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How To

Eat Like You’re Not in the Airport

With a restaurant every few gates, you can’t go hungry at O’Hare or Midway. But not all restaurants are created equal. Here are some picks for eating well while you wait.

Must-Try Restaurants

Is it possible to forget you’re eating airport food? Yes, says Jason Kessler, the Buffalo Grove native behind the blog Fly & Dine. He shares his favorite spots at O’Hare and Midway, in order of culinary delight.  

Tortas Frontera

O’Hare
Terminal 1, Gate B10; Terminal 3, Gate K4; Terminal 5, Gate M12
Photo: HMSHost

Condé Nast Traveler and Bon Appétit both named Tortas Frontera the best airport restaurant in America, and Kessler agrees: “Rick Bayless has put together a menu of food you’d be happy to get outside of the airport, much less close to your gate. I always get the Pepito. Beer-braised beef short ribs might be a little heavy for right before a flight, but it’s worth it. For breakfast, the queso and jam torta is great.” Skip the long line at the counter and sit at the bar, where you can order and eat while the chumps in the to-go line are still waiting.

  Serves alcohol
  Serves breakfast
  TVs
  Phone-charging outlets

Lettuce Entertain You spots: Big Bowl, Hub 51, R.J. Grunts, Urban Olive, Wow Bao

O’Hare
Big Bowl: Terminal 5, Gate M7; all others: Terminal 5, Gates M10 to M11
Photo: Courtesy of Lettuce Entertain you

Over the past two years, Rich Melman has opened five eateries in the international terminal, joining the national trend of highlighting local restaurants at airports. “O’Hare used to be full of stands that just said ‘Chicago-Style Hot Dog,’ but these restaurants really represent the city,” Kessler says. “Wow Bao bowls are perfect preflight food: flavorful, not terribly expensive, and they fill you up to the point that you don’t have to shell out $12 for a day-old turkey sandwich on your flight.

  Serves alcohol (Hub 51 only)
  Outpost of a Chicago staple (except Urban Olive)
  Phone-charging outlets (Gates M10-11 restaurants only)

Manny’s Deli

Midway
Concourse A, Gate A5
Photo: Courtesy of the Chicago Department of Aviation

“The truth is, Manny’s at the airport is a shell of what the real Manny’s experience is like. But it’s the best Midway has. I always get a corned beef sandwich and a side of potato pancakes.”

  Outpost of a Chicago staple
  Serves breakfast
  Phone-charging outlets

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Best Bars

Goose Island Beer Company

O’Hare
Terminal 1, Gate C10; Terminal 3, Gate L10
Photo: Courtesy of Goose Island

Quality beer isn’t a given at an airport, but you can count on drinking well here. Watch the game on a flat-screen and grab a 312. There’s food if you need it—try the Sriracha wings—but this spot is all about the drinks.

  Serves alcohol
  Outpost of a Chicago staple
  Serves Breakfast
  TVs

Reilly’s Daughter

Midway
Boulevard Food Court just past security, rear corner
Photo: Brendan O’Brien

This Irish pub was in Oak Lawn before the father-son owners moved it to the airport. It retains the feel of a neighborhood tavern, complete with frequent-flier regulars. Just don’t try to get food here—the closest it has is a Guinness.

  Serves alcohol
  TVs
  Phone-charging outlets

Savvy Traveler Tip

Want a brew but don’t have enough time to sit at the bar? Most airport pubs will sell you beer in a to-go cup that you can take to your gate, numbing the pain of that interminable Southwest boarding process. (Once you’re aboard, it’s against FAA regulations to drink anything that wasn’t served on the plane, but, really, who’s going to check?)

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Best Quick Bites by Concourse

One of the biggest decisions at the airport, especially when you’re in a rush: Grab food here, or keep moving toward your gate in hopes of something better? Trust us, it won’t get any better than these spots. At each, you can get your food to go in less than 10 minutes.

O’Hare

Terminal 1, Concourse B

Wolfgang Puck Express

Grab a mushroom pizza, turkey club, or signature Chinois Salad at one of the two locations. Gates B1 and B7
  Serves alcohol
  Serves breakfast

Terminal 1, Concourse C

Berghoff Café

Made-to-order sandwiches from the landmark Loop restaurant’s outpost. Gate C26
  Serves alcohol
  Outpost of a Chicago staple
  Serves breakfast
  TVs

Terminal 2, Concourses E and F

La Tapenade

The counter-service Mediterranean café offers killer salmon flatbread pizza and ham and bacon bruschetta. Gates E9 and F20
  Serves alcohol
  Serves breakfast

Terminal 3, Concourse G

Starbucks

In this concourse, it’s either the ‘Bucks—and it’s not-horrible sandwiches—or Chili’s Too. GateG13
  Grab-and-go only (no tables available)
  Serves breakfast

Terminal 3, Concourse H

La Tapenade

Gate H14
  Serves alcohol
  Serves breakfast

Terminal 3, Concourse K

Wolfgang Puck Express

Gate K12
  Serves alcohol
  Serves breakfast

Terminal 5, Concourse M

Wow Bao

Asian steamed buns and noodle bowls from one of the city’s premier restaurant groups. Yum. Gate M11
  Outpost of a Chicago staple
  Phone-charging outlets

Midway

Concourse A

Manny’s Deli

Dig into potato pancakes and matzo ball soup from the beloved deli. Gate A5
  Outpost of a Chicago staple
  Serves breakfast

Concourse B

Sprigs

Make your own salad at the airport’s healthiest offering. Gate B14
  Grab-and-go only (no tables available)

Concourse C

Let Them Eat Cake II

It’s the only option, but the croque monsieur means you won’t have to eat chocolate fudge cake for lunch. Gate C1
  Serves breakfast
  Grab-and-go only (no tables available)

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