By Colleen Kane, CNBC.com
What is the deal with airport food? If only some standup comedian would tackle this vexing and universal subject: Airport food is stereotypically lackluster and sold for jacked-up prices by vendors capitalizing on a cranky and imprisoned audience.
Still, that perception is beginning to change as eateries pop up in airports considered destinations unto themselves.
To find some of the most praised restaurants, TripAdvisor looked at the busiest U.S. airports, according to the most recent information from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. They then ran down the airports' most recently available list of eateries to determine the eateries with the highest Popularity Index rating based on user-generated reviews on TripAdvisor.com.
The resulting list of 10 airport restaurants is not exhaustive, but it does reflect the tastes and preferences of the general flying public. This is especially handy knowledge now that food service on flights is rare.
See the slideshow: 10 Best Airport Restaurants
Los Angeles LAX Los Angeles
Eatery: Encounter Restaurant
Serves: Contemporary Asian Californian
Popular menu item: Mushroom Ravioli
Encounter is that vintage-futuristic space-pod on arch legs (built in 1961) you see when exiting LAX terminals 6 and 7. Most reviewers say it is pricey - the signature Cobb salad is $18.75 - but the kitschy space-age atmosphere makes it an experience with 360-degree views. And appropriately for the city, one TripAdvisor review says, "You feel like [you're] in a movie."
Dallas - Fort Worth Dallas - Fort Worth
Eatery: Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen
Serves: Seafood, American, Cajun & Creole Popular menu item: Oysters
Terminal A's Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen is part of a chain from the Pappas family of restaurants headquartered in Houston. Although it's a chain, the seafood is fresh, not frozen.
"You won't even know you are in an airport," said one reviewer, and 100 percent of TripAdvisor reviewers recommend it. They also praise the quiet location, downstairs from the main bustle of the terminal.
Eatery: One Flew South
Serves: Sushi, New American
Popular menu item: Pulled duck sandwich
One Flew South, located in Terminal E at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport, is actually the #1 rated restaurant in Atlanta on TripAdvisor and is recommended by 100 percent of the reviewers. "Wow - airport food isn't supposed to be this good," reads the headline of one recent review, and many others echo that sentiment. The wine selection also earns a lot of praise.
Minneapolis – St. Paul Minneapolis - St. Paul
Eatery: Surdyk's Flights
Serves: New American, Wine & Spirits
Popular menu item: Roast turkey and manchego sandwich
Surdyk's Liquor & Cheese shop has been a Minneapolis institution since 1934; more recently, the shop branched out with this wine market and eatery on the main concourse of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. In addition to sandwiches and small plates, it sells sandwiches and cheeses to bring on the plane and beyond.
"Seek it out - don't eat anywhere else at MSP" advises one reviewer on TripAdvisor, who praised the selection of microbrews.
New Jersey New Jersey
Eatery: Garden State Diner
Serves: Comfort Food
Popular menu item: Fries
Diners are practically the state restaurant of New Jersey, so it's fitting that the most popular eatery at Newark Liberty International Airport is the Garden State Diner in Terminal C. Its burger recently drew positive coverage on the Serious Eats blog. One reviewer called this diner "the closest thing to a 'destination restaurant' that an airport terminal can have."
Eatery: Anthony's Fish Bar
Popular menu item: Clam chowder, salmon taco
Anthony's is a chain of locally owned restaurants in the Pacific Northwest that also operates a wholesale seafood company to ensure use of the freshest fish.
Its outpost, Anthony's Fish Bar at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, is quite popular with travelers entering or departing the seafoodie city of Seattle. One TripAdvisor reviewer who travels more than 45 weeks a year declared Anthony's the best airport food ever.
See the full list: 10 Best Airport Restaurants
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America's Best Cities for Foodies
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Video: Air Travel in America Improves
By Colleen Kane, CNBC.com