Food on the Fly

The LAX dining scene takes off, thanks to the recent upgrade at the Bradley International Terminal.

Oh, LAX. Often pronounced “Hell-A-X,” particularly if you’ve volunteered to pick up a loved one at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday evening. Or perhaps you’ve forgotten to buy something before boarding a cross-country Southwest flight and are doomed to peanut packets, repressed stand-up comedians impersonating flight attendants and something unidentifiable impersonating chardonnay. 

Or most terrifying yet, you’ve already gone through security, your flight is inexplicably delayed five hours, and you get hungry. Eating at LAX—for anyone needing more sustenance than trail mix from Hudson News or a limp McMuffin—has historically been an exercise of futile foodie foraging.  

All that changed back in 2010, when the ambitious and costly Bradley West project launched at LAX. With $1.5 billion and former Mayor Villaraigosa’s blessing, this comprehensive program to modernize our not-so-little local airport has won over even the most jaded traveler. 

Much of the renovation work focused on the Tom Bradley International Terminal. In addition to practical plans for accommodating the larger A380 aircrafts, the re-design also included a comprehensive, immersive digital experience for travelers that has catapulted LAX from backwards to innovative. The new Tom Bradley is ultra-sleek, screen-friendly and hyper-digital. #justlikeyou

Fortunately, the planning wasn’t limited to integrating your smartphone, your tablet, your laptop and your social media accounts while at TBIT. They’ve also given some thought to your stomach and to your liver. 

With more than 20 new food and beverage outlets, what was a barren fast-food wasteland is now a portal to the very best of Los Angeles’ burgeoning food scene—all accessible without leaving the building. One could make the argument that you can now dine your way around LA faster at LAX than you could in traffic out in the “real world.”  

What I find most exciting about LAX’s new dining options is that they feature our homegrown culinary heroes. Instead of wooing big, boring chains and multinational chef brands, the powers-that-be have instead targeted local folks like Border Grill’s beloved “two hot tamales”—Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. These pioneers inspired a generation of female chefs in an era when machismo still ruled the day, and their modern Mexican food at LAX is as delicious as it is at the original Santa Monica outpost. 

LA’s other great female duo is Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne, and it’s simply awesome to see them get some of that coveted real estate at Tom Bradley. From West Hollywood’s Lucques and AOC to The Hungry Cat(s) and Brentwood’s Tavern, these ladies have racked up an impressive string of restaurant hits. At TBIT, they’ve brought a version of Tavern’s Larder, where one can stock up on tasty take-out that makes those long flights not just bearable but delicious.

More recent additions to LA’s foodie empire are also represented at Tom Bradley. Michael Voltaggio became a TV star with his turn on Top Chef and stints at The Bazaar at SLS and The Langham in Pasadena. When he chose to open his own restaurant, his wildly successful restaurant ink. and neighboring sandwich joint ink.sack, he solidified his identity as an “LA” chef. 

At Tom Bradley, ink.sack offers travelers sandwiches that are light-years ahead of the stale, pre-sliced turkey triangles that once ruled the jet ways. Voltaggio’s trademark condiments, if not tattoos, also abound.  

Adam Fleischman is another of LA’s modern success stories.  I first met Adam some years ago when he was more of a wine guy with gigs at Bottle Rock in Culver City and Vinoteque in WeHo. That was before the tsunami of umami—Umami Burger, that is—that Fleischman unleashed open the world. With 18 signature Umami Burgers in SoCal alone, the so-called “fifth flavor” completely reinvented the humble hamburger as we know it. 

Adam, everyone traveling through Tom Bradley henceforth and forever hereby officially thanks you for giving us Umami Burger. And if that weren’t enough, Fleischman’s next big scheme is to reinvent pizza—Neapolitan pizza—via his 800 Degrees concept, also now open at TBIT. It’s pretty much the death knell to Sbarro.  

Feel like a drink? Better libations are also quite literally on tap. If you’re feeling luxe, check out Beverly Hills’ Petrossian caviar and champagne bar for a flute of something magical. 

And at long last, Vino Volo finally comes to LAX. This wine bar concept is wildly popular—a place where a serious selection of by-the-glass options means you can sip something tasty as opposed to tolerating something intolerable during that happy-hour layover.  

There’s also a trendy new bar called Drink LA, if crafty cocktails or local microbrews are more your thing. Lastly, there’s LAMILL Coffee too, which for caffeine enthusiasts is kinda like upgrading from a Honda Accord (your usual Starbucks fix) to a Tesla (eco-trendy coffee you crave).  

Don’t have a boarding pass? Then you won’t get to check out all these new food and beverage options. Just remember the next time you’re planning an international getaway that you’ll now need to maximize that LAX time instead of minimize it. And that, in and of itself, equals culinary (r)evolution! 

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