I do a moderate amount of traveling, and I rarely bother to pack snacks anymore, although it is in my Midwestern blood to carry sandwiches everywhere and generally be a cheapskate. It's just not worth the frisking at security, and those guards are never attractive. Never.
Here's what I've found so far that's edible. Feel free to comment and your faves, too!
Top picks at DIA (Denver International Airport):
Boulder Beer Tap house Jeppesen Terminal West, Level 5 One of Colorado’s premiere microbrewery (and the first in the state, back in 1979), Boulder Beer serves up some tasty staples like lagers and porters, and a special collection for connoisseurs, like Hazed and Infused (a hoppy, bitter ale). The food’s good, too.
Lounge 5280 Wine Bar B Gates This stylish, contemporary bar seems like it could be in LoDo, and the wine list really is top-notch. What’s really special, here, though, are the signature cocktails using fresh herbs and fruit juices. Ask your bartender to recommend appetizers that will compliment your drink--they’re great at pairings here.
Mesa Verde Smoking Lounge A Gates I hate cigarette smoke, but their Mexican-inspired dishes are terrific. Ask to sit on the "patio" and you can avoid the lung cancer. For a hearty brunch before a long day of travel, try the chilaquiles and a cup of coffee for as satisfying of a meal as you might get at your favorite neighborhood joint.
New Belgium Hub B Gates Famed Fort Collins brewery New Belgium has finally set up shop at DIA. Get a sandwich and sample some of the beers that have earned them cult status in the West.
Paradise Bakery and Café B and C Gates Of all the coffee shops in DIA, this is my favorite, because the baked treats are sooo good. The muffins are a real treat. The breads they use in the sandwiches are homemade, as are their soups; it’s a great little deli experience in the middle of the airport. Oh, and the coffee is fantastic.
Rock Bottom Brewery C Gates Just like the locations around the Denver area, this chain has a good selection of beers from around the world and a great burger to fill you up for the plane ride.
MSP (Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport):
California Pizza Kitchen Concourse F These guys really do bake up a great pizza. The crust is buttery, crunchy on the outside and fluffy inside, and just the right thickness to hold up to the generously portioned fresh ingredients they use. Get the chicken and roasted garlic--it’s fresh roasted garlic and high quality white meat with a light white sauce and sweet red onions.
Caribou Coffee Concourses A, E, F, G, Terminal 2-Humphrey The local favorite really does serve the best cup of coffee in town (including MSP), and their sandwiches and salads are just fine.
Great River Market and Deli Concourse G I’m not usually too keen on the fast-food sandwiches (boring and dry), but this menu really does boast some great ingredients and tasty, fresh-baked bread. For a comforting breakfast that will last you all day, get the Hashbrown Casserole.
Itasca Grill Concourse A Like the popular restaurant in the Minneapolis area, the airport location serves up some artful breakfast/ brunch dishes like cinnamon vanilla French toast, an enormous breakfast burrito, and a bevy of omelets. For lunch, the turkey apple wood bacon ciabatta is divine, as is the lime-infused grilled chicken and brie sandwich.
Maui Tacos Concourse C Great fish and fresh salsas top fresh-made corn or flour tortillas for a healthy, flavorful meal I never imagined I could get in an airport.
Northern Lights Grill Concourse D This restaurant celebrates local cuisine, from simply cooked wild rice soup to broiled walleye and good old-fashioned Midwestern pot roast. A great wine list offers something to compliment each dish, and the atmosphere, if you turn yourself the right way, makes you forget about the airport chaos beyond.
Rock Bottom Brewery Concourse C As stated above, this chain has a good selection of beers from around the world and a great burger to fill you up for the plane ride. Good place to bring kids (childless beware: people bring their kids here!).
Skol Café and Bar Concourse A This bar is beautiful (That's it to the right)! Scandinavian design accents the Northern European-inspired snacks and drink available. Do like the locals do and stick to the vodka--it’s incredibly high quality and a perfectly clean palate cleanser with the smoked salmon toasts.
Sea-Tac (Seattle-Tacoma International Airport)
Anthony’s Central Terminal Like their locations around Washington and Oregon, Anthony’s in Sea-Tac specializes in fresh Puget Sound delicacies like oysters on the half shell. Alaskan King Salmon, and their signature blackberry cobbler made with fresh, local berries. Local microbrews and wines complete a menu that will give you one last great dining experience before your trip home.
Bigfoot Food and Spirits North Satellite This popular Seattle chain is little more than a sports bar: BBQ sandwiches, big burgers, and beers. Along with a few brunch selections and an ample dessert menu. But it’s all really tasty, reasonably priced (for an airport), and will fill you up for a long time. Great comfort food.
Ivar’s Seafood Bar Central Terminal An iconic name in Seattle, Ivar’s serves up beautiful, perfect fish & chips, as well as just about any other local seafood you can imagine craving. The northwest chowders are fantastic, and their grilled prawns, halibut, and salmon are as dreamy a meal as you’ll find anywhere in Seattle. Clams, calamari, and scallops make a tasty snack, too.
Maki of Japan Central Terminal Well-made sushi and authentic noodle dishes with pork are your best bet here, and the price is right: 8-piece sushi rolls start at just $4.95.
Mountain Bar Room Concourse C The burgers and beer are fine here, but this place is best for breakfast. Belgian waffles and a “Big Cheese” ham and cheese omelet are more special than they sound. Anything can be prepared to take on the plane if you request it when you order.
Pallino Pastaria Central Terminal The wait can be a bit long for this fast-food stand, but it’s worth it. Perfectly-cooked pasta is topped with your choice of freshly made sauces for a meal that would put Olive Garden to shame. The personal pizzas come in a wide variety of flavor combinations, and many of them can be made into sandwiches, as well.
Seattle Tap Room Concourse B This is beautifully prepared gastro-pub fare. The beer-braised bratwurst plate and meatloaf are both terrific, and the beers on tap represent local breweries from throughout the Northwest (and occasionally the Rockies).
Vino Volo Central Terminal This tiny space offers high-end wines poured by the glass and sold as full bottles to take home (they’ll also ship for you). Not sure what you like? Get a taste flight and chat up the server--they are well-trained in matching you to your perfect mate.
Coffee: You’ll have to pick your team here, just like you have to in Seattle-proper. Seattle’s Best, Starbucks, and Tully’s the three local giants, are all equally represented here. Good luck. (I choose Tully’s.)