Airport food is not real food, as we all know. And, rather than judging my airport food by the normal, exacting standards I would implement in real life, I tend to go with the following questions:

1. Does it have any flavor at all?
2. Is it under $15?
3. Does it give me heartburn?
4. Can I get some alcohol to accompany it?

Perhaps I should move #4 up, as I *hate* airplane travel. So, that’s pretty much why I always hit up Pappasito’s Cantina when I fly Continental on my way home to visit the parents.  When it opened along with the E terminal in the early 2000s, it was a place with reliably decent and fresh Mexican food, certainly better than the other Houston airport options, and–rather amazingly–strong, tart, relatively inexpensive margaritas. While I wouldn’t have named Pappasito’s as one of my top five choices in Mexican restaurants, it was a bright spot in terms of airport food.

Sadly, much has changed in the past decade.

The past few times I’ve been through the airport and had a chance to eat at Pappasito’s, I’ve been noticing a change in the quality.  Still, I would convince myself that it’s better than most options there, thinking, “At least it isn’t Famiglia pizza” and, “Yeah, it’s chain Mexican and I shouldn’t expect much” and, “It is an airport, after all.”

Pappasito's Cantina, Houston Airport

This time, I had a Cancun burrito–chicken, black beans, guacamole, and pico di gallo–along with a 12-ounce frozen margarita.  The burrito was filled with ultra-sticky, rather tasteless refried black beans that overwhelmed and surrounded the rest of the ingredients.  I could hardly see the chicken in my burrito, let alone taste it.  The guacamole–well, there was a small dab of it, somewhere in there.  In short, in order to have any taste at all, I had to add a lot of the still-fairly-adequate salsa.  Damning with faint praise, indeed, to call the salsa “adequate.”

On the other hand, there’s that margarita: At $6.95, it is a remarkably good deal.  Not too sweet, not too tart, it also contains a significant amount of tequila.  If you have a long layover, as I did, it definitely does the trick and takes the edge off.  In short, it’s actually worth your money and time if you want something stronger than a beer and cheaper than an airport bar cocktail.