Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport offers a taste of the Southwest without leaving the airport. We’ve partnered with Susan Lanier-Graham of Wander With Wonder, who frequently flies in and out of Phoenix, to offer us a few of her favorite spots to grab a bite. Who knows … you might even long for a layover!
I’ve lived in Phoenix for nearly 25 years and have loved watching the restaurants evolve. We have some great food here in the Southwest. But you wouldn’t have known it from a layover at our airport — until 2012, when Phoenix Sky Harbor International (or PHX) turned to a new concept of locally-based, chef-driven restaurants. Now, you can get a feel for what the real food scene is like in Phoenix. Here are some of my favorite PHX Airport food finds when you find yourself flying through Phoenix.
The largest terminal at PHX is Terminal 4, home to both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines. It is also where you will find yourself if you are flying on British Airways or WestJet.
Once you’ve cleared security inside Terminal 4, there are four concourses: A, B, C, and D. But they all connect, so don’t be afraid to explore. You can walk them all in less than 20 minutes and there are moving sidewalks to help you maneuver quickly. Interactive guides can show you how to quickly find the restaurants below. Explore the other concourses to get the food you want!
Barrio Café por Avion for Sweet PHX Airport Food
Back in 2002, Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza opened Barrio Café in Central Phoenix and has become legendary for changing the culinary scene in the city. She works with artists, muralists and musicians to bring the Latin culture to her diners. The James Beard-nominated chef merged the flavors of Mexico with French techniques, creating something unique. Now, visitors can sample her flavors and the local artwork without ever leaving Terminal 4 by visiting Barrio Café por Avion.
If you want a full meal, I suggest Chef Esparza’s award-winning Cochinita Pibil. But, for me, I love to go for her desserts. Specifically, her take on traditional churros.
These are Churros Rellenos de Cajeta —deep-fried fritters filled with a goat’s milk caramel, then tossed while still warm with sugar and cinnamon. Chef tops the deep-fried goodness with more goat’s milk caramel and serves them with vanilla bean ice cream and fresh strawberries. This takes PHX airport food to a whole new level for sure.
You can top that off with a margarita — pictured here is the Conjelada, a frozen 100% Agave silver tequila with mango — or pick your favorite beer or spirit from the full bar. Barrio Café is located in the D gates.
Cartel Coffee Lab for On-the-Go PHX Airport Food
Cartel Coffee Lab is a local coffee shop, started by a Tempe, AZ couple in 2008. They wanted to bring high quality, single-origin coffee to Arizona. Today, they continue to do that at six locations throughout the Valley of the Sun, including at the C Gates in Terminal 4.
The coffee at Cartel is really good. In fact, the Business Journal named it the best coffee in Arizona, which says a lot for a group of reporters who drink a lot of coffee. At the PHX airport location, you can pick up espresso, filter drip coffee, coffee drinks, tea, pastries, sandwiches, and an assortment of grab-and-go items.
Cowboy Ciao for Southwest PHX Airport Food
Cowboy Ciao has been a part of the Downtown Scottsdale scene for 20 years, serving a Modern American menu with Southwest accents. It quickly became known for an eclectic wine menu under the guidance of owner Peter Kasperski. I was thrilled when I found out it was opening at PHX Sky Harbor in 2013. There aren’t many times I fly out that I don’t stop by Cowboy Ciao, located at the B Gates in Terminal 4, for a nibble or at least a glass of wine.
One of the restaurant’s signature dishes is the Stetson Chopped Salad — appropriately named for their Stetson Drive location in Downtown Scottsdale. You can select avocado, chicken or shrimp as your protein for the salad. My salad pictured above had avocado, because the triple digit temps during a Phoenix summer calls for something light. They bring it unmixed to your table, add the dressing, and mix it for you. All of the flavors of the Southwest in every bite.
You can pair your meal with an Arizona brew or a glass of wine.
The Refuge for the Newest PHX Airport Food
PHX airport food is ever evolving, with the newest offering at The Refuge. The original location of The Refuge is in the Melrose Boutique District of Central Phoenix, and is a coffee shop by day and wine shop by night. Hand-crafted art from young international refugees fills the café. Sales of coffee, sandwiches and art help fund nonprofit organizations through the Valley, administered through the Catholic Charities Community Services.
The PHX airport location in the B Concourse opened on July 31, 2017. It serves up breakfast sandwiches and pastries for all-day breakfast. There is a selection of hot and cold coffee drinks, tea and juices throughout the day.
Later in the day, you can opt for salads, sandwiches or soups. Salads are light — pickled onion, goat cheese, candied pecans with a balsamic vinaigrette on the side — and fresh. The in-house soups change each day. You can get a glass of wine as well.
Sir Veza’s Taco Garage for Fun PHX Airport Food
Sir Veza’s Taco Garage is a fun place to get Mexican-American street food. The Flores family owns Sir Veza’s — the same Tucson family that owns El Charro Café and has been serving up great Mexican food here in Arizona for 90 years. Right in Concourse C of Terminal 4, you get a feel for this fun vibe.
If you want a traditional Phoenix food experience, you can order up one of the famed Sonoran Hotdogs (known as the Sirnoran Dog at Sir Veza’s). This is a 100% beef hot dog wrapped in bacon, then topped with beans, jalapeño street salsa, tomato, mayo and mustard, topped with either fries or onion strings.
My favorite choice at Sir Veza’s is the Carne Asada bowl. I order it fully loaded with red sauce, black beans, guacamole, rice, queso, roasted corn and pico salsa.
Zinc Brasserie for a French Flare to PHX Airport Food
Zinc Brasserie is the PHX Airport location for one of my favorite French restaurants in Phoenix — Zinc Bistro. You can stop in for a glass of champagne or wine at the bar that looks like something you might stumble across in a Paris neighborhood. If you want something light, I suggest my favorite French ham and Gruyère baguette. If you want a substantial meal before you fly, I recommend either the Flat Iron Steak Frites, or my favorite entree — the Zinc Omelette with ham, Gruyère and Crème Fraîche.
I always get to the airport early when I fly out of Phoenix because I never know if there is going to be a line at security, but I don’t mind now that there are so many great options for PHX airport food. The next time you fly in or out of PHX — or have a layover — check out these and other great options for tasting the local, chef-led flavors that await you at Sky Harbor International Airport. Bon appetit and safe travels!
Susan Lanier-Graham is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity. For more information on the Travelocity Gnomads visit travelocitygnomads.com.
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