Dear Mr. Gold:
I am meeting a relative at LAX on a night when the Encounter restaurant is closed. Is there something nearby that you can recommend? It could be for drinks, some decent food, or preferably both.
--Thomas, Los Angeles
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Someday soon, we are promised, LAX will be a magical fairyland of cuisine, where the terminals will fairly bristle with the best that Los Angeles dining has to offer, where the enchiladas, pizzas, and exquisite regional cuisine will be as close as the Lot C shuttle. At the moment - not so much. Although the Daily Grill in the Bradley International Terminal is better than the other options.
But Pann's, the last of L.A.'s great '50s coffeeshops, is just a couple of minutes away on La Tijera, and the fried chicken, biscuits, patty melts and such are definitely worth a stop, although you wouldn't call it a beverage paradise. Even less inclined to serve you a drink - they are strictly halal - are Al-Watan and Al-Noor, the wonderful Pakistani restaurants a few minutes south of the airport, although the tandoor-grilled meats may be the very best in the area.
If you do need to get your drink on, there's Paco's Tacos in Westchester, as well as the well-regarded Paul Martin's in El Segundo, which is known for its organic California cooking as well as for its bar. But I might head instead to one of the Mexican restaurants in the unincorporated area called Lennox a bit south of the airport, where the beer flows freely and the tacos, grilled chicken and carne asada are grand. The best of Lennox's many choices at the moment is probably Mariscos Chente - you may know its sister restaurant in Mar Vista - which specializes in killer Mazatlan-style seafood dishes, especially shrimp in all its various and wonderful forms.
Mariscos Chente: 10820 Inglewood Ave, Lennox; (310) 672-0226.