Some airlines don’t even give out free peanuts these days, so it’s best to chow down before you take off. Luckily for frequent fliers, airport restaurateurs have started offering first-class fare that takes its inspiration from destinations near and far. “The ideal dining experience has good food and great service done quickly,” says Cheri Cernak, co-owner of Obrycki’s at BWI. “Our goal is to get you out when you want, but if you want to hang out while you’re waiting for a flight, you’re more than welcome to do so.” Just don’t relax so much that you miss your boarding call.
Washington Dulles International Airport
Unless you speak Italian, you probably don’t get the double entendre at work in this airport wine bar’s name: Vino Volo means “wine flight” in the language of Mario Batali. No matter whether you choose a red, white or rosé, the menu’s small plates stand out. If you’re in the mood for something more substantial, you can order any of the dishes as an entrée. Try the crunchy and creamy smoked salmon and crab crostini ($9, $15 for a full portion), or the braised pork tacos that hide a hint of heat, topped with crunchy cabbage slaw and a squeeze of fresh lime juice ($5, $9 for a full portion).
Capitol Grounds Coffee
This family-owned java joint with a flagship location in Foggy Bottom is the perfect perk stop before you head off into the wide blue beyond. For a sweet pick-me-up, order an espresso con panna, which is a cup of espresso topped with a dollop of whipped cream ($1.95-$2.05). If you need a nibble that’s filling yet won’t feel like a brick in your stomach at 30,000 feet, order the Capistrano panini. It’s stuffed with grilled chicken, spinach, tomato and a slather of pesto mayo ($5.95).
Reagan National Airport
Kick off your preflight party with a 22-ounce half-liter of handcrafted beer. Options include a hoppy Czech pilsner and a malty Märzen ($7.49). If your glass is filled with the latter, try one of the entrées made with the brewery’s own smoky Märzen barbecue sauce. The juicy pulled pork sandwich ($8.99) gets a jolt of flavor and a slightly spicy kick from the fragrant burgundy sauce.
Cibo Bistro & Wine Bar
You don’t want to land at your final destination feeling hungry and grumpy. Put some fuel in your engine by ordering a hearty bowl of penne drenched in tomato sauce then dappled with spicy sausage, peppers and onions ($17.99; it’s a rotating special, but always available by request). If you’d prefer a sandwich, go for the grilled crisp Italian panini stacked with peppery Genoa salami, ham and sharp provolone ($7.49).
Baltimore/Washington International Airport
Obrycki’s Restaurant & Bar
For over 50 years, Obrycki’s has specialized in Chesapeake comfort food. (Though for most of that time, Obrycki’s was a sit-down restaurant in Baltimore, you’ll now only find it at BWI and the Cleveland Hopkins International airports.) You can’t go wrong with the traditional crab cakes (one for $19, two for $30), but the real find are the spicy Deviled Crab Cakes, crisply crunchy on the outside with a moist interior and spiced with a secret seasonings blend (one for $19, two for $30). If you want to bring home a taste of the Bay, grab a six-pack of frozen crab cakes to go ($69.95).
Whether you want breakfast for dinner or a low-cal snack, the seven-page menu has something for you. Best of all, the diner uses locally sourced ingredients. So before your flight is called, you can slice into a BBQ-slathered chopped bison steak raised at Maryland’s Gunpowder Farms ($14.99) or an omelet made with eggs from Martin Farms in Lancaster, Pa., that’s packed with crab, sweet corn, jack cheddar, scallions and salsa ($12.99). If you don’t have time to sit down, you can always get your meal packed to go.
This East Coast seafood institution brings an amended version of its regular menu to BWI. The crispy golden salt-and-pepper calamari ($7.99) are a signature here, and they taste even better when dunked in the sweetly spicy pineapple chili sauce. For dessert, opt for the just-tart-enough Key lime pie with a crunchy graham cracker crust ($4.99).