Big Bowl Mongolian Beef

Big Bowl's Mongolian Beef (Photo courtesy of Big Bowl.)

Air travel from Chicago is always unpredictable. Winter snowstorms and summer thunderstorms mean you never know when you could be stranded on the runway for hours, making even a quick flight feel like an eternity. Don’t risk resorting to the pre-fab in-flight snack boxes; be sure to grab-and-go something yummy on your way to the gate instead.

Once sad dining deserts, both Midway and O’Hare have stepped up their game in the past few years. And while there’s no shortage of hot dogs and pizza — this is Chicago, after all, and you’ve got to give the people what they want — you’ll also find some tasty, and even (gasp!) healthy options available once you trudge through the security line.

Midway Airport

Potbelly (Midway Triangle Food Court)

My educated guess is that this is the busiest Potbelly in the country. Every time I pass through Midway, I join the line that snakes around and out the door, and more people pack in behind me. It’s the siren call of the morning Breakfast Sandwich, specifically the B.E.L.T., consisting of bacon, egg, lettuce and tomato, to which I add cheese, of course. I’m not a savage. Great sandwich options abound (hello, The Wreck, you paean to meat lovers!) and for the more health-conscious, multigrain bread and flatbread are available, as are large salads filled with fresh veggies; and more. Emphatically not healthy but definitely scrumptious: the sinful Oreo Milkshake.

Manny’s Deli (Concourse A, Gate A5)

Yes, this is an outpost of the famous Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen, and you can get a damn good corned beef sandwich here, too, although at Midway, it won’t be served up by iconic counterman Gino. And the pastrami … oy! Spicy, fatty and delicious. Grab a big potato latke while you’re at it. Healthier options include the fresh turkey sandwich or baked whitefish entrée, but I beg you, eat the whitefish before you fly. DO NOT BRING BAKED FISH ON A PLANE. You will be shunned.

Harry Caray’s Seventh Inning Stretch (Midway Triangle Food Court)

This is the only full-service option here, but it’s tried and true. You’ll find a fairly comprehensive menu, filled with favorites like baked Spinach & Artichoke Dip, BLT Chopped Salad, Chicken Vesuvio, and Wisconsin Smoked Cheddar Mac ‘n’ Cheese. There’s a full breakfast menu as well. Healthy options include Whole Wheat Pancakes with fresh strawberries, egg white omelets, turkey burgers and Blackened Tilapia Tacos. Holy Cow, indeed.

Pegasus on the Fly (Midway Triangle Food Court)

This counter-service eatery offers Mediterranean cuisine, with all-day breakfast, soups, salads, savory filo pies, sandwiches and various snacks on display. You can’t go wrong with a Mountain Pita-Wrap Omelet, the Mushroom and Emmental Cheese Artopita, Greek Salad (with or without grilled chicken) or Lamb Kebob Pita, followed by Greek Rice Pudding or Baklava. There are many healthy options here, including Greek yogurt, oatmeal, fruit salad and hummus.

Healthy Quick Eats

Grab a tangy Pomegranate Frozen Yogurt topped with fresh fruit and almonds or a Protein Power Smoothie at Red Mango (Concourse B, Gate B19) or some gluten-free snacks — think popcorn and freshly roasted nuts — at Nuts on Clark (Boulevard of Main Terminal).

O’Hare Airport

Domestic Terminals

Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless (Terminals 1, 3 and 5)

This is my go-to stop before most flights, assuming I have time to wait in line — because there’s almost ALWAYS a line. But it’s worth it for the mouth-watering Milanesa Torta, a crunchy fried chicken breast layered with smooth black beans, pickled jalapeños, cheese, cilantro crema and avocado-tomatillo salsa; the Bacon & Queso Mollete, an open-faced breakfast sandwich, is a close second. And what would a three-hour flight be without a Frontera Deal-Maker Margarita? Healthier options include the Greek-style yogurt topped with Berry Compote and Frontera Granola, or perhaps the Taqueria Salad topped with Chipotle Chicken or Smoky Garlic Shrimp.

Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless

Yogurt Parfait (Photo courtesy of Tortas Frontera.)

Stefani’s Tuscany Café (Terminal 1)

It’s carb time! Pretend you’re on your way to run a marathon, sit down and order the Linguine Shrimp Diavolo, or perhaps the Mezzelune Formaggi Cipriani (half-moon pasta stuffed with cheese in a shallot-cognac cream tomato sauce). Tuscan Frittatas and Stuffed French Toast are highlights of the breakfast menu, while Salmone al Forno and the Tuscany Salad are some of the healthier lunch or dinner choices available. And for a real taste of Italy, they serve Lavazza coffee drinks.

Goose Island Beer Company (Terminals 2 and 3)

This brewpub serves up a juicy burger (add Wisconsin cheddar and applewood-smoked bacon for maximum calorie loading), cheese and charcuterie platters, Fish & Chips and Spicy Sriracha Wings. Healthier options include the Vegetable Misto Salad, Veggie Chili and shrimp cocktail. And of course, beer, glorious beer.

Wicker Park Sushi Bar (Terminal 2)

Yes, there is sushi at O’Hare, and it’s fresh and appealing. There are grab-and-go options, but if you have time, sit down and enjoy. Inventive maki rolls, shrimp and oysters by the half dozen, Asian salad plates (the Beef Tenderloin Salad is particularly satisfying) and even a Green Tea Tiramisu are on offer. What’s healthy? Just about everything, as long as you don’t overdo it on the mayonnaise-based or soy sauces. Remember, loading up on sodium right before a long flight is a no-no.

Wolfgang Puck Café (Terminal 3; Wolfgang puck Express at Terminal 1)

One of the first contemporary restaurants to open at O’Hare, the California cuisine master is still well represented here. Take a seat and enjoy a good breakfast (the Breakfast Pizza and Spinach, Mushroom & Mozzarella Breakfast Sandwich are great options), or a satisfying lunch or dinner (any pizza, the Barbecued Chicken Salad and the Italian Bistro Sandwich are all solid choices). Healthier options include the Roasted Vegetable Sandwich, Chinois Chicken Salad and the Butternut Squash Soup.

Healthy Quick Eats

Load up on antioxidants at Vosges Chocolates (Terminals 1, 3 and 5) — I don’t fly unless I have a bar of Coconut Ash & Banana or Pomegranate & Goji Super Dark Chocolate in my purse. Want to think outside the (admittedly large) Starbucks box? Head to Argo Tea (Terminals 2 and 3) for a 100-calorie Hibiscus Apple Chiller or 160-calorie Iced Chai … and those are the large sizes!

Terminal 5

Headed out of the country? You’re in luck, as the choices in Terminal 5 rock, with many outposts of Chicago standouts.

Big Bowl

A well-chosen selection of BB menu favorites awaits: Hot Pepper Shrimp, Mongolian Beef and Chicken Potstickers all make an appearance. Healthier options include brown rice and the Emperor’s Tofu & Vegetable dish, plus they source all-natural beef and chicken here.

Big Bowl

Photo courtesy of Big Bowl.

The Goddess and Grocer

Caterer to the rock stars Debbie Sharpe delivers her freshly made wraps, sandwiches, flatbreads and super tasty baked goods to your tummy. I love the California Dreaming Sandwich (honey-roasted turkey, Swiss cheese, avocado, sprouts, lettuce, tomato and lemony mayo on multigrain bread) and the rich Lobster Bisque. Healthier options include the Tandoori Chicken Wrap, the Goddess Chopped Veggie Salad and the Yogurt Parfait. Chase it down with a Matcha Green Tea Latte made with Rishi tea.


Represent, Wicker Park! This is a more contemporary Italian menu, from the blister-crusted pizzas to the crisp panini. Try the Funghi Pizza with its umami-laden wild mushrooms, fresh mozzarella and prosciutto or the Capri Panini stuffed with smoked mozzarella, artichokes, sun-dried tomato and mixed greens. Healthier options include a simple arugula-based Insalata Bosco or the Pollo Insalata, a perfectly seared chicken breast atop balsamic-dressed greens.

Wow Bao

You’re here for the bao, pillowy-soft steamed dumplings filled with sweet and savory fillings. The BBQ Pork and spicy Mongolian Beef are favorites, as is the healthier Whole Wheat Vegetable option. Perfect for transporting directly to your seat on the airplane next to the screaming toddler. More effective than thumb sucking for comfort.

Wow Bao

Photo courtesy of Wow Bao.

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