My eating choices when traveling are, in ascending order of preference: airport restaurants, airplane meals, and not eating. I’ve occasionally been forced to ingest food at an airport, which often involved servers asking me, “Would you like to add chicken to that?” To which I responded that the only thing I long to add chicken to is what passes for chicken today. I do not believe they understood what I meant.
The situation is changing, though. Using the same lack of logic that compels chefs to stand in tents preparing tiny versions of their dishes at food events, restaurateurs across the nation have opened outposts at their local airports, bringing ingredients and staff through daily TSA checks. Even I don’t think that’s worth it.
I appreciate it, however. I’m obviously never going to go to Milwaukee, but during a 90-minute connection at Mitchell Airport, I got to experience everything I’d ever want, had some horrific incident required me to visit that city: drink a solid cortado at Collectivo Coffee and eat red sauce pasta at a Bartolotta outlet. I now use airports to sample a town’s always-disappointing local classics, such as the original (and bland and doughy) bagel at St.-Viateur in Montreal.
Until recently LAX’s only attempts to localize were Lakers teddy bears and civilization’s worst-written plaque, in which Antonio Villaraigosa declares: “Transportation is about moving people so they can go about the business of their lives.” But by waiting until every other airport gourmeted up, we learned how to do it well. So there’s now a Cole’s French Dip sandwich shop, one of the nation’s few airport-bound institutions that does not disappoint. I’ve loved soft-scrambled eggs with fontina at the Larder, chicken mole tacos at Lotería Grill, a slice of Mexican chocolate at the Pie Hole, something that was supposedly good for me or the environment or indigenous peoples at Real Food Daily, and caviar at Petrossian.
I’m glad travelers can try Umami Burger, Homeboy Café, BLD, ink. sack, and Monsieur Marcel. These are living representations of L.A.’s current culinary scene—minus poke. I just hope LAX is equally ruthless about replacing older enterprises with newer, cooler restaurants when they open. And that they put a Factory Kitchen in the upcoming paparazzi terminal for celebrities and the one percenters. Those cannoli will be perfect on the way to Sundance.