By Frank Sabatini Jr. / Photos by Brevin Blach
Gone are the days when flying in coach class came with the dignity of a warm meal and an occasional mini bottle of free liquor. Now, however - and no thanks to the airlines - passengers traversing San Diego International Airport can refuel at 45 new restaurants before, during or after their flights.
The sweeping concessionaire program arrives on the heels of a $1 billion Green Build expansion at Lindbergh Field's Terminal 2, where 30 of the restaurants, many of them homegrown, will be strewn among dozens of new retail shops in and around the terminal's glossy, freshly built Sunset Cove area.
"Our goal is to let passengers passing through any of the terminals know about the iconic restaurants in San Diego," says Nyle Marmion, program manager for the airport's concession development program. "We're encouraging them to bring the same feel and designs they have on the streets into the airport."
The program, which also lends engine power to local beer and wine bars, is due for completion in March. Say "goodbye" to Big Macs (yes, McDonald's is going away) and "hello" to cuisine that originates from the city's bona fide chefs.
Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant
(Opening in late September, Terminal 2)
It's likely that no other airport restaurant in the world dishes up plates of nostalgia quite like the zesty deviled eggs chef Carl Schroeder features as an appetizer at his Bankers Hill hotspot. Co-owner Terryl Gavre promises their new outpost will also feature Schroeder's famous house-made lemon potato chips, beet salad and "substantial fare that translates to a fast, high-quality product." The restaurant's signature deconstructed design will change to "industrial-modern" at the airport, and will feature a full cocktail bar to boot.
Pacifica Del Mar
(Opening in November, Terminal 1)
A concessionaire from one of the airport's outreach teams figured nothing would quell the frustration of a flight delay better than Pacifica Del Mar's sugar spice king salmon. The restaurant's owner, Kipp Downing, says the rep ate at Pacifica's adjoining Breeze Café three days a week and urged him to come on board. In keeping with the original venue's seaside theme, the airport location will greet guests with ocean-blue colors, a bar and a menu highlighting the cinnamon-cocoa-spiked salmon as well as crab Louie salads, sandwiches and wraps.
"Because this is a mini form of running a full-scale restaurant, it will take us a few months to see what sells and to figure out what works well for grab-and-go," Downing says.
(Opened in August, Terminal 2)
The titillating photos of Thai cuisine gracing Saffron's India Street digs compel airport visitors to schlep their luggage inside this second location. Founder Su-Mei Yu felt it was time to give travelers healthy alternatives and glutenfree dining options. "Our food has wonderful fragrances and it will make people on the planes jealous," she says, referring in part to her acclaimed salad rolls, curries and pad Thai noodles that appear on the abbreviated menu. As part of her agreement with the concessionaire, Yu relinquished management rights, but insists she isn't worried. "I have friends and spies to make sure the food is right," she says.
(Opening in March, Terminal 2)
Arriving with time to spare before takeoff will soon afford an opportunity to test which wines pair best with sausage-artichoke fettuccine and fig-bacon pizza with smoked gouda.
"Those are only a few of the items that will be on our airport menu," says owner David Cohn, who plans to capture the same Old World charm at the airport that his design team implemented at 100 Wines Hillcrest. Unlike at his street location, which serves only dinner and Sunday brunch, the airport kitchen will also dish out breakfast and lunch, while catering to kiddie travelers, too. "The previous food offerings at the airport were pretty pedestrian," Cohn says. "I'd rather have visitors get a taste of what San Diego has to offer."
Stone Brewing Company
(Opened in August, Terminal 2)
The only folks who shouldn't be sampling craft beer in Stone's sleek, new outlet are pilots. As multiple taps pump the company's latest and greatest suds, the bill of fare has come to include hop-friendly sausage plates and duck tacos like those served at the brewery's World Bistro and Gardens in nearby Liberty Station. The organics that appear in other dishes originate mostly from local plots, including Stone Farms in Escondido. With its beer distribution now in 37 states, not to mention countless San Diego bars, Stone is providing the traveling masses a drinking sanctuary that feels like home.
The Kearny Mesa restaurant brings the unexpected addition of fresh dim sum to Terminal 1 in November, along with transportable duck filets, honey-walnut shrimp and other Cantonese specialties.
Follow your nose through Terminal 2 and you'll encounter the charry ribs, chicken and saucy-faced customers that have made this San Diego barbecue house the envy of all others.
Garden by Tender Greens
The recent arrival of farm-to-fork salads and organic proteins cooked on a Brazilian grill in the Commuter Terminal means that you can put away your Trail Mix for the long run. California wines, craft beers and cocktails are also available.
Tommy V's Pizzeria
Coming soon to Terminal 2 are thin-crust pies made in front of your eyes. This North County favorite offers a plethora of sassy toppings you won't find at Sbarro.
Craft Brews on 30th Street
Since mid-summer, Terminal 1 visitors have been exposed to a glimpse of 30th Street's teeming pub scene, thanks to a replica of the North Park street sign hanging above a dozen taps showcasing local brewers. Burgers and pork sliders add to the pre-flight merriment.
Jack in the Box
No touchdown in San Diego feels complete unless you've wolfed down a pair of deep-fried tacos encasing that mulchy mixture of beef and soy, or a burger smeared with tangy secret sauce. The locally based fast-food chain replaces McDonald's in Terminal 1.