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Ivar’s is out, Skillet is in: Here’s what’s new at Sea-Tac Airport

If you’ve flown through Sea-Tac International Airport in the last year or so, you’ve probably noticed lots of construction, some new restaurants, some old restaurants in new locations, and maybe some of your long time go-tos have disappeared.

“I think a lot of passengers have started to notice that Sea-Tac Airport is not just a land of chain restaurants and bad food,” said Port of Seattle’s aviation communication manager, Kate Hudson. “We’ve opened some really incredible eateries. Just in the past year we’ve opened close to 20.”

Sea-Tac has been working on revamping the airport’s dining and retail program to be more relevant, diverse and healthy, with menus that appeal to the modern palate.

“We wanted to give more opportunities to small, local and disadvantaged business so the face of the airport will look just like the face of the community,” said Dawn Hunter, senior manager for airport dining and retail at SeaTac International Airport. “Really looking at Pacific Northwest sense of place, local concepts and making the airport look like the community we live in.”

Hunter says when everything’s up and running, more than 45 percent of shops and restaurants will be locally owned and operated.

In March, Evergreens opened in the airport’s central terminal and there is an omnipresent line at the locally owned, build-your-own salad and grain bowl chain.

“My pro-tip for them, because there is always a line out the door, is download the app in advance, pre-order and then you can just pick it up and go,” Hudson said.

At Lucky Louie Fish Shack, the latest concept from Seattle chef Kathy Casey, you can get a cup of chowder, a shrimp melt, wild caught Alaskan salmon with jasmine rice or fish and chips, by far the most popular dish, making up 70 percent of sales.

Casey’s grab-and-go cafe Dish D’Lish has been at the airport for 14 years, so she knows a thing or two about designing a menu for travelers.

“One of the things you really have to consider is sometimes people want to eat realty basic when they’re traveling,” Casey said. “Not really spicy, they’re concerned about when they’re on the flight. So you really want to offer some tried and true basics that people can really relate to. Then you can have super naughty chowder covered fries with bacon and cheddar and green onions on them!”

Here’s how the Port of Seattle decides which restaurants will open and close in the airport: First they decide on general concepts; spaces are designated as a burger place, an Asian place, a coffee shop. Then they take bids from interested parties and grade them on certain criteria.

“How much are you paying people, are you giving them benefits?” Dawn explains. “That’s something you’re scored on. What is the menu? How does it represent the Pacific Northwest? How are you committed to using local small business in a meaningful way? All of those scores are compiled and the person with the highest score wins.”

Lucky Louie replaced Ivar’s as the fast casual seafood concept and Anthony’s has also moved on. The businesses are responsible for building out the space, paying monthly rent and hiring staff. The menu is totally up to them.

Another newcomer is family owned Bambuza Vietnamese Kitchen, which means there is finally pho at the airport.

“You’ll find things like a banh mi, which is a sandwich on a French baguette, the great tradition of Vietnamese iced coffee which was brought in by French colonizers,” Hudson said. “We ordered the vermicelli bowl. The decor in here is also really thoughtful; there are red paper lanterns which are sourced from the town where the family is originally from.”

Seattle vegetarian restaurant Cafe Flora opened Floret, the country’s first sit down vegan airport restaurant.

“They’re playing Animal Planet behind the bar so you can watch cute videos of puppies and kittens and guerillas,” laughed Hudson. “I’ve hear staff anecdotally say that people will belly up to the bar feeling kind of grumpy, but once they see that Animal Planet is playing they perk right up.”

Seattle favorite, Skillet, is now in the N Gate and Poke to the Max, Salty’s and a French inspired restaurant from Chef Thierry Rautureau are still on their way, along with a Filson store and many others.

Hudson recommends downloading the Sea-Tac Airport app, which will show you what shops and restaurants are in each terminal, along with lots of other useful information like a real time look at how long security lines are.

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