The LAX food fight rages on. This morning, current airport food purveyors HMSHost held a press conference in the parking lot behind Maria's Italian Kitchen on Pico Boulevard, out to prove that “local flavor and fresh food at airports do not have to come with outrageous pricing.” Employees wore t-shirts calling for “Real L.A. Food for Real L.A. People,” as company president and CEO Elie W. Maalouf attempted to shout over the oddly symbolic sounds of a garbage truck, coughing its way through the alley right next to tables full of pizzas, pastas, and tacos.
Ultimately, they do have one thing going for them: if you close your eyes and eat the food, you can easily imagine yourself sitting in an airport. But if their goal is to convince us that their food is great, they failed. If they want to convince us that it's cheaper, well… they did.
Granted, the food at events like these is actually rather difficult to pull off. Bread inevitably turns stale, melted cheese hardens, and hamburger meat becomes cold and stiff.
Just about everything served in the parking lot this morning seemed to have a strong aversion to moisture — an unfortunate decision considering the need to stay hydrated during air travel. Korean short rib tacos (of course there were Korean tacos) from LA Food Show combined dry beef with dry tortillas, while their overcooked fried fish tacos fared only slightly better. The fish and chips from Ye Olde King's Head were, thankfully, for display only, as we overheard one employee telling a photographer, “don't get too close to that fish. It didn't travel well.”
Pizza from CPK ASAP was painfully dry too, but that is what happens when it sits in a box for an indeterminate amount of time before spending 45 minutes in the sun. Dishes from Maria's, cooked just inside, were the freshest, but did not benefit much from the advantage. The chicken Parmesan sandwich would not have seemed out of place in a shopping mall (or airport) sports bar.
Pinkberry traveled the best, tasting exactly like, well, Pinkberry. Nate 'N Al, probably the restaurant with the best culinary reputation of the day, fared decently as well given the circumstances. The most pleasant surprise came from The Counter, whose small, thin burger patties actually managed to maintain a pink center, which shows some genuine forethought on their part. The burger still wasn't particularly good, but has anyone ever been served a great room-temperature slider from a disposable aluminum tray?
To be honest, we're not entirely sure what they tried to convince us of this morning. We've had all of this before. It's called airport food, and it tastes terrible.
Disclaimer: SSP, which is also bidding on the LAX contract, held its own cook-off last week, which this writer did not attend. Thus we are not making any comparison or any implicit comment that their food was any better or worse.