O'Hare's Terminal 5 Transformation
Terminal 5 in O’Hare International Airport is about to have a whole new look. Tuesday morning, the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) and Westfield Concession management held a special event inside the terminal to reveal its redesign plans, which include adding 15 new retail stores and dining options.
“This is a day that is long overdue for O’Hare International Airport, and specifically for Terminal 5,” CDA commissioner Rosemarie Andolino told the crowd. “Our fliers have choices nowadays; they could fly to any airport around the world. We want them to choose Chicago because when they’re here, they're going to have a flavor of our city, and they’re going to get the exceptional service that they so desire.”
Currently, there are 17 dining options in Terminal 5, and barely any of them are accessible past TSA checkpoints. The international terminal hasn't been touched since its construction in 1993, and it shows; after I made my way past security, the terminal felt dismal as I followed the sounds of Kenny G towards the event. The $26.2 million transformation is expected to be completed by fall 2013 and will ultimately include a redesigned TSA checkpoint, a duty-free store and 25 dining options for international travelers.
Chicago-based restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises will be a major part of this transformation, making its first appearance in an airport with four concepts—Hub 51, Urban Olive, Big Bowl, and Wow Bao—inside Terminal 5. Hub 51’s airport menu, like that at the River North location, spans across the board with sushi, salads, sandwiches, tacos, and fresh fish, while Urban Olive (a new concept) has a lighter Mediterranean feel with rotisserie chickens, salads, tapenades, and falafel. (I went back to the Urban Olive sample table for chocolate olives more than once.) Big Bowl’s executive chef Marc Bernard says the restaurant will focus on the big flavors of curry, kung pao and teriyaki, along with stir-fries and sushi. (Side note: 7,000 lbs of the vegetables Big Bowl uses each year are grown on Bernard’s Elburn farm.) Finally, Wow Bao will stick to its proven formula, servnig its signature buns.
Also entering the Terminal 5 scene will be Intelligentsia Coffee: representatives from the company were on hand, handing out a rich Kenyan blend. Rick Bayless’s (Eat Out Award–winning) Tortas Frontera, already in Terminals 1 and 3, will be opening a third location in Terminal 5. Chef Shaw Lash says the restaurant will be adding cazuelas—a hearty stew of shrimp or chicken—to the menu in Terminal 5, where layovers last a few hours and “there’s a tendency for people to want a longer, fuller [dining] experience.” I was pleasantly surprised by blend of flavors in the grilled shrimp cazuela, with substantial amounts of grilled zucchini, roasted potatoes and a creamy chile sauce. (Finally, if you haven’t already tried Tortas Frontera’s mango lime agua fresca, you’re missing out.)