There once was a time—around the middle of the 20th century—when airport dining was golden. People actually used to come to the airport just to eat, flight or no flight in their immediate future. That’s how good dining was at airports. Then things went downhill from there, followed by the emergence of fast food chains in airports in the 1980s. Suddenly Taco Bell, Burger King, TGI Friday’s, and Sbarro were ubiquitous in terminals, including the restaurants in JFK.
After September 11, 2001, though, things changed again. Now that people had to turn up at airports earlier because of longer security lines, and thus would be spending more time lingering at their gates, airport dining took a different turn: restaurants local to that airport began setting up shop. This was a positive change that reflected dining habits in general: an emphasis on local businesses, local ingredients, local dishes.
Which is where we’re at today. Eating in airports has never been better. If you have a layover in, say, Dallas, you can be sure you’ll find some great barbecue. In Los Angeles, tasty tacos are just steps away. And restaurants in JFK at is no exception. If you have some time to spare at John F. Kennedy International and your tummy is rumbling or you want some better food for the upcoming flight, here are the best places to eat.
The Best Restaurants in JFK: Terminal 1
Located in the pre-security part of the terminal, JikJi serves up Korean and Japanese fare. This is the place to go for stews bubbling with soft tofu and kimchi, as well as seaweed salad, steamed dumplings, bulgogi, and teriyaki chicken.
Burgers, pizza, lobster rolls are on the menu here, but frequent T1 visitors know it’s all about the brisket at The Local, which you can get in sandwich form or poured over potato chips. The hand-carved pastrami is also worthy of a few bites. Located past security near gate 4.
The Best Restaurants in JFK: Terminal 2
BKLYN Beer Garden
It’s not really a garden, but there is beer. A lot of it. About 20 brews on tap, plus a menu of beer-adjacent bites, including burgers and sausages makes this one of the best restaurants in JFK. Located past security near gate 67.
Chef Caesare Casella, who ran the show at the Upper West Side spot Salumeria Rossi, created the menu here. One of the best restaurants in JFK, Due Amici’s menu is loaded with charcuterie, Caprese salads, and pasta staples like lasagna and bolognese. Located past security near gate 62.
Need a sushi fix before your flight? Hit up Shiso, a casual sushi-centric spot for all manner of sashimi and rolls, including poke bowls and snacks like edamame. Located past security near gate 64.
The Best Restaurants in JFK: Terminal 4
An airport outpost of the famed Long Island-based brewery, Bluepoint’s T4 restaurant has kegs of beer on tap plus a lot of high-quality pub grub to help the suds settle into the stomach better. Located past security at gate B33.
Mi Casa Cantina & Restaurant
Burritos, tacos, tortas, and other Mexican fare that you can eat there or easily carry on to the plane to have a mid-flight munch-a-thon. Mi Casa also has plenty of mezcal and tequila-based cocktails in case you need to ease the pre-flight nerves. Located past security at gate B23.
Shake Shack is an outpost of Danny Meyer’s wildly popular fast food burger chain that started in Madison Square Park in Manhattan. A ShackBurger and fries is the perfect way to alleviate the in-flight doldrums. Located past security at gates B23 and B37.
The Palm Bar & Grille
Want to bite into a little piece of New York culinary history before you fly away? Plant yourself at the Palm, an outpost of the famed Manhattan steakhouse, for sizzling medium-rare pleasure on the palate. Past security, in the retail hall.
The stylish and sleek vibe at chef Marcus Samuelsson’s JFK restaurant belies the casual, but excellent comfort food on the menu here. Tuck into a huge reuben sandwich, a crispy chicken sandwich, or a chorizo-stuffed quesadilla. Located past security near gate B32.
The Best Restaurants in JFK: Terminal 5
Artichoke Basille’s Pizza
The popular New York City pizza known as just “Artichoke” has a spot at T5 and it’s glorious. The plus-sized slices are relatively cheap for airport food and make for a satisfying mid-flight feast. Located in the food hall past security.
Probably the best sushi spot at JFK, Deep Blue opened in 2008 with the renovation of JetBlue’s T5. The pan-Asian eatery also does great takes on ramen, pork-fried rice, and pad Thai. Located in the main hall after security.
A Gallic bistro serving up fine French classics like a croque monsieur, a seared tuna salad, and a Creole crab burger. The menu was designed by the chefs at the highly lauded Tribeca restaurant Frenchette. Located past security near gate 22.
Insider’s Tip: We cover Frenchette in our article on Tribeca restaurants. Check it out if you’re in NYC for longer than a layover.
This sleek eatery isn’t located in T5; it’s in the very nearby retro-chic TWA Hotel and totally worth a visit if you’re flying JetBlue and have some time to spare. The menu at Paris Cafe was created by Gallic super-chef Jean-Georges and boasts creatively topped pizzas, sushi, seared hake, roasted cauliflower, and a warm asparagus salad. The cafe also has a nice cocktail list.
The Best Restaurants in JFK: Terminal 7
An outpost of the famously secret burger spot in the Parker New York Hotel that is hidden behind a curtain in the lobby. It’s no secret, though, that Burger Joint’s product is one of the best burgers in the city. Now at T7, they are one of the best restaurants in JFK. Find it past security near gate 6.
The Best Restaurants in JFK: Terminal 8
JFK’s T8 might very well be the most dismal terminal of all the New York airports. And that includes the food options. The one bright spot, though, is Bobby Van’s, an outpost of the famed Manhattan steakhouse. In addition to the obvious—steak!—there’s also a nice shrimp scampi pasta dish, crab cakes, and burgers. Located at gate 14, past security.
David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes here and here.