Waiting for a flight -- especially if it's delayed -- can work up an appetite. New York's LaGuardia Aiport has nearly 50 restaurants and food counters to help you snack away the boredom. Good to know is that every eatery in the airport is committed to street pricing, so you're paying exactly what you'd pay elsewhere in the region, not jacked-up airport prices. And the marketplace there has won several industry food awards. From chains in food courts to sit-down service and grab-and-gos, I ate my way across the central terminal recently to find out which had the best offerings.(Cosi Signature Salad, pictured)
Figs , opened by celebrity chef Todd English, hails from Boston. The open dining room is clean and modern with windows overlooking the airfield and a bar overlooking a brick oven. Flat-screen TVs are visible in the bar area, and generously portioned, artfully presented meals are visible on the tables. Lunch and dinner start with the restaurant's signature bread, baked on premises and served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. Figs and prosciutto pizza ($13.49) is a marriage of sweet and savory, with a crispy rosemary crust and fig-and-balsamic jam, prosciutto and gorgonzola cheese. Insalata Bistecca ($19.99) is a vertically plated masterpiece of tender sliced balsamic-glazed hanger steak with onion jam over country mashed potatoes and a salad of string beans and watercress with toasted walnut vinaigrette and blue cheese. The big-enough-to-share White Chocolate Bread Pudding ($5.95) is heaven on a plate. A good destination in itself, even if you aren't flying anywhere. Overlooking Concourse B in the Center Food Court. EXCELLENT.
Asian Chao's signature Bourbon Chicken is tasty, but not too sweet. Tofu with Vegetables, a vegetarian offering, contains tofu that's crispy without being greasy. Spicy chicken was delicious and only moderately spicy to my palate, though my companions reached for water. Diners can choose two menu items, plated with rice or lo mein, for $6.99. Center Food Court, Lower Level, between Gates B and C. VERY GOOD
The Coffee Beanery . Every item sampled at this counter-service coffee bar exceeded my expectations. The Italian Veggio sandwich, constructed of roasted peppers, mozzarella and pesto on a grilled panini, was delicious, even at 10 a.m. The espresso-based White Chocolate Mocha coffee was very good and, suprisingly, not overly sweet, and the chocolate-swirled Junior's Cheesecake was authentic. Other bakery items and coffees, flavored and not, dominate the menu. LaGuardia Marketplace Center, Lower Level between Gates B and C. VERY GOOD.
Au Bon Pain Cafe isn't just a spot for coffee and crisp baguettes. I sampled Broccoli Cheddar Soup (excellent), a Thai Chicken Peanut Wrap with shredded carrots and crunchy wonton strips (excellent) and a Chicken Pesto Sandwich with feta and roasted red peppers (excellent). For the less adventurous, a Turkey Club (very good) and Turkey-and-Swiss (pictured) are among more standard fare available. The cafe has introduced Portions, boxed single-serving snacks perfect for taking onboard. Among the offerings are Smoked Turkey, Asparagus, Cranberry Chutney and Gorgonzola; Tiramisu; Mozzarella and Tomato; and Hummus and Cucumber. All portions are 200 calories or less and cost $3. LaGuardia Marketplace East. VERY GOOD.
The same Auntie Anne's that feeds hungry shoppers in malls all over Long Island also has an outlet at LaGuardia. I found the new turkey-and-cheese pretzel pocket too greasy and salty, but Pretzel Dogs are a delicious, more filling, alternative to standard franks. The signature lemonade washes it all down nicely. Center Food Court, Lower Level, between Gates B and C. OK
Baskin-Robbin's new 31 Below is the ice cream parlor's answer to Dairy Queen's Blizzard or McDonald's McFlurry. You choose the confection, and it's blended with vanilla soft-serve ice cream, also a relatively new addition to the B-R menu. I sampled Heath bar, Oreo and Reese's. Central Terminal West. VERY GOOD.
Dunkin' Donuts shares a space with Baskin-Robbins in the Central Terminal West food court. The new Southwest Chicken Flatbread sandwich would make for a tasy lunch, while the Egg-White Turkey Sausage (280 calories) is both light and substantial. Both are delicious and easy to eat on the run if there's no time to sit. Central Terminal West. VERY GOOD.
Brooklyn National Deli . Hot Corned Beef, Pastrami on Rye and Curly Fries are the focus here. All sandwiches all made with Hebrew National meats and though they're kosher style, they don't qualify as kosher. The corned beef is very good; the pastrami a bit dry. Curly fries are abundantly crispy, thanks to a pre-fry dredge in potato starch. Generously stuffed, made-to-order sandwiches are $6.50. Kids meals include a choice of chicken nuggets or grilled cheese with fries and a small drink for $5.50. Center Food Court on the lower level, between Gates B and C. GOOD
Cibo Market sells a large variety of healthy grab-and-go fare, much of it organic, some of it kosher. Prepackaged items like health bars and baked fruit chip snacks are sold alongside fresh-made offerings like California Chicken Salad, Grilled Chicken Breast on Olive Loaf, and Mozzarella and Prosciutto sandwiches. Boxed lunches for the kids include a sandwich, applesauce and chips. Concourse B. GOOD.
Cosi . Takeout salads, sandwiches and snacks here all are way above par. The Tuscan Chicken Pesto Sandwich (pesto chicken breast with sundried tomato spread and crispy Romaine lettuce) is excellent, as is the TBM (tomato, basil and mozzarella with basil vinaigrette) and Cosi Club (roasted turkey, bacon, tomato, romaine and mayonnaise). All are served on outstanding bread. Brownies are good; Blondies are even better. Post-security in Concourse D. EXCELLENT.
Jet Rock is a casual pub with a music-themed sports bar vibe, serving the best Philly Cheese Steak I've ever tasted. Granted, I've never been to Philadelphia, but I'm told the secret to authenticity lies in the Cheez-Whiz. Really. Plus the steak is shredded and the whole thing is served on French bread, a nice touch. Taco salad contained smoky grilled chicken, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, onions and jalapenos in a taco shell bowl, with sour cream and salsa on the side. The half-pound bacon cheeseburger was cooked to perfection and wasn't the slightest bit greasy. Serving 24 kinds of beer (in 32-ounce Mega Mugs), 10 burgers, seven wraps, sandwich dippers and fish-and-chips, there's plenty to choose from. Mango, strawberry and raspberry smoothies were big, tasty and refreshing. Central Terminal West, Concourse C. VERY GOOD.
Famous Famiglia. This family-run chain with counter service makes fresh pizza and Italian specialties on site. Even the sauces are homemade: Executive chef Joe Petrella grinds the tomatoes himself and whips up the spicy Southern salsa that accompanies many of the dishes. He even removes all the acidity from his sauces by adding baking soda. The Fresca pizza slice is a fine choice, and a slice of double-crusted VIP pizza makes for a meal. The lasagna was subpar, but the Spinach Stromboli more than made up for it. Served with Joe's hot sauce -- made with Hungarian peppers -- you'll crave it for days. A mild version is available by request. LaGuardia Marketplace Center Food Court, Lower Level Between Gates B and C. GOOD.
As far as fast food goes, Wendy's does it right, offering healthy options like baked potatoes, salad and chili alongside more traditional fast-food fare. The Baconator falls into the later category, with two beef patties, two slices of cheese, six bacon strips, mayo and ketchup on a real Kaiser bun. Wash it down with the new Frosty Shake and you might have to pay the extra baggage fee. But it sure is good. The Chicken Caesar Salad is a more healthful option, and comes across fresh and satisfying. Concourse C West. GOOD.
Sam Adams Pub. Beer and more beer, but not just beer. Manny Mora, LaGuardia's Employee of the Year 2007, runs this tiny setup, affectionately referred to by airport employees as "Beer in a Box." While mixed drinks and bottled beers are available, the novelty here is a revolving roster of seasonal beers and specialty lagers and ales on tap, served in 20-ounce cups. A selection of sandwiches is available for $6.95 apiece, each prepackaged but made daily by the chef at Figs restaurant downstairs. Choose from turkey, lettuce and tomato on seven-grain bread; ham and gruyere on marble rye or a variety of wraps. But the pièce de résistance is the skinless Sabrett frank, served with homemade onions that Mora cooks up himself in the Figs kitchen. "They're the reason my wife keeps me around," he quips. No wonder. Post-security. Concourse D. VERY GOOD.