Tara's Food Notebook

Best Airport Food Ever

How to enjoy a long layover at Chicago O'Hare: the tortas of Rick Bayless

I've been traveling a lot over the past couple months, and I've seen the highs and lows of airport food. First the low: I was waiting for a flight that got delayed three times and then finally cancelled, putting me on a much later flight. It was that point in an airport where travel no longer seems like a fun adventure. You're tired, fed up and super annoyed by each and every person standing in line with you to get on a new flight.

Shoulders slumped, I walked into a sports bar and got a huge beer and some fried-from-frozen mozzarella sticks. It was just kinda sad and I didn't feel any better when I finished and got up from the bar, Oprah magazine in hand, ready to wait another hour.

Now here's the high: As the Chicago Tribune said, "Finally, a reason to get delayed at O'Hare!"

That reason is Rick Bayless. He created the best airport sandwich I've ever had at Tortas Frontera (find it in terminals 1 and 3 at O'Hare).

If there was ever a time to not be impressed, it was now. I was on a three hour layover in Chicago, coming home from a trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley. During my trip, I ate things like this and this.

Already starting to feel the creeping jet lag, I ordered a double espresso from the airport Starbucks as soon as I pushed past the crowds of people standing in my way. Just kidding. Sort of. An older gentleman at the Stabucks turned to me and said, "Miss, that's gonna wake you up!" Umm? Ok!

As I wandered the airport with my new caffeinated self, looking for another Oprah magazine, I came upon Tortas Frontera. As much as I like Rick Bayless, I wasn't expecting such a great sandwich. And chips & guacamole, too! It was PHENOMINAL. Not even kidding. Local farms are listed, good ingredients seem to be the focus. And the flavors. My gosh the flavors. I had a mushroom torta (sandwich).

The mushrooms were so garlicky and good. Goat cheese, chiles and arugula just sent it over the top to perfection. Everything a torta should be...savory, spicy, melty. I was so happy, eating my meal on a bench with other weary travelers, watching closed-caption CNN.

I tweeted about the experience, but still I really wished I could let Rick Bayless know how great that torta was.

Just last week, I had the chance! I ran into him at the Culinary Institute of America Leadership Awards in New York City, and I let him know. He said that sandwich is one of his favorites, too! Check it out if you're ever stranded (happily) in O'Hare!

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Tara Fitzpatrick

Tara Fitzpatrick is associate editor of Food Management and has been a full time staff editor since 2008. She covers food, culinary and menu trends   for the magazine, its...
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