Shop