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December 6-12, 2006

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Live Feed - Stett Holbrook

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You Are Now Free to Eat Terrible Food

By Stett Holbrook

I SUPPOSE there are many reasons why airport food is often so bad. Travelers are generally in a hurry and don't have time for good food, so they suffer through fast food. The facilities that vendors have to work with at airports don't lend themselves to much culinary creativity. Microwaves and convection ovens are about as good as it gets. And airport restaurants and snack bars know they have a captive audience so they can get away with selling subpar slop at premium prices.

San Jose's Mineta International Airport is a particularly barren culinary wasteland. The airport expansion added more gates and flight volume, but it didn't do much for travelers looking to grab a decent bite to eat. Terminal C's most interesting option is Señor Jalapeños, purveyor of descent Mexican food. There's Bits and Bytes, where the main appeal is that they serve alcohol and have a wireless Internet connection. The menu is pretty slim: $9 sandwiches, nachos and chicken wings. The food offerings pretty much go downhill from there, with Burger King and Togo's. Terminal A's selection is pretty thin, too. There's a 360 Degree Burrito, a Gordon Biersch outpost, a California Pizza Kitchen and a few other less notable places. Nowhere can you get anything that represents some of Silicon Valley's culinary diversity and strength—Southeast Asian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Korean and Middle Eastern food.

The food offerings at SJO smack of a small-minded, parochial city. San Francisco International Airport's newly expanded international terminal is worlds better. It has an Anchor Steam brewpub, Yankee Pier Restaurant, Willow Street Pizza (a San Jose-based restaurant chain, mind you), sushi and even dim sum. Granted, you wouldn't make a special trip to eat here, but it beats refrigerated bagels and greasy slices of pizza you find at most airports.

I'm not saying the San Jose Airport should have an outpost of Manresa, but raising the quality of food available would leave a good taste in the mouths people visiting Silicon Valley. The airport could seek out vendors who represent the best of what Silicon Valley has to offer. How about a food court where you could get a good bowl of pho or ramen? What about a kebab and curry shop? Silicon Valley has an abundance of izakaya restaurants; how about an outpost of one of these sake bar/small plate restaurants? Food vendors like this could act as culinary ambassadors for Silicon Valley at large.

If you're on a tight schedule, you're stuck with the limited offerings available at the San Jose airport. In the meantime, if you have more time to kill and are looking for signs of intelligent culinary life outside the airport, take a quick trip cab ride to Honba Sushi or Penang Village, a Malaysian restaurant. Both are located less than a mile from the airport and offer a refreshing break from the meager choices inside the airport.

Honba Sushi, 1759 Technology Drive, San Jose. 408.392.0087. Penang Village, 1290 Coleman Ave, San Jose. 408.980.0688.

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