The best airport food value goes to…

I almost never pay for anything to eat at airports for a couple of reasons. First, if I went to Starbucks and Wolfgang Puck every layover, I’d probably be broke. Second, and more importantly, I do my best to eat as healthy as possible while on the road (which isn’t saying much, given that I spend most of my time at airports), and the high price of airport food is one nice incentive to not visit too many airport eateries (if you can even call them that). So usually I’ll just eat on my flights, and since I get a meal on almost every flight, that’s way more than enough.

I know a lot of people have their favorite airport eateries, but given how much I travel, I’m surprised I don’t have all that many. The airports I transit most — the five United hubs — don’t exactly have too many exciting options. And when they’re the least bit interesting, they’re way overpriced and typically a watered down airport version of the original.

But there’s one place I’ll almost always grab a salad. And that’s California Tortilla at Dulles Airport in the United terminal (C concourse). It’s decent Mexican food, but more importantly, they’re always friendly and their prices are insanely reasonable. I always get a southwestern chicken salad for $6.99, which is comparable in quality and quantity to a salad you’d get at Chili’s for $10. I’d actually argue it’s better. Yes, I realize it’s not exactly healthy, but it’s better than a lot of the other options out there. Since when is something at an airport cheaper than in a restaurant, though?

And yes, in this weekend’s case I was the annoying douchebag that brought the good looking meal aboard the plane. And yes, in this case it was a regional jet. And yes, I’m pretty sure I tortured the lazy flight attendant that sat in the jumpseat right across from me (I was in 1C) salivating over my salad for about 42 minutes, because the flight was “too short” for her to serve drinks.

Other than that, I’ll occasionally get an Auntie Anne’s pretzel if my connecting flight doesn’t have a meal, but that’s about it.

Anyone else have any favorites? Anyone else love California Tortilla (and the insanely awesome prices they have)?

Filed Under: Travel
  1. Although not healthy, the McDonalds by the DL gates at DCA has the standard $1 value menu, so you can eat a meal (exlcuding beverage, which I get at the Sky Club) for about $3. Cheapest airport meal anywhere, period.

  2. I usually switch between California Tortilla and Potbelly’s at IAD. Of course If I have enough time, I’ll save some cash at the Senator Lounge.

  3. I travel every week for work and share the same preference to avoid airport food and to eat as healthy as possible. A couple of my favorites:

    Maui Tacos in terminal C at MSP and terminal C at EWR is pretty damn good…healthy tacos with a Hawaiian flavor, a free salsa bar and reasonably priced.

    360 Burrito at MSP is also very good…you can get a full and huge burrito and a drink for about $8.50.

  4. SCOTT



  5. I like Andale at SFO by the G gates. They have a good salad that you can get with either chicken or steak (flame grilled) and it has a vinagrette dressing that probably isnt that bad – at least compared to ranch. I’d guess the whole thing is maybe 550 calories with a good amount of protein. The location by the G gates is a sit-down restaurant. I think I pay about $10 for this meal.

    they have a location landside, and also one in the food court at the beginning of the 80 gates. I dont like it as well at the food court location – seems lower quality and also is usually croweded and noisy. If pressed for time and ordering to bring onboard its not bad though.

  6. i like heidi’s in the UX area of DEN. i also am a fan of Acme Oyster Bar in NoLA. the Dim Sum place in the SFO food court isn’t bad either.

  7. ORD – Berghoff
    DCA/IAD – Potbelly
    PIT – Mexican place in the US area near the US Club
    SEA – Excellent breakfast burrito place to the left when facing the windows in the big atrium food court
    SFO – Seafood place right by UA domestic security to the left
    PHL – Vino Vino

  8. It’s not cheap but Anthony’s at SEA in the central terminal food court has amazing seafood, some of which is reasonably healthy. Their breakfast tacos aren’t half bad either.

    Watch out for restaurant salads though. A lot of them are no better health-wise than a regular meal. “Dressing on the side, please” are the magic words.

  9. I love California Tortilla. They are at IAD and BWI. But since I live in DC, I frequent their Chinatown location, which gives me Rewards Network (Idine) points in addition to a good meal. My other favorite airport food is the cobb salad at Mesa Verde Restaurant in the A terminal Denver. Delicious!

  10. The breakfast burritos at California Tortilla are also awesome – and reasonably priced. Couldn’t agree more with your assessment!

  11. Potbelly, hiding at the far end of terminal C in IAD, has decent, reasonably priced, reasonably healthy food.

  12. I’ve only got one must-go-to airport restaurant … Rubio’s in SAN. Love their fish tacos and salsa bar… and not too expensive.

  13. Vino Volo in any airport that has them- IAD by C4, SMF T1, JFK T8. Love the wine selection, as well as the pork tacos. YUM!

  14. If I’m gonna have a meal at an airport, I’ll try to find something that’s cheap and light, like a sanwhich or salad.

    SFO – I find everything to be too expensive, but Andale if I really need something.

    LAX – Usually a fish taco or two at Baja Fresh ($6.50 for two).

    IAD – Veggie Bowl at Chipotle ($6.10)

    ORD – Whatever the salad/sandwhich place right at the entrance to the food court. Or the chinese place.

  15. I can actually make my wife happy about a short domestic jaunt down the east coast on US Airways ex-DCA because of the Five Guys Burgers there, ok not exactly healthy but they do offer to put an egg on the burger in the a.m. and call it breakfast…

  16. SFO has some decent iterations of local restaurants, especially in the two pre-security International Terminal food courts. You can usually find me at Ebisu (reasonably priced sushi). On the UA concourse, Sankaku’s curry chicken and rice bowls are the best!

  17. SFO – Yankee Pier – haven’t been let down, bit pricey but not bad for a long layover

    ATL – One Flew South on the E Concourse. A group of FTers went here last year after a DO and were all impressed; I’ve been back several times. $20 for a burger and a beer isn’t great, but it’s light years beyond the Fridays/Chili’s options.

    BOS – Legal Sea Foods; there are two regular ones, plus the Test Kitchen. Feels just like a Legal’s outside the airport. I think DCA has one too.

    SEA – Anthony’s.

    I tend to avoid fast food at airports though – I get my Popeye’s fix when I see one in ATL/DTW (only because the one Popeye’s here is hard to get to and only takes cash); same with Dunkin Donuts (I still don’t get how Minneapolis doesn’t have Dunks – and yes, I will walk from the C gates at ORD to the AA gates to get Dunks on a long layover).

  18. Hi there –

    Thanks for the California Tortilla love. We love you too. You can check out our spiffy nutritional calculator on our site and customize any entree to fit your caloric requirements.

    Stacey Kane
    Director of Marketing

  19. Only a few airport eateries that I make any sort of point to visit:

    SEA: Early-morning fettucine alfredo at Pallino’s Pasta. (I work nights, so when I fly out after work in ANC and get off the red-eye in SEA, I’m looking for dinner, not breakfast. It’s one of the few non-breakfast options, so it’s become a habit any time of day.)
    PDX: The sausage place in the C gates. Delicious, and food at PDX is the same price as outside the terminal.
    LAX: This one goes without saying. In-N-Out or bust. 😉
    CVG: The Cinci chili place

    Otherwise, they mostly blend together for me. I will say MSP has one of the best selections of any airport I’ve been through, though…

  20. Oh, yeah–guess I’ve never looked for it, but Five Guys in DC has gotta rule the roost of airport restaurants. 😀

  21. I have to agree with the comment above about Heidi’s at DEN. While I haven’t been to that particular one I have been to others outside the airport and I know Heidi and her husband who started the chain and I know just how important quality is to them.

  22. ” I do my best to eat as healthy as possible while on the road… So usually I’ll just eat on my flights, and since I get a meal on almost every flight, that’s way more than enough.”

    It really doesn’t take much intelligence to realize these two statements are completely contradictory.

  23. Jerry’s Subs & Pizza, DCA Terminal A. I usually have Regular Tuna Overstuffed Sub for $6.29, but not too often.

  24. Please stop eating fast food. Do your research on monsanto food company. The food you’re eating is unhealthy, cancerous, and poorly produced, resulting in soil degradation and loss of state side food production jobs. Research he number of remaining local but butcher shops. It’s sad that our food is left up to a corporation to genetically modify, making I cancerous and then sell to us. It’s a poor vote we get to make every time we buy food. So buy food at home and prepare it for your trip.

    Some of my favorites are: salads, sliced apples, cleaned carrots(steamed), hard boiled eggs, mango slices, mixed nuts, cliff bars. I’m in he health a fitness industry with emphasis on weight loss and the “beach body look.”

    Please try to be open minded and look into some of these issues because our health is all we’ve got to lose.

  25. Well I see the food nazi Zack wants us all to jump on his bandwagon. Tempting but no. It’s a salad for god’s sake. I love it when these people tell us how to live. Ben youre doing fine love the blog keep it up and next time post something really unhealthy and maybe Zack will stroke out J/K 🙂

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *