Will Fly for Salsa: Five Airport Outlets Serving Mexican Cuisine

Eateries focus on traditional recipes and a few new twists.

One of the many seafood dishes available at Mariscos Huatulco at Bob Maxwell Memorial Airfield (KOKB) in Oceanside, California. [Courtesy: Mariscos Huatulco]

Increasing competition among restaurants means that many of us have more choices of where and what to eat when we dine out. That variety extends to restaurants at general aviation airports. Where we once expected to find the traditional “$100 hamburger” waiting near the main ramp, we now enjoy a broadening variety of foods with a range of national and cultural origins.

This time, we are focusing on Mexican food, a complex category that represents a broad range of regional cuisines within the country. An appreciation for authentic recipes, fresh ingredients, and personal, homestyle preparation cuts across our collective backgrounds as pilots.

Surveying the fly-in menus in your region and marking the best prospects on your sectional chart (digital or paper) can help you plan memorable outings. I find that my family’s enthusiasm for flying grows exponentially when the destination includes a meal. 

Here are five airport restaurants serving up Mexican cuisine that includes familiar favorites and a few special twists.

Mariscos Huatulco

Bob Maxwell Memorial Airfield (KOKB), Oceanside, California

Mariscos is Spanish for seafood, the specialty of this family-owned restaurant serving Mexican dishes inspired by traditional and contemporary recipes. The range of food is tempting and varied, from burritos and fish tacos to shrimp ceviche. Fish dinners of tilapia, snapper, catfish and others are fried, grilled, and steamed. Octopus, scallops make the list as well. Oceanside renamed the airport in 2013 for the late Bob Maxwell, a former Tuskegee airman and longtime aviation advocate who fought plans to close the field in 2006. 

The Steak Nacho Supreme at Enrique's Mexican Restaurant in Ponce City, Oklahoma. [Courtesy: Enrique's Mexican Restaurant]

Enrique’s Mexican Restaurant

Ponca City Regional Airport (KPNC), Ponca City, Oklahoma

Known for “the hottest jalapeno on the runway,” this family operation opened in 1983 with eight tables and a modest menu. Since then, it has expanded more than five times and now has 35 employees. The menu includes Mexican, Cuban, and American dishes. Among the favorites are nachos supreme, tampico fiesta, and chili relleno, which is a stuffed poblano pepper dipped in batter, fried, and served with queso or ranchero sauce. 

Ceviche de Camarón from Maize Mexican Grill. [Courtesy: Maize Mexican Grill]

Maize Mexican Grill

University of Illinois-Willard Airport (KCMI), Champaign-Urbana, Illinois

While Maize is not quite a fly-in restaurant, you can get there by taxi, rideshare, or an airport shuttle to its location on the University of Illinois campus. There is also a second location downtown. Maize opened in 2011 with a focus on recreating traditional foods from Mexico City, Michoacan, and Guerrero, Mexico. Maize says its food is made in house, including corn tortillas that are handcrafted for each order. The menu includes gluten-free versions of customary Mexican fare “so everyone can enjoy the food we loved growing up.” 

The Birria Plate from the Taqueria Queretaro food truck. [Courtesy: Taqueria Queretaro]

Taqueria Queretaro Food Truck

Arcadia Municipal Airport (X06), Arcadia, Florida

Taco Tuesday has become a big deal at this airport thanks to the mother-son team of Yolanda and Jose Hernandez. They have been dispensing tacos from their orange food truck and reportedly attracting pilots from all over Florida and beyond. Last June, news outlets were abuzz after two men took off from Miami on their way to Arcadia to pick up tacos but made an off-airport landing on the way following an engine failure. Luckily, they weren’t seriously injured, but coverage of the incident boosted the truck’s profile.

[Courtesy: Carlos and Mickey's]

Carlos & Mickey’s

El Paso International Airport (KELP), El Paso, Texas

The Arrambide family has run restaurants in El Paso for more than 65 years, and one of its three Carlos & Mickey’s locations is in the city’s airport, a popular meet-up spot for travelers and local residents. A lively bar scene and menu items including flautas, tacos al carbon, albondigas, and quesadillas to seafood including shrimp Jalisco and Alaskan cod. There are also burgers, steaks and various dinner combinations. 

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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