TASTE

The Nation's Hottest New Restaurants Are Popping Up In A Very Surprising Place

05/06/2014 10:03 am ET | Updated May 06, 2014
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The hottest new restaurants in town are opening far from city centers and trendy neighborhoods -- and you'll need to walk through a millimeter wave scanner just to order an appetizer.

Airports around the country are increasingly becoming foodie destinations as concessions operators trade in greasy, pre-packaged sandwiches and salads of indeterminable origin for upscale eateries with hip concepts and celebrity chef connections.

"The average passenger is a lot more sophisticated, especially in big markets like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Denver..." Huy Pham, director of business development for travel industry hospitality provider Areas USA, told HuffPost. "[Travelers] want better quality in food, but at the same time they want healthy alternatives as well."

Last month, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport -- one of the busiest in the nation -- overhauled its international terminal as part of a $26 million project. The revamped Terminal 5 previously housed little more than a McDonald's and a few food kiosks, but now includes everything from a Euro-style wine bar to a spinoff of celebrity chef Rick Bayless' Michelin-rated Frontera Grill.

"With all the shows people are watching -- with 'Top Chef' and cooking shows -- consumers are very educated about what's out there, " Pham said. "You come to Chicago and everyone knows Rick Bayless."

O'Hare's concessions upgrade is just the latest in an ongoing trend that started more than five years ago in Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and picked up steam the following year at LAX, Pham said.

Atlanta's Asian-inspired One Flew South restaurant was a novel concept in 2008, but now similary posh offerings like haute sushi joints in New York City and gourmet burgers in Minneapolis are as ingrained in the airport experience as taking off your shoes to pass security.

Food is just one component of a transforming travel experience that now involves amenities like yoga and meditation rooms.

In Chicago, the upgraded terminal has luxury restrooms, refreshed lighting, lounge-style seating and USB ports aplenty to go with the fancier food.

With prior concessions contracts lasting as long as 20 years, Pham suggests the tide of food and amenity transformations at airports is breaking now as the old contracts expire and airports rush to catch up to current trends.

"In the last two to four years, a lot of big airport contracts came up for renewal, and concessionaires looked out there for what's hot and what's not," Pham explained.

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