In this rendition of FTRS’ esteemed power rankings series, we are providing something akin to a “How To” guide for those weary travelers that slog on the Plane Train from one end of this Earth all the way down to Terminal F in search of a decent bite to eat and an escape from the ever-constant shrill shrieks of children in the busiest airport in the world.
Since I’m the captain of this ship, we’re not ranking each individual restaurant. That’s a fool’s errand I’ve found out since starting to write this column. There are over 100 restaurants, pop-up stands, etc. in the airport, and seeing as how I haven’t eaten at each spot, it wouldn’t be fair to rank them as such. Instead, what I’ll do is give you the ranking of options by Terminal, along with a catchphrase for each Terminal to help you remember where on Earth everything is. They won’t be good, but they will be efficient and have approximately 30 seconds of thought put in to them. Without further adieu:
#1 (with a bullet) Terminal D
High’s: Chicken+Beer, Grindhouse Killer Burgers, Terrapin Brewery (upstairs), Five Guys Burgers and Fries
Low’s: Atlanta Braves All-star Grill, Terrapin Brewery’s smoking policy
There’s no shortage of great options for a meal when you find yourself holding a golden ticket to Terminal D. Ludacris’ restaurant, C+B (like the album) is my go-to in the airport when I have the proper time to do so. The Hotlanta Chicken Sandwich is a staple, but for those venturous souls, get whatever plate sounds most appealing to you and enjoy some cornbread before you take to the skies.
If I’ve got to get a little work done before takeoff, I go upstairs in D and usually can find a spot at the Terrapin Brewery Room. Be weary though, they do allow smoking, but if you’re fortunate enough to miss the relics that are public smokers, the beer at Terrapin is much better than the standard fares you’ll find elsewhere in the airport. Other staffers showed love for Five Guys, but for my money, I’m headed to Grindhouse - Apache style with the side of frings - fries and onion rings mixed - delicious.
Avoid: Not specifically for D, but really any terminal in any airport - don’t get anything from a kiosk. Plan your life better and show up enough in advance if you know you’re going to have a meal before your flight. Am I shaming you, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-consulting-Patagonia-vest-bro? Yea. The salad from the Chili’s to-go kiosk that you aren’t even paying for because the company gives you a per diem isn’t worth someone else paying for it. Sit down, have a drink, and breathe for once. Aside from that pearl of wisdom, don’t go to the Atlanta Braves All-star grill. It’s mediocre at best, and has people flock to it for the name brand and the TV allure. Avoid the siren song and you might even find yourself in Buffalo Wild Wings (sneaky not great either. Surprising, I know. (complaints to @creespaschal)
Catchphrase - D sets me free
#2 Terminal B
High’s: Cafe Intermezzo, Dunkin’ Donuts, Paschal’s, Popeyes,
My most recent experience in the airport determined the ranking of this Terminal compared to the bronze spot in the Power Rankings. The Cafe Intermezzo at the top of the escalator next to the book store is an incredibly pleasant experience, carrying a vast menu, and disappointing with none of it. Follow that up with a great seafood option in Paschal’s (get the peach cobbler), and the red beans and rice from Popeyes that tastes like home, and you’ve found yourself in a comfortable place pre-flight. And if you’re in a tight spot for time, Willy’s and Wendy’s are in the Centerpoint and provide a consistent product for our more vanilla readers.
Avoid: Blue Moon Brewhouse is overrated and often really crowded. The Sam Adams in the center of the Terminal gets overused as well. Sweetwater has a 25sqft pop-up near the end of the terminal that isn’t worth stopping at unless it’s empty. Oh, and the TGI Friday’s is always absolutely slammed too, so avoid it.
Catchphrase - B is the logical second choice
#3 Terminal A
High’s: Chick-fil-A, Varasano’s Pizzeria, Shake Shack, Caribou Coffee, TAP Gastropub
If I wouldn’t have had the experience in Intermezzo that I did, the power move of taking your Chick-fil-A into the Versano’s bar and listening to the piano being played in the restaurant is one of my favorite non-Delta Sky Lounge moves. Verasano’s has great pizza in their own right, but I have a hard time saying no to a #1 combo with polynesian sauce. Also receiving votes is Shake Shack, TAP Gastropub (smoking allowed), and the Stairway to Heaven edition of Gordon Biersch.
Avoid: Oh look, another Atlanta sports team as a restaurant! Atlanta Hawk’s bar and grill. Yuck. If you haven’t noticed a trend, avoid generalist places. You get what you pay for.
Catchphrase - Land of the A’s: pizz”A” and Chick-fil-A
#4 Terminal T
High’s: Atlanta Stillhouse, Bojangles, Grindhouse, Papi’s Caribbean Cafe
Still some legit good options even now that we’re off the podium of Terminal Food. Haven’t personally been to the Atlanta Stillhouse, but the menu looks worth taking a risk on. Others on staff will put their life on the line for your meal at Papi’s. I think I’ve only ever landed at Terminal T, but I never have taken off from there. Follow that up with Grindhouse’s previously mentioned greatness and a stunner of a biscuit from Bojangles (seriously, if you haven’t had a biscuit from Bojangles before - please see yourself out at this point).
Avoid: Subway, Corner Bakery. Self-explanatory.
Catchphrase - Papi’s lives at T
#5 Terminal C
High’s: Chick-fil-A, Five Guys, Umaizushi, Krispy Kreme, Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint
From here on out, for the most part, we’re just surviving here. Grab enough to get by, and enjoy your in-flight snack mix and biscoff cookies. The Krispy Kreme is entertaining here, the only one in the airport and an excellent Plan B for a breakfast stop behind CFA. If you’re particularly brave, getting airport sushi at Umaizushi is an option in C. I’ve never had the gall to do so, but the yelp page for it looks tasty.
Avoid: The Varsity - open at 5:00am daily edition! The Original El Taco also doesn’t hit the right notes for me to vouch for it.
Catchphrase - If you’re in C, just go to D.
#6 Terminal E
High’s: One Flew South
What is consistently ranked as one of the better restaurants in actual Atlanta is the lone shining star of Terminal E. One Flew South is normally packed as a result, but is worth waiting for if you’ve got time. Everything is great. All of it. Every bite.
If the line is far too long, then hit up the qdoba and get a cheese dip and sit at the piano stationed in the center of the terminal. I don’t know outside of that. TGI Friday’s has appetizers, and Blue Moon is overcrowded. Honestly, just take the plane train to D.
Avoid: Arby’s! In the airport! Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, Panda Express before any sort of travel
Catchphrase - E only thinks about one thing, and it’s
#7 Terminal F
From fellow staffer Jeffrey Cramer: “F was supposed to be the crown jewel of the ATL airport, but instead they had a cool design filled with useless garbage and Varsity. Which who puts a varsity next to long haul flights?”
Only thing I’ll add to that is that why would you subject your body to The Varsity at 6:00am in the morning. That’s when The Varsity at Terminal F opens. Don’t order anything at this terminal. You’d be better off eating in the atrium before your flight before you even check your bags. Watch hundreds of people get in front of you in the security line, don’t even eat, just hand the cashier $20, and be thankful you aren’t forced to consume a meal at Terminal F. The Delta Sky Club in this terminal is the proper answer to this question actually. Over-sized to deal with the international travelers, this is properly the move.
If you have dissenting opinions, let me know in the comments. I’m seldom wrong, but I have been mistaken once or twice.
Happy Quarantine weekend folks, every day is the same and nobody can tell you chocolate isn’t a meal.