Don_t fly hangry. here_s your guide to food at the d. c. area_s three airports. – the washington post

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After the highly orchestrated chaos that’s required to get to the airport, there may be only one thing on your mind, other than whether your plane will leave on time: What are you going to eat?

Maybe you’re the kind of put-together, think-ahead traveler who packs meals and snacks in leak-proof, TSA-friendly form. Maybe you’re someone who can somehow resist the siren song of Cinnabon and the salty promise of Combos. But most of us are not like you. Most


of us can barely get everyone out the door, ideally with boarding passes in hand. So when hunger strikes and the specter of several hours stuck in the air with only limited airline food for sale looms, we place ourselves at the mercy of airport dining.

Thankfully, these days, we don’t have to feel like we’re compromising flavor and nutrition for convenience. Airport eateries are getting an upgrade.

Part of the push has placed an emphasis on recognizable local brands and specialties. Travel around the country, and you’ll find Beecher’s Handmade Cheese at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Michael Voltaggio’s ink. sack at Los Angeles International and Rick Bayless’s Tortas Frontera at Chicago O’Hare International.

[ Celebrity chefs give airports a first-class upgrade]

Our three local airports — Reagan National, Washington Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall — are no different.

“You want to bring a sense of place into your airport,” said Steven C. Baker, vice president for customer and concessions development for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which runs National and Dulles airports.

Mike Isabella’s Greek-themed Kapnos Taverna recently opened at Reagan National Airport’s Terminal C as part of efforts to bring in recognizable local restaurants. (Becky Krystal/The Washington Post)

Walk along the corridors of National, and you’ll see what he means. Recent additions to the airport in Arlington include Ben’s Chili Bowl, Cava Mezze Grill, &pizza, Taylor Gourmet, Lebanese Taverna Express and Kapnos Taverna. (Keep in mind, though, that even local concepts are collaborations with third-party operators, often locals themselves, who contract with the airport and their development partners to bring the restaurants to fruition.)

At Dulles, local eateries with homegrown origins include Chef Geoff’s, Be Right Burger and &pizza. Because of the large number of international flights at Dulles, “local” to many travelers may mean “national” to the rest of us, which is one reason the airport is bringing in slice-of-America restaurants such as Wendy’s and the Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck.

[ Half-smoke fans rejoice — Ben’s Chili Bowl arrives at Reagan National]

The pace of change has been especially accelerated at National and Dulles, where 18 and 20 restaurants, respectively, have opened in the past 18 months.

Brett C. Kelly, vice president for AirMall at BWI, which manages concessions at the airport, said the Maryland Aviation Administration and his group want to bring in local businesses.

“We want people to know you’re in Baltimore,” he said. “It’s the front and back door to the city.”

BWI’s food and beverage options include Baltimore-based Phillips Seafood and DuClaw Brewing Co., as well as Obrycki’s, which started in Charm City’s Fells Point neighborhood but now operates solely at the airport. Rockville-born Silver Diner has a BWI location as well.

Gachi Sushi has two locations at BWI: an outpost with a sushi counter and seating in Concourse A and a grab-and-go operation in Concourse B. (Becky Krystal/The Washington Post)

Kelly said airports can provide an opportunity for locals to debut or expand their business. At BWI, an Anne Arundel family opened Gachi Sushi, and Baltimore bakery KoDee Cakes sells a tempting array of sweets from a kiosk in the A/B food court.

But airports and their development partners — AirMall at BWI and MarketPlace at National and Dulles — must factor in a lot more than name recognition when choosing vendors. The goal is to showcase a variety of dining options — sit-down, grab-and-go, quick service/fast-food — at a variety of price points. (Two staples you always want nearby, Baker said: coffee and booze.) Many decisions come down to two considerations: what passengers need, and what the space allows for.

Passenger needs largely depend on where they’re going. (Bars near Vegas-bound flights are almost always a safe bet, Kelly said.) Longer flights mean people are more likely to buy more food and other convenience items to bring on the plane. Because travelers on international flights tend to get to the airport earlier and have time to kill, Dulles features several sit-down restaurants near those gates, not to mention such high-end shops as Coach, Swarovski and Burberry. A Carrabba’s Italian Grill debuted last year in Terminal B, and Arlington-born sports lounge Bracket Room is on the way.

[ At Dulles Airport, skip the Cinnabon and shop for the runway]

The situation at National is somewhat reversed. Its flights, for the most part, are shorter. There’s also a lack of sprawling real estate post-security, though the latter may change if the airport follows through on plans — which may be about five years out, Baker said — to expand the secure area to include the now open-to-anyone National Hall. Baker said that changing passenger needs and an interest in redevelopment prompted the conversion of retail space into food and beverage outposts. The concepts that work best in those limited spaces are those that don’t require seating, which is one reason local fast-casual chains have been able to take root.

National also is in the process of reconfiguring the “end piers” of terminals B, B/C and C; vending carts are being replaced with bars and eateries in each terminal that will combine public seating with that for paying customers.

At Page Bar in Reagan National Airport’s Terminal A, travelers use iPads to order food from a menu developed by celebrity chef Carla Hall. (Becky Krystal/The Washington Post)

Terminal A’s new Page Bar, developed in part by chef, cookbook author and “The Chew” co-host Carla Hall, has similarly optimized space to include more seating where previously there had been several vending stands. The restaurant dishes such Southern fare as pimento cheese dip, ham and biscuits and Chesapeake oysters, all of which can be ordered via iPads at the 75-plus seats. Each seat also has outlets for charging devices. A similar setup is in place at Terminal A’s pre-security District Bar.

Many sit-down restaurants train their servers to know how long it takes to prepare different dishes so they can make recommendations based on the amount of time travelers have before they have to board their flight. BWI has installed flight information display systems — known as fids in the biz — in restaurants such as Silver Diner, so passengers won’t feel tied to their gadgets or seats in the concourse.

These and other conveniences are slightly different than what you’d find in restaurants outside of the airports.

“An operator wants as many seats as possible,” Baker said. “We want accessibility.” That may mean leaving more room in between tables to accommodate luggage, or at least creating the illusion of room, as is the case with the tables of varying heights at the Firkin & Fox in Dulles’s Concourse A.

[ Dulles and BWI look to expand their amenities with on-site hotels]

Creative solutions carry over to the food as well. Because airports operate at very early hours, most airport dining spots serve breakfast, even if the morning meal is not available at their other locations. So Cava Mezze Grill has a Greek yogurt bar and build-your-own breakfast bowls (eggs, potatoes, sausage, etc.), and there’s breakfast pizza at &pizza (savory and sweet). And while Starbucks is beginning to roll out the chain’s Evenings menu at more stores around the country, it’s already available in Dulles’s Concourse A, serving savory small plates, beer and wine after noon.

Travelers wait in line at Washington-based fast casual pizza chain &pizza at Dulles International Airport’s Concourse C. (Becky Krystal/The Washington Post) (Becky Krystal/The Washington Post)

Regardless of the time of day or your interests, if you’re anticipating eating at the airport, it never hurts to plan ahead — not only because you’re going to have enough other things occupying bandwidth in your brain (You locked the front door, right?), but also because there are so many options. So before you head to the airport, go online and check out where your gate is and what food might be nearby — before your stomach grumbles and you hear the final boarding call for your flight.

Because, as Baker put it, “food is the thing most people are concerned about after they get through security.”

Bon appetit, and bon voyage.

Before taking flight, take time to eat

Want to know what’s new or coming soon at our three local airports? Here’s a sampling, in addition to a few dining suggestions depending on your situation. Terminals and concourses are in parentheses.

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