If you have to kill two hungry hours before a flight, need a place to dine with a colleague or just have a hankering for a freshly prepared meal, Reagan National Airport is your best bet, according to frequent travelers in the region.
The airport has five sit-down restaurants outside of security checkpoints -- Legal Sea Foods, Matsutake Sushi, T.G.I. Friday's, California Pizza Kitchen and Samuel Adams Brew House -- and service is brisk.
The staff is used to hearing the phrase "I have a plane to catch," so you need not remind them.
Once you cross security checkpoints, there are several more sit-down restaurants around the gates -- Charles Mann's All Pro Grill, Sam's Brew House, Federal Tavern and Foggy Bottom, plus the standard fast food restaurants passengers expect.
But be warned. The broadest full-service dining options are in the main terminal, before security.
If you're a chronic late arrival and dash straight for the security lines, BWI may better suit your needs. In its new Southwest terminal, passengers cleared for takeoff are funneled into a large food court with sit-down and counter service -- there are burgers, sushi, crab cakes and a Godiva chocolate stand. It would take a huge crowd of fliers to fill the food court.
That's not the case at National and Dulles, where finding an open seat in the food courts inside the gate area can be a challenge, depending on the time of day.
Dulles is big on pubs -- Sam's Brewhouse, Old Dominion Brewing Co. and Brew Pub -- and there are two full-service T.G.I. Fridays, but no sushi restaurant yet (one is on the way). There's plenty of fast food, including Pizza Hut, Panda Express and Cinnabon.
If you're crossing the country on a discount airline, you'll need more than the pretzels and cheese wafers that JetBlue and Southwest provide. Most airport food retailers will package everything to go -- and some, such as the T.G.I Friday's and Legal Sea Foods at National, let you order ahead and pick up dinner at the airport.
Wrapped sandwiches, at coffee bars or newsstand cafes, are good in a pinch, but be sure to ask when they were made. A Caprese sandwich placed in a refrigerated case at 4 a.m. is not as tasty 12 hours later.