Everyone has their own habits and customs when it comes to eating in airports. Whether it’s the hidden McDonald’s with the shortest lines or that local place with the airport kiosk serving up items just as good as the original, The Airport Chow Ritual highlights the places to hit in various terminals around the world.
As a regular American Airline flyer (and native Chicagoan), I find myself spending a lot of time at O’Hare’s Terminal 3. Not a bad terminal as far as things go and as long as you can keep the letters K and H straight, you should be in good shape. ORD T3 has a number of great food options (hellooooo Garrett’s!), but my favorite of all is Tortas Frontera. The Rick Bayless chain can also be found in T1 and T5, as well as Chase Tower in Downtown Chicago, but today we’re talking T3.
Bayless, to those unfamiliar, is America’s best non-Mexican Mexican chef. As the host of PBS’s Mexico – One Plate at a Time, Bayless exposes America to the best that Mexican food has to offer. At his ultra-popular restaurants Frontera Grill, Frontera Fresco, Topolobampo, and XOCO, the chef has redefined urban upscale Mexican cuisine. Which brings us to Tortas Frontera…
Like the lovechild of XOCO and Frontera Fresco, Tortas Frontera offers a full range of tortas (i.e. griddled Mexican sandwiches) as well as open-faced flatbread-esque molletes, soups, and salads. It’s not exactly the lightest fare to consume before you fly, but it is damn good and that’s what counts, right?
When I’m flying through T3 at O’Hare, I always give myself an extra fifteen minutes to hit up Tortas Frontera. It’s that good. In terms of what to order, it’s really up to you. I’m partial to the pepito, a brilliant combination of beer-braised beef short ribs with black beans, cilantro crema, Chihuahua cheese, pickled tomatoes, and arugula. For $11.50 it’s not cheap, but you’re getting a really solid value for airport food and that’s pretty hard to say these days. My other favorites include the porky Cubana, the Milanesa, which is basically a fried chicken sandwich by way of the Yucatan, and the Egg & Bacon torta on the breakfast menu that features excellent Nueske’s bacon with eggs and avocados. Mmmm. I’m getting hungry just typing that.
A word of warning: the tortilla soup is massively salty, so you can skip that, but don’t sleep on the guacamole bar or the usually-pedestrian chips and salsa which come with the same high-quality Frontera salsas that you can buy in the grocery store. They’re a great mini-snack before enduring the inevitable armrest fight when you get to your seat on the plane.
Next time you’re flying through ORD, make sure to hit up Tortas Frontera and report back. I’d love to know what you think of it.