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A special to-go meal for the trip back can extend the excitement of your trip for a few more hours. Takeout prepared with skill and care gives you a reason to look forward to the journey and shows you have more respect for yourself than settling for a premade sandwich entombed in cellophane.
To see the benefits, take my trip to New York City last fall. My wife and I went in with friends on an Airbnb, and we made our rounds at restaurants, bars, parks, museums and bookstores across Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Before heading home to D.C., we made one final stop. Swinging through the Market Line — the below-ground food hall in the Lower East Side — gave us a chance to build a goody bag for our Amtrak ride (but first, cups of remarkably pliant ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery).
I placed a to-go order at the outpost of dim sum institution Nom Wah, trusting that scallion pancakes and a duo of dumplings would hold up well in transit. I also swung by Asian grocery Southeast NYC to stock up on MSG and grab a bag of nori-flavored Lays.
The pit stop may have forced us to cut it close — especially after our Uber ghosted us, and we made a mad dash through the subway with me juggling paper bags full of food alongside our luggage — but any anxiety felt worth it when we settled into our seats and snapped apart our disposable chopsticks.
As soon as I removed a plastic cover, a cloud of edamame dumpling steam surrounded my face. While I popped dumplings into my mouth and crunched on salty seaweed potato chips, I was happily ensconced in the present. I felt like I had ticked off another item on my eating to-do list instead of a microwaved hot dog from the cafe car.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m the type to plan a trip around food. When I look back on that New York weekend, lots of the places we hit would have made for a fine train meal: half of a classic pastrami on rye from Katz’s deli, a pumpernickel everything bagel from Black Seed Bagels, a pressed bikini sandwich from Mercado Little Spain or even a cup of hearty Ukrainian borscht and pierogies from Veselka.
On a more recent trip to New England, I flew into Boston with enough time to visit the North End for Italian staples. A few friends and I carried the leftovers of hulking sandwiches from Bricco Salumeria (get the cold, sliced porchetta) onto a Downeaster train bound for Maine, and we tore through the thread sealing a box of cannoli from famous Mike’s Pastry while waiting in the North Station. Speaking of sandwiches, the appeal of the airplane muffuletta, preferably from Central Grocery in New Orleans, has been well-documented.
Another case for commuter takeout: A forced contortion toward to-go operations for many restaurants early in the pandemic means the quality and variety of portable restaurant food has dramatically improved. Airport security also allows you to carry on personal food as long as it’s not liquid (sorry, soup heads).
You could totally extend this philosophy to a plane. In the interest of civility, you may want to save any pungent foods for another time.