Hungry travelers faced with extended delays should ditch the terminals and experience culinary life in the food-dense neighborhoods beyond. Here are some of the best restaurants within a 15-minute taxi ride from the airports. Bring cash, leave enough time to get back through security (consider booking a car service for your return to the airport), and don’t forget the leftovers: If your next delay is in Sioux City, you’ll be glad to have kept some Queens or Newark magic with you.
Within hailing distance of Greek and Cypriot Astoria, Asian Elmhurst, and Indian and Pakistani Jackson Heights, La Guardia practically demands a food run. At Kabab Café (25-12 Steinway St.; 718-728-9858; 8 minutes, traffic permitting, from the airport), cook and proprietor Ali El Sayed is a force of nature whose kofta kebabs are the pride of the neighborhood. El Sitio (68-28 Roosevelt Ave.; 718-424-2369; 6 minutes) serves a sublime Cuban sandwich. The Cypriot operation BZ Grill (27-02 Astoria Blvd.; 718-932-7858; 7 minutes) specializes in souvlaki—rich, fresh, crusty. Also look out for seftalia, small pork patties wrapped in delicious, melting caul fat, and bifteki gemista, oblong beef burgers stuffed with hot Gouda cheese. There are so many good Chinese places near La Guardia that it’s hard to choose, but the Cantonese classic Ping’s Seafood (83-02 Queens Blvd., at Goldsmith St.; 718-396-1238; 11 minutes), with its huge space, is ideal when time is an issue. Try the prawns with fried milk.
Downtown Newark’s Ironbound section has what might be the metro area’s greatest concentration of Spanish and Portuguese restaurants. Hamburgao (288 Lafayette St., at Adams St.; 973-465-1776; 9 minutes) is small, clean, and possessed of one of the mightiest sandwiches we know: a towering Dagwood of steak, presunto, bacon, mozzarella, fried egg, corn, potato sticks, lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Iberia Peninsula (63-69 Ferry St. at Prospect St.; 973-344-5611; 9 minutes) cooks up one of the all-time-great paellas—big enough for two, but the leftovers travel well. The best of the area’s churrascarias is Ferry Street Barbecue (89 Ferry St., at Congress St.; 973-344-7337; 9 minutes). Spareribs, steaks, and succulent chickens rotate over an immense grill pit. Eat whatever came off most recently.
The JFK-adjacent neighborhoods offer a few worthy—and tourist-free—restaurants. Ozone Park residents routinely inflate the Zagat ratings of the classic, old-school Italian red-sauce restaurant Don Peppe (135-58 Lefferts Blvd., at 149th Ave.; 718-845-7587; 8 minutes). The Guyanese population in Richmond Hill heads to Singh’s Roti Shop (118-06 Liberty Ave.; 718-835-7255; 11 minutes) for spicy Roti. Conch and goat are the favorites, but everything is so good and cheap that you would do well to order half the menu. Indian-food savants swear that Tandoori Hut (119-04 94th Ave., at Lefferts Blvd.; 718-850-8919; 12 minutes), a small establishment hidden in Richmond Hill, produces some of the city’s best Punjabi food. Lenny’s Clam Bar (161-03 Cross Bay Blvd., at 161st Ave.; 718-845-5100; 13 minutes) is right on the water, and its name says it all. The seafood fra diavolo and mussels are good, but get the clams—and plenty of them.