By Nicole Hehl
Imagine an airport experience that feels like a night on the town. Where the TSA-recommended two-hour preflight arrival time flies by as you dine at some of the best local restaurants, and flight delays invite you to leisurely sip unique tequilas, wines and local craft beers.
What you’re imagining is Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, where national restaurant chains and fast-food spots have been replaced with more than 20 local favorites that reflect the Arizona culinary experience. Terminal 3 travelers will, too, delight in local dining options with more than a dozen homegrown restaurants opening over the next few years.
Local restaurateurs are excited to represent Phoenix and introduce their concepts to the more than 40 million travelers flying through Sky Harbor each year. Among the newer arrivals to Terminal 3 are Joyride Taco House and Postino WineCafé from Phoenix-based hospitality group Upward Projects.
“Like any traveler, we love visiting new places and experiencing a taste of local culture,” says Lauren Bailey, Upward Projects CEO and co-founder. “We’re proud to support Sky Harbor’s efforts to add more local flavor and give both visitors and locals a true taste of Phoenix’s amazing food scene.”
With full-service restaurants and bars, fast-service counter dining and fresh pre-packaged options, you’ll have the chance to enjoy these popular local dining spots even if you’re running for a flight. There also are several pre-security options, perfect for meeting friends passing through on a short layover.
While your options run the gastronomic gamut from burgers and barbecue to Mexican and French cuisine, the common theme among the local spots is fresh, scratch-made menu items with often locally sourced ingredients. Plus, many offer a special perk for travelers that can’t be found at the original locations: breakfast.
If you’re planning a departure from Terminal 4, build extra time into your travel itinerary for some delish local fare at these spots:
Barrio Café (D1)
Experience the funky vibe, vibrant artwork and tantalizing take on Mexican street food at this nationally renowned spot. Pair signature dishes like tableside guacamole or Cochinita Pibil (slow-roasted pork) with one of nearly a dozen margaritas or slip into the intimate tequila tasting room to take the edge off your travels.
Blanco Tacos & Tequila (A5)
Watch the planes arrive and depart while sipping a sangria at this award-winning Sam Fox spot. The Mexican-inspired specialties include street tacos, fajitas and cheese crisps, plus breakfast options like huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos for morning travelers.
Cowboy Ciao (B22)
This local favorite offers a uniquely Southwestern American menu with a global twist served overlooking the tarmac. Eat your way through the day with choices ranging from chocolate chip pancakes and the chicken and waffle sandwich to filet mignon and the exotic mushroom pan fry.
Get your burger fix with one of the best burgers in Phoenix. The Camelback-born eatery serves Niman Ranch, all-natural, vegetarian-fed beef with no antibiotics or hormones. Stop by from breakfast to late night for a hearty burger, delicious hot dogs, savory sweet potato fries and more.
Chelsea’s Kitchen (pre-security)
Delight in a taste of this local favorite serving American and Southwestern dishes, including gluten-free and vegetarian-friendly options. Keep it light with deviled eggs (yes, add the bacon) and a Brussels sprouts salad, or indulge with the green chile burger finished off with a scoop or two of Grateful Spoon Gelato.
Cheuvront Restaurant & Wine Bar (pre-security)
Cheese and wine? Yes, please! Relax with a glass of wine from an extensive collection paired with an award-winning artisanal cheese selection, or choose from the eclectic menu of salads, burgers, sandwiches and “haute dawgs.”
Four Peaks Brewery Company (A20)
With Four Peaks’ award-winning brews on tap at this airport pub, you’ll be hoping for a flight delay. The beer-inspired menu includes Kilt Lifter fish and chips, Brewery burgers, beer bread sandwiches and a variety of soups and salads.
Humble Pie (A20, C3)
Pick up a 10-inch specialty pie like the famous SOP topped with Humble Pie’s signature sausage, caramelized onion, roasted red pepper, mozzarella and ricotta. Other tasty options at this quick-serve location include breakfast wraps, burgers and salads.
Joe’s Real BBQ (pre-security)
If you haven’t made it to the original Joe’s in Gilbert, you no longer have to miss out on what is considered some of the best barbecue in the United States. Dig into meal plates, sandwiches and other specialties featuring your choice of meats slow-cooked over pecan wood.
La Grande Orange (D1)
Grab a seat at this counter-service café for tasty salads, sourdough pizza, sandwiches, soups and baked goods, with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. Try the California burger with guacamole and Havarti cheese on a famous LGO English muffin or the signature LGO tuna Niçoise. Complete your meal with a decadent scoop of Grateful Spoon Gelato.
Lola Coffee (pre-security)
This central Phoenix-born spot has your pre-flight pick-me-up covered with artisanal roasted coffees, breakfast pastries and sandwiches.
Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles (pre-security)
Phoenix earns its soul food credentials with this popular combo of juicy, flavorful fried chicken and fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth waffles.
Los Taquitos (C3)
This sibling-run taco shop serves its award-winning family recipes with tacos, burritos, tortas, quesadillas and more. Get there early for a carne asada breakfast torta topped with eggs, avocado and beans.
Matt’s Big Breakfast (B5)
Any time is a good time for breakfast, and Matt’s serves it up all day with thick-cut peppered bacon, cage-free eggs, Niman Ranch ground chuck butter burgers and hand-cut home fries. Wash it down with a fresh-squeezed orange juice or lemonade.
Modern Burger (A2)
This quick-service burger counter offers a simple menu of juicy burgers, hot dogs and salads. Top your burger with bacon and a fried egg, or save room to wash it down with a milkshake. (Or do both; we don’t judge.)
Nocawich (C2, C3)
Dine in or grab and go with a menu of gourmet breakfast and brunch dishes, salads and sandwiches. Enjoy comfort classics with a gourmet makeover like the CB&J with cashew butter and blackberry jam and the popular fried chicken sando with slaw, pickles and honey hot sauce.
Olive & Ivy (A3)
Enjoy a pre-flight meal of light, Mediterranean classics such as panini, salads, soups and more, plus smoothies and breakfast favorites. And energize your travels with a white mocha or other espresso drink.
Pita Jungle (B3)
This is a Valley favorite for globally inspired healthy fare showcasing lean proteins, veggies, grains and legumes. Dip into a plate of jalapeño cilantro hummus, sample the popular Mediterranean roasted chicken pita or choose from wraps, salads, soups and sides.
This quick-service Italian spot brings the casual feel of its street-side locations to Sky Harbor. Create your own gourmet pizza (gluten-free crust is available) or go for specialty pies like the portobello and artichoke or chicken Caesar and parmesan. Other options include bruschetta, soup, pasta, panini and chopped salads, as well as a kids menu.
Wildflower (pre-security, A9)
This hometown favorite is a fast and friendly spot with a passion for great food and outstanding service. The award-winning bakery is open 24 hours a day with an array of breakfast, lunch and dinner options from fresh artisanal breads and pastries to hearty sandwiches and healthy salads.
Zinc Brasserie (A1 -Grab and Go, C11)
Slip into a rich leather booth and transport your taste buds to France with classics like warm dungeness crab crêpes, crispy duck confit, or the Zinc omelet stuffed with French ham and Gruyere. Or stop by the grab-and-go location for gourmet baguette sandwiches, crêpes and melty French onion soup.
Other grab-and-go locations for fast sandwiches and salads include Dilly’s Deli (A17, A7) and Focaccia Fiorentina (B7). For a sweet indulgence, stop by Sweet Republic (B5) for all-natural, artisanal ice cream or enjoy cakes, cookies and baked treats from acclaimed bakery Tammie Coe Cakes (A25).