To the business traveler, there are few things more commonly avoided than the layover. We’ll spend any amount of company money to take the most direct flights, treating any unavoidable layover as a one way ticket to email checking purgatory.
But it doesn’t have to be like this!
Airports across the country are adding amenities to attract fliers. For longer layovers, almost every major city has something interesting to check out within their terminals.
Next up in our Layover Guide Series, we tackle one of our nation’s busiest airports, Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD). It is the larger of Chicago’s two major airports, Midway being the other. ORD is consistently one of the busiest airports in the world, hosting over 78 million passengers in 2016.
If you find yourself with a short layover at ORD, check out our handy layover guide below...and find incredible things to do while you're there!
With hundreds of flights connecting daily through O’Hare’s American and United hubs, delays are often the norm. Add in Chicago’s notoriously bad winter weather along with unpredictable and violent summer thunderstorms, and you’ve got a recipe for flight delay disaster.
So, when circumstances out of your control ripple through ORD’s schedules and delay your departure time, it's best to have a layover guide to tie you over.
As all Chicagoans have learned, however, the best way to navigate these hard times is with some delicious food and drink.
Chicago is home to more James Beard award-winning chefs than any other city in the United States (including New York), and yet it's also known for midwestern comfort foods like deep dish pizza. So, there’s no better way to pass a few hours than eating like a local.
- Toras Frontera (Terminals 1,3,5) - A south of the border fanatic who has spent decades learning the recipes and flavors of Mexico, celeb chef Rick Bayless has several award-winning restaurants in Chicago. His airport outpost serves up reasonably priced and locally sourced tortas, salads, and some killer loaded guacamole that have been named in many sources as some of the best airport eats in the nation
- RJ Grunts (T5) – a Chicago institution, RJ’s serves up classic American dishes and claims to have invented the salad bar at its original location in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. ORD’s best burgers and shakes can be found here, so be sure to bring the kiddies
- Summer House Santa Monica (T2) – a creation of Chicago’s popular Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group, the O’Hare location of SHSM will transport you away from the doom and gloom of your delay to Southern California with its cheery, bright design and upscale light plates
- Wow Bao (T5) – another “Lettuce” restaurant, Wow Bao is a great place for a quick bite. Their steamed Chinese buns and dumplings are unique flavor bombs that can be eaten on the fly
- Garrett Popcorn (T2,3) – yet another good way to pick up a snack is a stop at Garrett’s. They sell many original and unusual popcorn mixes. Do yourself a favor and try the Chicago Mix, which has paired cheese and caramel popcorn together for more than 50 years. Hey, when in Rome...!
Chicagoans like to drink, usually to forget about the ice covering their windows. You’re undoubtedly in the same mindset if you're trapped at ORD due to bad weather conditions preventing you from departing, so take the edge off with some suds from any of the following watering holes.
- Goose Island Beer Company (T1,2,3) – Goose Island is Chicago’s original micro-brewery. While they were sold to Budweiser a few years ago, the mega-brewer still allows Goose Island to produce unique local brews that can be found only in Chicago. With bars opportunistically located in all three of ORD’s domestic terminals, Goose Island is the best place to pick up a high-quality, local craft beer
- Billy Goat Tavern (T1) – an absolute institution in Chicago, the original location of the Billy Goat Tavern under the Wrigley Building downtown was ground zero for the infamous Curse of the Billy Goat that afflicted the Chicago Cubs for over 100 years. While considerably newer, the staff at the airport outpost of the Billy Goat will still give you the same “unique” ordering experience memorialized in the popular old Saturday Night Live sketch titled “Cheezborger! Cheezborger!”
- Hub51 (T5) – a swanky restaurant in Chicago’s nightlife district of River North, the airport version is a great place to stop for craft cocktails, some of which they may have on tap!
- Tortas Frontera (T1,3,5) – did we mention we love Tortas Frontera? In addition to their awesome food, all three locations have a bar at which you can also order some amazing scratch-made margaritas. Beer, wine, and other cocktails are also served, but go for one of those margs!
Much like Chicago itself, there is beauty and excitement (and delicious treats!) below the airport’s utilitarian design. While not especially modern or luxurious, O’Hare has something to offer for those who go looking for it.
Check back next month as we focus on what to do in and around Chicago O'Hare International Airport when you have 6 or more hours to kill due to a layover.