It’s no secret that LAX is in the midst of what very may well be the most welcome facelift in the history of our fair city. The most dramatic changes thus far have taken place at the Tom Bradley International Terminal, an increasingly modern-looking space flush with high-end designers offering enticing tax breaks and—best of all—an impressive spate of culinary delights. Delta’s Terminal 5 is fairly far along as well, and other egress points still are set to open up shops from the likes of Kogi BBQ, Golden Road, and Pie Hole. In light of this, the airport people invited us over for an afternoon of marathon eating. By the end, we were shoving sandwiches in our bag to sample at a later, less-stuffed hour. Below, find 10 reasons to arrive a little (a lot?) early for your next flight.
1. Two-dozen beer taps in one place
It’s common knowledge that airport bars are the worst—overpriced waiting rooms for the anxious, often sporting a lineup of boring beers and uninspired snacks. Terminal 5’s Rock & Brews makes pre-flight pre-gaming fun again with 24 rotating taps, pungent garlic fries, and a cheddar-smothered burger barely contained by brioche bookends. Don’t let the KISS association put you off (Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley are the chain’s “global ambassadors”). All that means is you get to watch classic music videos while sipping Belgians.
2. Airport sammies that don’t suck
In some terminals, terror is the $12 sandwich. You know the type: damp bread, wilted lettuce, a mustard packet if you’re lucky. Ink.Sack corrects this egregious error with an array of creative handhelds from Michael Voltaggio and Co. for half the price. Their Spicy Tuna comes garnished with Sriracha mayo and nori flakes. The Spanish Godfather proffers a pile of prosciutto, chorizo, and Manchego. There’s a $4.69 veggie banh mi. The black carry-away lunch sack completes the fancy-casual vibe.
3. A buffet to beat all
Lemonade’s got locations all over the city (and two in Dubai) so you likely already know what it means to see their name in T5. If not, imagine a dozen-plus troughs of cold cafeteria delights — the ahi and watermelon radish salad is a must — complimented by hot options like chicken chili and white truffle mac. Protip: combine those last two and wash it down with a blood-orange lemonade.
4. Tacos a city can be proud of—and other fancy foodstuffs
The Original Farmers Market, now 80 years young, has its very own mini iteration in T5. The crown jewel of location is the ¡Loteria! Grill, whose guisos (braised meats) are enjoyed best in taco form accompanied by a jalapeño Margie—or three. The presence of Monsieur Marcel ensures travelers’ fromage needs are accounted for, and the T&Y Bakery should cover most last-minute pastry-related concerns.
5. Fresh pizza before you can say, ‘Oh crap, they’re boarding’
You don’t need an Italian history lesson to understand what makes Neapolitan ‘za delicious—the wood-burning oven will teach your taste buds all they need to know. Umami Co.’s 800 Degrees adheres to this time-honored method, and you can guess where they get their name. The high temp means these piping custom pies cook in about a minute. The thin crust is a flaky dream and the tomatoes taste like vine.
6. Comfort grub to cure flight fear
Eat your feelings at Ford’s Filling Station, one of the few onsite eateries with its very own, fully functioning kitchen. I’ve you’ve been missing chef Ben Ford’s former Culver City eatery, it’s now here, and the seasonal menu currently sports the best small bites in the post-TSA game: bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese, deviled eggs topped with Turkish pepper, and chicken wings that earn their Five Alarm branding. Also, four words: pulled pork grilled cheese. Like it or not, you’re sleeping on this flight.
7. Celebrity chef cameos
Our Border Grill grub was served and plated by Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Millikin themselves. The Two Hot Tamales fed us perfectly crisped crèma-topped taquitos and a mint-lime agua fresca that was as bright as Feniger’s paint-splattered apron. Sure, this was a special occasion, but with Chaya and the Larder at Tavern nearby, the odds on spotting a culinary star are pretty good.
8. Post-flight date night
We love our city, but the worst part of any vacation is that it ends, and usually in a flurry of hustling bodies, juggled luggage, and blaring car horns. Make your trip last a little bit longer at Petrossian’s champagne and caviar bar. The cozy spot offers a real escape thanks not only to the luxury snacks, but the decor: white tables, black booths, copper lights, and turquoise accents. Every color seems handpicked to compliment the golden bubbly.
9. A delicious, frosted substitute for that ‘I heart L.A.’ shot glass souvenir
Vanilla Bake Shop offers all sorts of treats but their signature sweets are the so-called Cupcake Babies. They are tiny and tasty and can be bought in bulk before any international excursion. That means enough flight time to work your way through a baker’s dozen, from the gingerbread spice, to the bittersweet dark, to the banana chocolate chip, and the spicy carrot too. Go Pokemon on this.
10. Booze you can’t buy anywhere else
If you happen to be in the market for a $46,000 autographed bottle of 50-year Balvenie (88 bottles globally), you can pick one up at DFS, the high-end duty-free retailer that makes its home at Tom Bradley. There are more affordable exclusives too. To wit: Wayne Gretzky’s actually delicious ice wine, which costs less than a benjamin and can’t be found anywhere else in the U.S. Cheers!