Skip Bongo in Miami airport, even if it's owned by Gloria Estefan.
By the time I reached La Carreta, (snip)... The roast pork was juicy, garlicky and chock-full of real roasted flavor, and the cheese tasted as if it had actually been produced from the milk of a cow. La Carreta’s was a Cubano I would happily eat “off-campus,” as airline employees refer to the world outside the airport, even though the bread was oddly chewy and I wanted more pickles. Then again, I always want more pickles.
At DFW, the food is inside the security ring, although you may need the terminal rail system to access some locations in other terminals.
By this measure, Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport was exemplary, with not one but three Texas-style barbecue joints, all branches of off-campus stalwarts. Cousin’s Bar-B-Q was easily my favorite — the brisket had just the right balance of meat, fat and chewy, charred burnt bits — while Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, whose brisket was watery and ribs dry, made an intriguingly spiced hot link. Only Railhead BBQ disappointed, perhaps because I was already stuffed and had to save my chopped-beef sandwich for a cold midnight snack.
Dallas even had nonbarbecue worth savoring. At the sit-down Reata Grill, an outpost of a local mini-chain, I ate the $10.99 lunch special: tortilla soup and a big tamale bursting with beef and topped with pecan pesto. As I drank a Shiner Bock that was so cold the froth congealed, I overheard a woman at the bar tell her co-workers, with no hint of sarcasm, “I’m excited about my lunch.” Was this really an airport restaurant?
In Atlanta, the traveler enjoyed Paschal's, which has several locations inside the airport. Juicy sausage, fresh grits. However, the lunch counter in the cabbie waiting area provided the real excitement just a few minutes walk from the north baggage hall.
On the way back home to New York that night, I had another layover, two and a half hours, in Atlanta, so I decided to follow another Chowhound lead. Leaving the airport by the north baggage claim, I turned left and walked precisely seven minutes down a dark highway to the taxi assembly, the parking lot where cabbies await the call to pick up passengers. At the rear of the lot lay their break room, which doubled as their cafeteria. When cabbies wait, they get hungry, and since the vast majority of Atlanta’s airport-taxi drivers happen to be African immigrants, the cafeteria serves food to fit their tastes: Ethiopian injera, Somali rice and Nigerian fufu, with halal meats and vegetables cooked every which way.
At a little after 7 p.m., the break room was humming. Dramatic games of checkers and dominoes were under way at the long indoor picnic tables, and men crowded around TVs tuned to MSNBC and CNN, raptly following analyses of Barack Obama’s potential cabinet picks. At the food window, I ordered a bit of everything — the only choice, really, as the kitchen was almost out of food. (The best time to eat, I’m told, is 1 p.m.) My Styrofoam container held a bread roll, two simple sautés — one of chicken, onions and peppers, the other of beef, both spice-coated and peppery — plus a meaty hunk of fish in a memorably smoky tomato sauce.
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