July 6, 2022

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Best places to eat at George Bush Intercontinental Airport

7 min read

Gone are the days when your only airport dining options were wimpy fast food burgers and soggy fries. This is especially true if you’re traveling through George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), which has undergone a serious facelift and now offers some pretty standout dining options.

We’re talking farm-to-terminal bistros; breakfast spots hawking biscuits and gravy, chilaquiles and migas, and barbecue brisket hash; and layover-worthy menus crafted by award-winning Houston chefs. Here’s where to eat and drink at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport before you catch your next flight.

Terminal A

The Breakfast Klub

Near gate: A1

Thanks to its epic wings and waffles, the Breakfast Klub’s Midtown location is known to draw quite the weekend crowd, one that you can avoid if you visit its IAH outpost. There, you’ll find a full-service, all-day breakfast menu featuring the aforementioned Wings & Waffle dish, plus Southern jewels including Katfish & Grits, Biskits & Gravy, and Klub sandwiches. For grab-and-go options, try the express location near gate A17.

Chicken and waffles is a signature dish at the Breakfast Klub.

Chicken and waffles is a signature dish at the Breakfast Klub.

Amy V. via Yelp

Hubcap Grill & Beer Yard

Near gate: A26

Great news, burger fans. You can get your fix of one of Houston’s most beloved burgers on your way in or out of town. Hubcap’s aggressively seasoned, hand-packed patties come on custom-made buns sturdy enough to hold all of the inevitable juice drippage, and whichever wacky Hubcap toppings you want to pack in before your flight—be that chili and corn chips, cheesesteak fixins or crunchy peanut butter and bacon. Adult shakes, Early Riser cocktails and fiery Hell Fries will also give your trip some extra oomph.

Mockingbird Distillery & Smokehouse

Near gate: A15

Austin’s Mockingbird Distillery produces one liquid we’re sure you’re quite familiar with: Tito’s Handmade Vodka. At the distillery’s IAH locale, you’ll find that very vodka in cocktails like the Green Street with cucumber, basil and lemon; and the classic Texas Bloody Mary. Either is the perfect seat mate to the smokehouse nachos, Texas sausage sandwiches and BBQ brisket breakfast hash that come out the kitchen.

The X-Houston Mule at Mockingbird Distillery & Smokehouse at the Houston airport.

The X-Houston Mule at Mockingbird Distillery & Smokehouse at the Houston airport.

Houston Airport System

Terminal B

3rd Bar Eating House

Near gate: B1

Got an expense account? Then you’ll probably want to fill up on oysters at this relaxed Third Coast seafood house. You can get ‘em raw, garlic butter-roasted or deep-fried (because this is Texas, after all). There are also fried seafood po’boys, roasted snapper and beignets, plus an “on-the-run” option for the folks who just realized their plane’s about to board.

Redfish with long bean, plantain and pomegranate reduction at 3rd Bar Eating House from chef Bryan Caswell at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Redfish with long bean, plantain and pomegranate reduction at 3rd Bar Eating House from chef Bryan Caswell at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Yi-Chin Lee/Staff

El Real

Location: Terminal B Food Court

El Real is as legit as it gets when it comes to Tex-Mex cuisine. The airport outpost remained open after the iconic El Real in Montrose closed in 2019. This food court spot offers vintage Texican plates from “Tin Can” crispy tacos to cheese enchiladas smothered in chile con carne. Pro-tip: if you’re feeling like breakfast, add a fried egg on those enchiladas.

Whataburger

Near gate: B1

Before you head to whatever hellish land of no Whataburgers you’re flying to (or as soon as you arrive back in our heavenly, Whataburger-filled oasis), you’ll want to fill up on the Lone Star’s favorite beefy treat. Purists can go for the classic Whataburger, while those looking for a little more pizzazz can try the sweet & spicy bacon burger. And for breakfast? It’s the honey butter chicken biscuit or bust.

Terminal C 

Bam Bam

Near gate: C5

Houston loves to showboat its diversity (and rightfully so), which is why it’s super cool to have this Viet-Cajun hut on board at IAH. The eatery’s menu comes from the mind behind Vietnamese crawfish staple Cajun Kitchen, featuring in-season Cajun boils alongside year-round favorites like shrimp and pork egg rolls, fried oyster nachos and crawfish étouffée.

Sushi and sashimi platter from Bam Bam at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Sushi and sashimi platter from Bam Bam at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Yi-Chin Lee/Staff

El Premio Tex-Mex Bar & Grill


Near gate: C34

The tortillas at this Tex-Mex haunt come straight from local institution El Tiempo. Enjoy them in fajita form stuffed with marinated skirt steak and spice-rubbed carnitas; get ‘em smothered in green sauce in the cheese enchilada; or go for classic street tacos stuffed with chicken tinga, fried avocado and pork al pastor.

Ember

Near gate: C12

Of course Underbelly Hospitality’s Chris Shepherd—a James Beard Award-nominated chef and all-around Houston hype guy—has his hands in the game at IAH. A striking airport tavern, Ember serves locally inspired dishes such as tempura broccoli, sweet and spicy chicken wings and a hefty ribeye steak frites.

Sliced Prime Tomahawk Ribeye steak at Ember, a restaurant from chef Chris Shepherd at Terminal C-North in George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Sliced Prime Tomahawk Ribeye steak at Ember, a restaurant from chef Chris Shepherd at Terminal C-North in George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Yi-Chin Lee/Staff

H Burger Bar

Near gate: C35

New Orleans native chef Antoine Ware, formerly of Harold’s but now at the new Warwick restaurant, had a hand in opening this sleek burger bar that isn’t serving your ordinary burger. The upscale numbers here come on buttery brioche, accompanied by craveable accoutrements like the Southern burger’s pimento cheese and pickles or the kimchi burger’s spicy layer of kimchi. Hand-cut fries, beer-battered onion rings and local draft beers are also here to help with any flight delays.

Pala

Near gate: C5

Agricole Hospitality chef and co-owner Ryan Pera became a bonafide hometown hero after opening garden-side Italian joint Coltivare (he is also behind local darlings Revival Market, Eight Row Flint, Indianola, Miss Carousel and Vinny’s). Terminal C-North’s Pala is where you can experience Pera’s magic without the wait for a table. Dig into smoked pork and ratatouille pizzas, sides from butternut squash with goat cheese to shrimp with fennel and cannellini beans and truffled egg on toast.

Pesto pizza from Pala, with a menu from chef Ryan Pera of Coltivare, is found in Terminal C-North at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Pesto pizza from Pala, with a menu from chef Ryan Pera of Coltivare, is found in Terminal C-North at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Yi-Chin Lee/Staff

Pink’s Pizza

Near gate: C42

This local favorite pizza-by-the-slice shop is one of your quickest, easiest options at IAH Terminal C. Grab a classic cheese, pepperoni, veggie primp or Hawaii 5-0 slice topped with pineapple and Canadian bacon to put you in the tropical mood.

Terminal D

Hugo’s Cocina

Near gate: D6

Mexico City-born Hugo Ortega worked his way up from dishwasher to executive chef and co-owner of some of Houston’s most celebrated restaurants (including his namesake Hugo’s), eventually earning a much-deserved James Beard Award in 2017. You can experience Ortega’s fare at this airport cocina, where you’ll find fall-apart carnitas, Oaxacan cheese and jalapeño smothered Hugo’s burgers and Mexican morning favorites like chilaquiles verde.

Hugo's Cocina's taquitos de pollo at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Hugo’s Cocina’s taquitos de pollo at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle

Tony’s Wine Cellar & Bistro

Near gate: D9

This bistro is inspired by the late and great Tony Vallone, the culinary star who brought Houston its famed Italian fine dining restaurant, Tony’s. The local staple has served the likes of Tony Bennett, Oscar de la Renta and seven sitting presidents. There’s no white table cloth at the more casual airport spot, but you can still sit down and dine on elevated plates from shrimp cocktail and mini charcuterie boards to Wagyu beef sliders.

Terminal E

Q

Near gate: E2

The menu at this barbecue joint was developed by local pitmaster Greg Gatlin of namesake smokehouse and cult favorite, Gatlin’s BBQ. Sporting a super cool, glass-enclosed smoke room, Q serves freshly carved Texas ‘cue, from ribs and pulled pork to brisket and sausage. There are extras like smoked corn, mac and cheese, brisket chili and chocolate layer cake, too.

Pulled pork from Q, a restaurant by pitmaster Greg Gatlin of Gatlin's BBQ in Terminal E at George Bush International Airport.

Pulled pork from Q, a restaurant by pitmaster Greg Gatlin of Gatlin’s BBQ in Terminal E at George Bush International Airport.

Brett Coomer/Staff

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen

Near gate: E3

You can’t drive around Houston without spying at least one restaurant from the sprawling Pappas restaurant empire—there’s Pappas Bar-B-Q, Pappas Burgers, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, Papasito’s Cantina, and Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, to name a few. Those last two are both at IAH (the fast-casual cantina sits close by at gate E1), but if you prefer to sit down, head to the French Quarter-inspired seafood kitchen for baked oysters Baton Rouge, blackened catfish and Cajun fried shrimp.

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen via Yelp

Gavi

Near gate: E14

Part of the Terminal E redesign, this fast-casual concept tapped chef Ryan Pera of Agricole Hospitality to curate its opening menu. Snag a seat on what looks like a sleek Italian terrace and order toothsome spaghetti carbonara, mushroom pizza and crispy Italian wings.



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