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Phoenix Sky Harbor Dining | More Reasons to Get There Early

Posted on: February 28th, 2017 by Taryn Jeffries No Comments

Phoenix Sky Harbor Dining | More Reasons to Get There Early

When was the last time you were at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport? Did you arrive in just enough time to check your bags, get through security, grab a coffee and then board your flight? That’s normally the way I travel, however, a recent culinary tour through the airport had me rethinking my travel timeline for future flights. While Arizona is clamoring for a spot (a well-deserved spot) on the culinary map, one of the best spots to get out of towners to notice us is at the airport. In my youth, I spent a great deal of time in airports, traveling back and forth between Arizona and Illinois, and I only remember a few things about the food. There was a McDonald’s, Burger King, a pizza spot and that intoxicating aroma of Cinnabon reaching every corner of every terminal. Now, the options are expansive, bright and sometimes bold. There are some of our Valley’s brightest restaurant concepts in every nook and cranny of our cities airport.

Last night’s progressive dinner got me thinking. Who remembers when flying was a true event? Travelers donned their best attire, it was a truly special occasion. There was glamour associated with air travel and an unspoken dress code. The meals served on planes were far more prevalent than current times and were beautifully presented despite the limited space available. It was something to look forward to.

Early Commercial Air TravelToday’s travel experience is far different. Instead of a cocktail party among the clouds, people view it as being packed into a can, like sardines. I’ve spied folks dressed in pajamas for their flight, meandering through the airport like extras on The Walking Dead. What happened?? This is a huge departure from the glitz and glimmer of travel in the 60’s.

Airport ZombiesI like to think that the current airport restaurant offerings may help to bring back some of that pomp and circumstance. Even though the restaurants are casual and fast-paced, there is a bit of elegance on the plate presented to you, making the stress of travel melt away, giving everyone a few tasty reasons to get to the airport a little earlier or linger a little longer.

HMSHost, a global restaurateur, is a world leader in creating exciting and approachable dining options for travel venues and operates in close to 120 airports around the world. The brand helps to expose hungry travelers to new culinary brands exclusive to the region they happen to land as well as familiar brands and specialty eateries. You’ll never be without a Starbucks, Chili’s or California Pizza Kitchen if that’s your thing.

Some of our favorite local spots have HMSHost backing at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and are showing travelers what we have known for years. Phoenix has some of the best restaurants and culinary minds in the country.

During our progressive dinner, we hit up Chelsea’s Kitchen, Blanco Tacos + Tequila, Cowboy Ciao and Barrio Café. We had an opportunity to meet the brand representatives, chefs and our HMS hosts. We were served a little taste of each hotspot to demonstrate the level of experience one can expect as well as to show that the airport versions are of the same quality as the “on the street” locations.

Phoenix Sky Harbor Dining (1)Ready for Your Phoenix Sky Harbor Dining Guide?

Stop 1 | La Grande Orange | Chelsea’s Kitchen

We started out at La Grande Orange/Chelsea’s Kitchen which is conveniently located outside of the Terminal 4 security checkpoint. We settled in with a prickly pear margarita, a fresh and flavorful welcome. I did a little happy dance in my seat as the deviled eggs arrived at our table. The flavorful yolk, peppered with herbs and bacon, are a favorite no matter the location and a great option for a quick bite or an introduction to the ingredient-driven menu.

Phoenix Sky Harbor Dining | Chelsea's Kitchen Deviled EggsNext up were the pizzas, which are wood-fired here at the airport. There are no gas stoves allowed at the airport, but this works out well when it comes to the pizzas. There is nothing quite like the quick cooked pizzas, with a bit of that smoky char on the crusts. We were presented with the Mother Earth and Margherita versions. I had a slice of the classic Margherita, because when it comes to pizza I like the simpler versions. I find that the most basic of pizzas are a real test of the quality of the spots pies. You can’t hide a bad pizza behind a few ingredients. The simple flavors were clean and you could taste the quality of the roasted tomatoes and house made mozzarella. The aroma of the fresh basil made for a heady bite that I was happy to savor. The Mother Earth version arrived loaded with olives, artichokes, roasted red peppers, broccolini, mushrooms, tomatoes, fennel, onion and premium cheese. My tablemates were very happy with the garden bounty of this pizza.

Phoenix Sky Harbor Dining | LGO Margherita PizzaStop 2 | Blanco Tacos + Tequila

After everyone was satiated, we took an escorted walk through security. To get past security, you will need to have a travel ticket, but since we were on a tasting tour, we were able to circumvent that rule, but still needed to go through security. We headed to Blanco next and were greeted with a sampling of their cheese crisp, nachos and machaca tacos as well as a blood orange margarita.
Blanco Blood Orange MargIn any given outing if there is guacamole involved I will shy away due to my strong aversion to onions. I was a little nervous when I noticed that the cheese crisp came with a healthy dollop of guac, but being the trooper that I am, I gave it a shot, and I am glad that I did. I found that there were caramelized onions mixed into the roasted poblano and Anaheim chiles and cotija cheese, but the flavor was subtle. I like it so much I got a little extra to make sure I got a little with each bite of my cheese crisp.

Blanco App TrioThe nachos were presented as a glorious tower, the crisp tortilla triangle topped with layers of fresh avocado, beans, pico de gallo and sour cream. You can opt to add in healthy doses of chicken or machaca beef, don’t worry, the nachos can take it.

Blanco NachosAnd then there were tacos! We tried out the machaca version, a generous combination of braised short rib, sour cream, pico, green peppers and onions. The meat was tender and flavorful and every bite allowed for a sampling of all the ingredients.

Blanco Taco PlateStop 3 | Cowboy Ciao

If you’ve ever had occasion to be in the presence of Peter Kasperski you already know that he is a larger-than-life character. He’s a savvy businessman who created a concept so inviting that his kitchen has been home to some of the most critically acclaimed chefs in the Valley at one point in their career. That says a lot, not only about the man but also about Cowboy Ciao. He and his team, Lester Gonzalez and Country Velador (the sweetest sweets maker you could ever meet) greeted us with a cocktail, a warm handshake and a lot of laughs.

We started out with the white whiskey smash, a combination of Death’s Door white whiskey, simple syrup, fresh lemon and mint. The tart citrus flavors mellowed out the kick of the whiskey. It’s almost sacrilege to make a visit to Cowboy Ciao and not get the infamous Stetson Salad. The beautiful blend of Israeli couscous, Roma tomatoes, dried sweet corn, arugula, Asiago, dried currants, pepitas, and either smoked salmon or grilled chicken has a great textural balance and the flavors are perfectly balanced. This is, quite possibly, the best salad on the planet.

Phoenix Sky Harbor Dining | Cowboy Ciao Stetson Chopped SaladCountry Velador gifted us all with mini triple chip cookies to take with us. Sadly, my kids spotted them this morning, and I was forced to share. My misfortune only means that I need to make a visit to Old Town to get some more Sweet Chunk treats… that I will hide!

Stop 4 | Barrio Cafe

As we all trudged through the airport, my full belly was in major disagreement with my Spanx and the prospect of another bite was seemingly impossible. As soon as we arrived at Barrio Café and I got my warm hug from Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, I was thankful for the long walk that freed up a tiny bit of space, enough to enjoy our chipotle mashed potatoes and chiles en nogada. The brightly appointed dining area makes it close to impossible to have a bad attitude, no matter how delayed your flight might be. If you’re still feeling a bit cross, a trip to the tequila tasting room is sure to brighten your spirits (or allow you to momentarily forget them.)

Our miniature entrée, a roasted poblano packed full of chicken, apple, pear, dried apricot and pecans and matched with a creamy almond sauce and a smattering of pepitas, was a delightful balance of heat and sweet from the fruits.

Barrio Chiles en NogadaWe wrapped up the evening with Chef Silvana’s churros rellenos de cajeta. Now, I’ve had my fair share of churros, but none can hold a candle to these. First off, the churros themselves are filled with a goat’s milk caramel before being tossed in sugar and cinnamon. Add in some more caramel, a vanilla bean ice cream, some fresh strawberries and candied pecans and you have a major flavor explosion. Crisp, crunchy, sweet and creamy; all the things you could hope for in a dessert.

Barrio ChurrosTo end the evening, Chef Silvana toasted our group with a shot of 1921 Tequila, a delicate blend of cream, tequila and subtle coffee flavor. Our progressive dinner was a huge success, and while we all were ready to get to our cars and loosen our belts, I feel like we all left full and happy, perhaps a bit surprised at the level of food available at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport thanks to the some of our favorite chefs, restaurateurs and HMSHost services.

Next time you’re flying out be sure to make a little extra time and experience the great Phoenix Sky Harbor dining options. You won’t be disappointed.

Just, maybe leave the pj’s packed away in your luggage.


**I would never try to trick you! So you should know that I was personally invited to experience the restaurants at Phoenix Sky Harbor. All the tastes, comments, and recommendations are made by me. My words and opinions are my own and cannot be influenced, not even by the tastiest of foods! Check out our Disclosure Policy for more information. **


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© Taryn Jeffries 2017

About the Author - Taryn Jeffries

Editor and Chief Eating Officer of PhoenixBites, 2017 Food Writer of the Year (Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame) Taryn grew up in a small town in Illinois with a doting Grandmother who taught her the way around a kitchen and that food is representative of love. Her current quest is to find the love in local dishes and the chefs behind them. In addition to running all things PhoenixBites, Taryn is also a freelance writer, sharing her insight on the best dishes and where to get them each and every month.

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