Where to Eat Now at the Revitalized LAX: The Definitive Guide
The airport is no longer a fast food wasteland
Your assistant sent you to the airport early. You zipped through security in record time. Your flight is delayed. And now… you’re starving.
While that could have meant the end of your gluten-free regimen a few years back, the long awaited overhaul of LAX has had a significant impact on the airport’s gastronomic offerings. No longer do you have to rely on a bag of nuts from Hudson News or a pre-wrapped sandwich from Starbucks to stave off your hunger pangs. While these are still options (and, in fact, the Starbucks Evenings in the Tom Bradley International Terminal also serves up beer and wine), when it comes to food, to quote the airport’s optimistic motto, LAX is happening. Especially so for flyers traveling out of the Bradley terminal, which services the likes of Air France, Qantas, British Airways and Cathay Pacific.
The ongoing facelift, intended to enhance the city’s main public entry point, has had the city’s top chefs — Michael Voltaggio and Suzanne Goin among them —jockeying for space. Loteria’s Jimmy Shaw, who has spots in two terminals serving up his popular Mexican fare, explains, “It’s a gateway to the city, the last thing you see before you leave, the first thing you see when you arrive.” Lee Maen, whose Innovative Dining Group runs Luckyfish and B Grill by Boa Steakhouse, echoes his sentiment, adding: “It introduces international travelers to the vibrant Los Angeles restaurant scene.” No time to sit down and fill your belly before takeoff? All of the places listed here will prepare to-go boxes that you can enjoy in-flight.
THE INTERNATIONAL TERMINAL
The first to undergo a makeover, the Bradley terminal sets the bar high and not just when it comes to food. Natural light floods the building. Giant screens project idyllic beach scenes. There’s midcentury inspired seating, a plethora of places to plug in and charge up, a mecca of last minute shopping — including a Kitson and a Fred Segal — and the duty-free liquor shop pours free shots to calm the nerves of jittery travelers. Late flight? No problem: Every vendor closes for the night only “after the last flight takes off,”says Quang Nguyen, marketing director for Westfield, the terminal’s developer and manager.
Umami Burger Adam Fleischman’s empire launched with his rethinking of the classic burger, orchestrating protein, toppings and bun to maximize umami, the Japanese name for the fifth, and most addictive, taste. Fans of the mini-chain won’t find everything — the menu’s been tightened to five sandwiches – but plant-lovers will appreciate that there’s a vegetarian option. To wash it down: a selection of beer or wine.
800 Degrees Pizza Fleischman’s riff on the Neopolitan contribution to street food transports his wood-burning oven and six of the most popular offerings – including the margherita and the carne — from Westwood to the airport. The personal-sized, customizable pies emerge hot and ready to go within five minutes, a boon for those hungry travelers who tend to run late.
Border Grill Foodies old enough to remember City, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s first hit restaurant, will be pleased to find that spot’s popular smoked chicken salad on the menu alongside such Border Grill favorites as tortilla soup, Peruvian ceviche, Yucatan pork and grilled skirt steak. “We did it with a Mexican twist,”says Milliken, “and it holds up really well so you can eat it hours later on the plane.” Adds Feniger: “Try it with our Cadillac margarita and you’re ready for that nice long flight.”
Chaya Sushi If you’re looking for a light bite before boarding, you might want to grab a spot at the sushi bar at this branch of the dependable French-Japanese mini-chain. While you won’t find a large selection — the menu at this spot concentrates on nigiri sushi, the restaurant’s specialty rolls and salads — there’s a full bar.
ink.sack While you can sit down to eat your meal, Voltaggio’s signature black bags are perfect for taking on board. The offerings — we love the cold Southern fried chicken – may induce envy in your seatmates. Placate them by sharing sides: the spicy house-made salt and pepper potato chips or the BBQ pork rinds. Better throw in a couple of their house-made Oreos or Mexican chocolate chip cookies for good measure.
Larder on Tavern Homemade bread and meats roasted and brined in-house are reason enough to consider this branch of the Brentwood favorite from Goin and Caroline Styne. Need more? You can build your own sandwich, there’s a stand-alone spot for breakfast as well as an impressive selection of fresh, in-season fruit — plus a marketplace where you can pick up California-created ingredients as gifts for foodie friends abroad.
Lucky Fish by Sushi Roku While you can find cold dishes like tuna tataki and salmon carpaccio here, this restaurant from the Boa Group, tucked away on the second level, focuses on hot foods. Try the fried chicken karaga with cilantro, the Asian curry or a domboro bowl. For eating onboard, try the spicy tuna hanabi, baked crab hand rolls or one of their “Lucky Combos.”
Petrossian Caviar & Champagne Bar Start your first-class experience while you’re still in the terminal with a stop at this spot from the New York-based, West Hollywood-branched caviar purveyors. Continue the celebration on board by toting along their to-go option, “Caviar in the air, ”which packs blinis and creme fraiche to go with your caviar on ice.
Vanilla Bakeshop “All our desserts are made from scratch out of our Santa Monica store and delivered fresh each morning,” says proprietor and head baker Amy Berman. You’ll find their popular cupcake babies, in flavors such as strawberries & cream, alongside favorites like the fleur de sel macaroons, caramel bars and chocolate chip toffee cookies. Sugar junkies can grab a pre-packed treat like the chocolate caramel pretzels or the salted pecan shortbread cookies.
LaMill This branch of the Silver Lake-based cafe focuses on coffee and tea service. Finicky caffeine connoisseurs have their choice of drip, pour-over and cold-processed coffees while tea aficionados will appreciate their selection of teas, including Hong Kong, masala chai, and jasmine milk teas. Sopping it up: pastries, salads, cookies and brownies, courtesy of their exclusive relationship with Brentwood’s FarmShop.
Luckily, most of the flights originating out of this terminal are relatively short ones because this terminal’s still a fast food wasteland.
This is the next building scheduled for a makeover, with the line-up of eateries to be announced shortly. Planned upgrades include improvements to the ticket lobby, baggage screening, baggage claim and concourse areas. In the meantime David Mendelson, the morning manager for the Beverly Dr. branch of Nate n Al’s, which has been open in the terminal since January 2012, reminds travelers that the deli not only serves up its signature hearty sandwiches but includes a full bar. “And what’s better before a flight than a Stella and some soup?”
Nate ‘n Al The nearly 75-year-old Beverly Hills institution’s edited menu focuses on the deli’s stars: tuna, turkey, corned beef, pastrami and lox. Ward off the possibility of cabin-induced colds with a bowl of its chicken noodle or matzoh ball soup.
Until its reconstructive surgery, travelers heading off via Air Canada, Air Hawaii, Virgin Atlantic or any of the other airlines serviced by this terminal will have to make do with its limited offerings.
Gladstones 4 Fish Like its parent restaurant, this outpost of the seafood restaurant offers a view: here it’s the coveted window seats that look out over the airfield. Stick to simple offerings like the Cobb salad, the clam chowder, the calamari and, for breakfast, the lox box. Notable features: beers on tap and good coffee.
Wolfgang Puck Express If you’re craving California comfort food, look no further than the offerings from the Austrian chef. Chinese chicken salad, ginger salmon, and rosemary rotisserie chicken with garlic mashed potatoes are among the menu’s stalwarts. There’s also a branch in Terminal 7.
Although construction on this terminal continues for another year, the headache promises to be worth it. A link with the international terminal will not only facilitate connecting flights but will also provide access to its restaurants and shops. Also on the list of improvements: an outdoor seating plaza and bus service to Terminals 5 through 8. The last year has already seen the opening of five L.A.-centric eateries.
Campanile If you’re eyeing a long layover at American Airlines’ terminal, consider this re-creation of the shuttered La Brea Ave. icon from co-founder Nancy Silverton to transport you back in time. Former regulars will find many of their favorites here — including the prime rib, the flattened chicken with garlic confit, the spaghetti di nero with shrimp and the trenne pasta with bolognese.
Cole’s If you’re in need of a stiff drink, head here. While many of the restaurants in the airport serve cocktails, this spot’s interpretation of Prohibition-era classics brings mixed drinks to a whole new level. To soak up your three-martini stop: their French-dip sandwiches made from chicken or roast beef.
8 Oz Burger This might be the best choice in the terminal if you’ve got the little ones in tow. While grown-ups will appreciate the char-grilled burgers made with Niman Ranch beef and the good selection of micro-brewed beers, it’s the purple mustard for the Kobe beef corn dogs and the PB&J shake that will keep the kids happy.
La Provence Regulars at the French-themed Beverly Hills cafe will find their favorites; the Cobb Salad, turkey club and chicken pesto panini are all here. For on-board eating, owner and pastry chef Farid Hakim suggests the scrambled egg on a croissant or the prosciutto and brie sandwich. Endear yourself to the people at your destination by grabbing a gift box of their assorted macaroons.
Real Food Daily Alongside their macrobiotic basics — the kimchi maki roll and the rice bowls are popular — there are also fresh juice options for those adhering to their liquid regimen. Where else can you grab a banana, hemp and date milk shake at 11 pm?
The changes that began with the renovation of the baggage claim area are working their way through the main lobby, the boarding gates and the passenger security screening area. New elevators and escalators and better lighting are just some of the improvements that can be expected when the project is finished sometime next year.
Farmer’s Market at LAX Alongside a selection of fresh fruit and a grab-and-go case that serves up fresh-made sandwiches and salads, this miniature of the Fairfax favorite in Delta’s terminal includes Monsieur Marcel, Bennett’s Ice Cream, Magee’s Nuts, T&Y Bakery and one branch of Loteria (the other is in Terminal 7).
Ford’s Filling Station The pulled pork grilled cheese sandwich, bacon-wrapped dates and chef Ben Ford’s famous Mary, with its signature stick of bacon, are standouts that fans of the shuttered Culver City gastropub will find on the menu here. Hearty breakfast burritos travel well and work just as fine for dinner as they do for breakfast.
Lemonade Fans will find the same sparkling cafeteria-style set up here, along with many of their favorite dishes, from salads to hot plates. The toasted-to-order sandwiches make filling plane fare and don’t forget their signature lemonades. There’s also a daily sugar-free option.
Until this terminal, which will be undergoing renovations concurrently with Terminal 2, announces its line-up, travelers flying United will have to endure its existing fast food options.
Jody Maroni Sausage Kingdom The Venice Beach-based hot dog stand grills up sausages such as its hot and sweet Italians, and dressed up plain all-beef dogs in Coney Island and Chicago styles.
TERMINAL 7 & 8
If you’re traveling United, you should have no trouble passing on plane food. This terminal’s range of hearty stick-to-your-ribs options will tide you over until you reach your destination.
B Grill by Boa Steakhouse The best deal in the terminal may be this spot’s reusable cold and hot carry bag. The $20 price tag includes a choice of sandwiches, a salad (choose from chopped, super-food or lobster) and cookies.
BLD “The manager spent three months in our kitchen learning our food culture,” says general manager Anuar Pinto Velasco, a fact that regulars to the Beverly Blvd. location will appreciate. While the ricotta blueberry pancakes cannot yet be ordered gluten-free, it’s an option for the bread for the restaurant’s popular fried egg sandwich. "The fresh vegetable salad – which is available as a grab-and-go item — is a perfect companion for flight,” says Velasco
Loteria A pre-flight sampler of the palm-sized tacos, alongside one of their signature margaritas — tamarindo, jalapeno or the classic — will smooth out any bumpy rides. “Burritos are the best travelers,” counsels owner and chef Shaw.
The Counter The kid-friendly Santa Monica-based build-your-own-burger chain is perfect for your picky offspring (they apply the same concept to their breakfast sandwiches). Adventurous eaters might want to try the LAX — a smorgasbord of Provolone, onion confit, lettuce, sauteed mushrooms, tomatoes and horseradish aioli.
Engine Co. No. 28 This spot’s emphasis on hearty American fare — which includes such classics as a meatloaf sandwich, chicken and waffles, and fresh biscuits and gravy — will make you glad you decided to squeeze in an extra round of cardio.