Best case scenario: You breeze through security with time to spare. More likely: Snow and sleet leave you stranded. Don’t waste time screaming at a gate agent; instead, enjoy the most important meal of the day at these better-than-fast-food airport outposts.
Chicago O’Hare // Tortas Frontera
Terminals 1, 3 and 5 sell breakfast sandwiches the Rick Bayless way—that is, locally driven, authentically Mexican and in the vein of his iconic downtown Frontera Grill. The airport offshoot puts out a.m. tortas (griddle-baked sandwiches on bolillo or telera bread) and molletes (open-faced versions) that show off the chef’s geniously unfussy flavor compositions: There’s a hearty egg-chorizo torta, and molletes wearing fig spread atop smoked pork, or pecans and peanut butter over caramelized plantains. A yogurt bar puts flavor combos in your hands: Choose plain or Greek yogurt, honey or cajeta caramel, house granola or compote—or pile on the whole enchilada.
Newark Liberty International // Garden State Diner
This Jersey-style diner serves up hearty bites and a healthy dose of kitsch, like the classic car balanced above the entrance. The menu’s got a dozen-plus omelets and playful faves like Pancakes Elvis (peanut butter and banana, naturally). For genuine N.J. flavor, go for Frankie’s Eggs Benedict: two eggs, poached to wobbly perfection over a slab of grilled Taylor ham—a processed cross between Canadian bacon and fried bologna—on a toasty, open-faced English muffin, smothered in creamy hollandaise. Wash it down with a shake like the Orange Creamsicle: vanilla ice cream and orange juice whipped into creamy harmony. Need a different kind of pick-me-up? The full bar opens at 9 a.m.
Phoenix Sky Harbor // Barrio Café Por Avion
If you didn’t make it to the real Barrio Café, a Phoenix institution run by twice-James-Beard-nominated chef Silvana Salcida Esparza, you can still taste Southwest sabor at its colorful Terminal 4 outpost. You’ll avoid all airport blasé with massively portioned spicy egg dishes, like a simple sammy with huevos done up your way and topped with cheese, chorizo and salsa. Or, opt for the sombrero-sized Arizona Burrito brimming with sweet ’n’ spicy green chile pork and gooey cheese crowned with a pair of fried eggs. Sip French-pressed coffee, or opt for a kicky Michelada made with a Mexican brew. Missed breakfast? Try any dish with the famous Cochinita Pibil.
BEFORE YOU BOARD… Get one last sip at these airport spinoffs of beloved breweries: 1. Stone Brewing, San Diego International // 2. New Belgium Hub, Denver International // 3. Bell’s Brewery, Gerald R. Ford International (Grand Rapids, Mich.) // 4. Cigar City Brewing, Tampa International // 5. Laurelwood Brewing, Portland International