By ERIC RIPERT
When I was a little kid, I liked airplane food. It wasn’t hard back then—the food was pretty good, because the airlines were putting some effort into it. I even liked the little trays, how everything fit together.
Hadley Hooper for The Wall Street Journal
Today a lot of people complain that the food is lousy on airplanes, the food is lousy in airports. In general, that’s true. I travel all the time, and I see lots of stale, bad-tasting, unhealthy food. But with a lot of trial and error, I’ve also figured out ways to eat well on the road. There’s always time to eat in airports, because flights are always being delayed.
Let’s start with New York, where I live. In the Delta terminal at LaGuardia Airport there’s a restaurant called Crust, which serves wines by the glass and pretty good pizza—thin crust, well seasoned, good-quality ingredients. The place has a modern design and cool light fixtures. You feel like you could be outside instead of in an airport, and the staff move fast but they don’t rush you.
At JFK, the American Airlines terminal has Bobby Van’s Steakhouse. You can sit there, have a decent steak and watch people go by with their luggage. And the Delta terminal now has a lot of little food stands spread all over. You can finally have something flavorful and healthy, and eat it while you’re waiting or take it on the plane.
Miami—now, Miami is pretty dysfunctional as an airport, in my experience. It’s where you have the most delays. But there’s a restaurant there, La Carreta, that is part of a local chain and is where all the stewards and pilots go. They do fantastic yucca fries, and it’s so classic Cuban Miami.
Chicago’s O’Hare is home to the Billy Goat Tavern, where they serve tasty burgers and a real breakfast—eggs, sausage, omelets. It’s only been around for about 12 years, but it feels old, like they built the terminal around it.
The place I eat in Washington, D.C., in Reagan National Airport, has one disadvantage: It’s before security. Still, I like to stop for a quick bite at Matsutake Sushi. You would normally worry about eating raw fish in an airport, but these guys do it well—and make it in front of you.
I really enjoy the Wolfgang Puck experience when I’m in Los Angeles. I admire how consistent they are—it’s really good, every time. My go-to dish is the pizza with smoked salmon and wasabi cream.
“In Singapore and Hong Kong, I go to the airport ahead of time just to eat. ”
I love stopping in Denver. On the way home from skiing, you always get delayed by snow, but there is a Mexican place called Cantina Grill that I enjoy. It’s a little bit of a dive, but they make their own guacamole. Maybe that’s why you see the pilots and flight attendants going there.
I have my favorites abroad, too. In London there’s Caviar House & Prunier. It’s nice to have something sophisticated like oysters before you get on a plane. Or you can indulge in gravlax, Champagne, vodka—they also have great Spanish ham. I guess I am a creature of habit; it helps me not to feel lost. So after Prunier I go shopping for Scotch, then I get on the plane and fall sleep.
In Singapore and Hong Kong, I go to the airport ahead of time just to eat. The food is very sophisticated in Hong Kong, and I always go back to the same place: Pak Loh Chiu Chow Restaurant. It’s tiny and modern, and serves traditional cuisine. You can even get Peking duck. Singapore’s Changi Airport goes on and on forever. On the lower level are 30 or 40 different small, small restaurants, each specializing in one thing—one does only chili crab, one does only pork cutlets. You can get 20 little tiny plates to share with friends.
When I was a kid, you went to the airport, got your ticket and went to the plane. Now flying is a big process. But I think airports are getting better, because people have realized that you have a captive audience—a bored captive audience. Everyone is getting delayed for mechanical problems, for traffic, whatever, and they need to be entertained. And fed.
—As told to Sara Clemence
Mr. Ripert is chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin in New York, the author of four cookbooks and host of the PBS television series “Avec Eric.”