We Ate At The Top-Rated Airport Restaurant In The World And Here's What We Thought

I've always found airport food to be overpriced and underwhelming. As a former flight attendant-turned-travel writer who survived for years on the grab-and-go options at airport kiosks, these days, I tend to avoid purchasing food at airports. Still, amid a grueling travel day, sometimes grabbing a meal at an airport restaurant is unavoidable.

Such was the case for my boyfriend and I when we found ourselves on a long layover at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) after a month of traveling through Central America. Our day started around sunrise in Guatemala, and by the time we arrived in Atlanta and navigated the hustle and bustle of immigration, I was feeling "hangry." My boyfriend acted fast, whipping out his phone and searching "best food in ATL." He suggested a restaurant called One Flew South.

Like every other couple on the planet, agreeing on a restaurant is sometimes a challenge for us, so I began doing a little research of my own. I discovered that One Flew South wasn't just the best restaurant at ATL but topped the list of the best airport restaurants worldwide, often ranking #1. We anticipated something fancy and out of our budget, so imagine our surprise when we looked to our left and realized we were standing right next to the unassuming but sophisticated-looking restaurant. I'll cut right to the chase — dining at One Flew South was the most pleasant layover experience I've ever had. 

One Flew South put Atlanta International Airport on the culinary map

One Flew South opened its doors in 2009 in Terminal E. After stepping off the escalator into the busy concourse, it's located immediately on the left. The menu is a fusion of Southern flavors and Asian cuisine. Travelers from all over the world have enjoyed the mouthwatering food and drinks over the years. The restaurant has received nominations for two James Beard Awards with a rotating team of culinary geniuses like Cedric McCroery, Duane Nutter, Tiffanie Barriere, and Todd Richards overseeing the bar and kitchen. 

Despite the line forming outside, we only had to wait about 15 minutes for a table on Valentine's Day, which we found surprising considering Atlanta is the busiest airport in the world. Inside, the decor was elegant and modern, yet unpretentious with marble tables for groups of two and four. Bar seating provided the perfect place for solo travelers to relax with a cocktail. The interior wasn't overly formal — some business travelers were in suits, but I felt comfortable in my travel dress and Birkenstocks, despite looking a bit disheveled.

Our server was friendly and immediately asked us how much time we had until our flight's departure to help us eliminate any menu items that might take longer to prepare. Upon hearing that we had plenty of time to kill, he provided us with an extensive wine list and cocktail menu and suggested starting with an appetizer. We were happy to oblige.

Experience upscale dining while you wait for your flight

With the arrival of an exquisite glass of French pinot noir, my travel fatigue evaporated — and I found myself on the coolest impromptu Valentine's Day ever. My boyfriend sipped on a craft cocktail called the Fly By Night — a blend of Slaughterhouse bourbon, Montenegro, Cynar, lemon, and fig — as we awaited our first course.

We decided on poke tacos served in a crisp shell with avocado, salsa fresca, and micro cilantro for our appetizer. They were mouthwatering. I went for the daily burger with lettuce, Roma tomatoes, teriyaki mushrooms, wasabi aioli, and pepper jack cheese for my main course. Once again, the food didn't disappoint. We wrapped up our meal with a creamy rice pudding made with forbidden black rice and peaches — a perfect Southern/Asian fusion dessert. I'm already dreaming of the next time I pass through ATL to try out other menu items like the Cajun roll, collard green ramen, and the curry cauliflower soup.

One Flew South is open for breakfast Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 11 a.m. Lunch and dinner are served from Sunday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Saturday hours are from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Prices for main courses start at around $20. Next time you find yourself surviving a long layover at ATL, head straight to One Flew South in Terminal E for an unforgettable fine dining experience while you await your flight's departure.