Flying out of LaGuardia airport requires a level of steadfastness that few can muster without the help of medication, booze, or certifiable insanity. Besides the crumbling buildings and surly security staff, intrepid travelers often face a dearth of options for decent sustenance: woe betide the hungry person who flies out of Terminal B, Concourse C, where only stale Au Bon Pain awaits. Those traveling on Delta and other airlines operating out of Terminal D (and the air bridge-linked Terminal C), however, can have a completely different dining experience with a wealth of post-security options.
If you’re craving a burger in Terminal D, you’re in luck: Head straight for Custom Burgers by Pat La Frieda. One of the many shiny restaurants in the recently redone terminal, this walk-up counter invites you to build your own burger via iPad, with singles starting at $5. (You can also choose a pre-designed burger or sandwich from the menu.) Condiments and standard toppings like lettuce, tomato, and pickles are included (although I hunted in vain for a button to select the “signature sauce” advertised on the menu); add on bacon, mushrooms, cheese, fried egg, Taylor ham, and more starting at $1 each. Unfortunately, the ordering system didn’t allow me to specify how I wanted my meat cooked; however, my burger arrived with a nice crust and pleasant pink interior, which is just how I would have asked for it.
A side of fries tasted like they just came out of the grocer’s freezer — definitely skip. Other side options include house-made chips, onion rings, and, intriguingly, fried pickles. You can grab a soft drink (self-serve fountain, a nice option if you have a flight delay and a Diet Coke addiction), bottled beer, or one of five milkshake flavors. A word to the wise: Check what beers are available before ordering one. I opted for a Sierra Nevada porter but had to settle for a Sam Adams IPA, pulled from an ice bucket on the counter.
Because Custom Burgers is part of Terminal D’s food court, you don’t actually pay at the ordering stand. The iPad spits out a little receipt that you take to the cashiers on the opposite side of the area; then, you walk back to the counter to wait for the otherwise-disengaged staff to call out your order number. They take your receipt there, to ensure you’ve paid for your food.
As far as quality goes, chances are you’ve paid more for less in this city. The burger was good — fairly juicy, coarsely ground, with good char — and the toppings, other than a faded tomato slice, much better than expected. There was nothing special about the bun, but the price — $5 for a solid hunk of meat with several accoutrements — was right. Within 10 minutes of ordering, my food arrived in a neat cardboard box, making it an ideal airplane carry-on option.