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2008 Airport Food Review: Ranking of the Nation's 15 Busiest Airports

2008 Airport Food Review

Airport legend guide

During this season of increased air travel, where can a hungry traveler find a healthful meal? Nutritionists with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) surveyed meals in 15 of the nation's busiest airports and found that 80 percent of airport restaurants now offer at least one low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free vegetarian option.

The eighth annual PCRM Airport Food Review also found that efforts by many airport restaurants to offer healthful foods have increased, as evidenced by both a first-place tie and by last year's lowest-scoring airport making this year's biggest gain.

Methodology airport food of survey

Nutritionist making notes

From June to October of 2008, nutrition experts with PCRM reviewed food establishments at 15 of the busiest U.S. airports. Each airport's score was determined by dividing the number of restaurants offering at least one healthful option by the total number of restaurants.

A restaurant was rated as healthful if it served at least one low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free breakfast, lunch, or dinner option.

Results of airport food survey

Airport food court

Overall, 80 percent of restaurants at the 15 airports examined in the report offered healthful meals. This year, two airports tied for first place.

Following is a summary of what PCRM nutrition experts found at each airport, ranked from worst to best.

12. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport: Score 60%

12. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport: Score 60%

While National remains in last place for the second year, it did make the largest gain of any airport featured in this report - 18 points. Even with that increase, the offerings are limited, but travelers can find relatively healthful options in Fuddruckers' veggie burger (no cheese), Potbelly Sandwich Works' vegetarian sandwich (no cheese), and Taxi Café's rice with vegetables.

11. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport: Score 67%

11. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport: Score 67%

Still in 11th place, Atlanta is down five points in 2008. Although PCRM dietitians expected to find a greater variety of healthful choices at this East Coast hub, air travelers will find some low-fat, high-fiber meals, including the veggie and California avocado sandwiches and Italian vegetarian panini at Atlanta Bread Company (but hold the cheese and mayo). Also notable is Nature's Table Café, which offers vegetarian chili, a roasted vegetable wrap, and a vegetarian sandwich.

10. Las Vegas McCarran International Airport: Score 71%

10. Las Vegas McCarran International Airport: Score 71%

After two years of gains, Las Vegas dropped from ninth place this year and lost four points. Travelers can avoid gambling with their diets by choosing such healthful fare as Blue Burrito Grille's veggie fajita bowl, the Budweiser Racing Track Bar & Grill's vegetarian sandwich, and the Fox Sports Sky Box's veggie (Boca) burger.

9. (tie) Newark Liberty International Airport: Score 75%

9. (tie) Newark Liberty International Airport: Score 75%

While not in last place, Newark is the biggest loser this year, dropping 14 points and plunging from third to ninth place. Even with the addition of 16 new eateries in Newark, the number of restaurants serving healthful options increased by just four. To narrow the search for a cholesterol-free meal, diners can seek out the veggie portobello mushroom burger at Garden State Diner, the Greek veggie pita and vegetarian Mediterranean lentil soup at Miami Subs Grill, and the roasted red pepper salad or pasta primavera with marinara sauce at Americo's Pizza.

9. (tie) Miami International Airport: Score 75%

9. (tie) Miami International Airport: Score 75%

Moving from 12th to ninth place and gaining eight points, Miami makes a modest attempt to return to its 2004 first-place ranking. Although less than half of the eateries in the airport offer even one entrée that is low fat and cholesterol free, there are a few healthful choices, including the Islander Bar and Grill's veggie burger, Quiznos' veggie sub, and Sushi Bar's cucumber and avocado rolls.

8. Orlando International Airport: Score 76%

8. Orlando International Airport: Score 76%

Orlando rebounded slightly from last year's staggering 24-point loss. In this year's report, the airport gained three points and rose from 10th to eighth place. The best option for a healthful meal in Orlando is still Zyng Asian Grill, which has a menu that includes vegetarian soups, salads, and rice and noodle dishes. Travelers can also enjoy vegetarian lentil chili at McCoy's Bar & Grill, and Burger King offers a veggie burger (hold the mayo and cheese).

7. (tie) San Francisco International Airport: Score 77%

7. (tie) San Francisco International Airport: Score 77%

San Francisco held steady this year, remaining in seventh place at 77 percent. Healthful highlights include Sankaku's teriyaki tofu bowl or veggie sushi, Willow Street Wood-Fired Pizza's roasted veggie sandwich and vegetarian pizzas (whole pizzas can be made without cheese), and Mission Bar and Grill's hummus plate or vegan burrito.

7. (tie) Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport: Score 77%

7. (tie) Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport: Score 77%

Minneapolis lost four points this year and moved from sixth to seventh place. The standout in Minneapolis remains French Meadow Bakery & Café, which offers creative, healthful fare such as tofu salad and vegan stromboli. Travelers looking for simple, delicious fare packed with soy protein should try D'Amico & Sons Café, with its tofu and zucchini wrap, and MSP To-Go, which offers a South salad that includes organic greens and grilled tofu.

6. Denver International Airport: Score 79%

6. Denver International Airport: Score 79%

Denver may be a mile high, but it continued its descent in our review this year. The airport lost five points - for a 10-point drop in its score since 2006 - and dropped from fourth to sixth place in this year's report. The best bets for healthful options include the vegetarian panini (hold the cheese) at Chef Jimmy's Bistro & Spirits, the portobello sandwich at Pour la France Café & Bar, and the vegetarian tacos and burrito (request no cheese) at Que Bueno Mexican Grille.

5. Los Angeles International Airport: Score 81%

5. Los Angeles International Airport: Score 81%

Even after losing eight points and dropping from third to fifth place, Los Angeles continues to offer many nutritious choices. Harried travelers can attain nutritional balance through the roasted veggie ciabatta (grilled eggplant, roasted red peppers, hummus) at Brioche Dorée, the California summer spinach vegetable wrap (minus the mayo) at Encounter Restaurant, and the veggie roll at Sushi Boy.

4. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport: Score 82%

4. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport: Score 82%

Although Phoenix moved from fifth to fourth place this year, its score remained at 82 percent. Travelers can fill up on healthful vegetables with Einstein Bros Bagels' veg out sandwich (no cheese, of course), Taberna del Tequila's vegetarian rice bowl and burrito (hold the cheese), and Ocotillo Sun's veggie burger (request no cheese).

3. Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport: Score 83%

3. Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport: Score 83%

After a 10th-place finish in 2006, Houston fell off the radar in 2007. This year, the airport soared to third place with the addition of low-fat vegetarian options at eight new or existing eateries. For meals high in fiber and vegetable protein, try Houston Charley's Grilled Subs' grilled veggie delight (ask for no cheese), Burrito Del Sol's made-to-order vegetarian taco salad and burritos, and the veggie burger at Ruby's Diner.

2. Chicago O'Hare International Airport: Score 88%

2. Chicago O'Hare International Airport: Score 88%

Although Chicago remains in second place this year, it has lost five points since 2007. There are still plenty of healthful offerings, including Cibo Express Gourmet Market's vegan tofu wrap, La Tapenade Mediterranean Café's Mediterranean platter or roasted vegetable pizza flatbread (replace feta cheese spread with tomato basil sauce or pesto sauce), and O'Hare Bar and Grill's portobello mushroom panini.

1. (tie) Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport: Score 95%

1. (tie) Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport: Score 95%

After two years in second place, Detroit increased its score by two points and tied with Dallas for first place. The addition of new low-fat menu items - like the vegetarian pita at National Coney Island Express - drives the Motor City into the number one spot. Zero-cholesterol items with an international flair include the tabouleh, hummus, and veggie burger at Online Café Bar and Grill, veggie and tofu rolls at Sora Japanese Cuisine and Sushi, and the fattoush (a salad made from vegetables and pita bread) or the veggie wrap at Waterworks Bar and Grill.

1. (tie) Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: Score 95%

1. (tie) Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: Score 95%

DFW increased its score by one point and remains in first place this year. Health-conscious travelers will find nearly 40 restaurants that offer at least one low-fat, zero-cholesterol meal. Healthful offerings include the vegan smoked tofu, broccoli, and mushroom burrito at 360 Gourmet Burrito, the portable portobello wrap (hold the feta) at UFood Grill, the Sonoma veggie wrap (minus the cheese) at Camille's Sidewalk Café, and the guiltless black bean burger at Chili's Too.

2008 Airport Food Review Summary

2008 Airport Food Review Summary

Airport Food Review Summary History

Airport Food Review Summary History

2008 Airport Food Review: Ranking of the Nation's 15 Busiest Airports

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