Whether you are the kind relative who will pick your guest up at the airport during the holiday season or you just need to kill some time before dropping off a loved one, turn that hellish drive/commute to Los Angeles International Airport into a memorable excursion. For travelers and locals alike, arrange a pre- or post-airport outing at one of these stand-out eateries that will be a welcome jaunt on your escapade to one of America's biggest and busiest airports in the world.
The Proud Bird
Opened in 1967 as a salute to achievements in aviation, the iconic Proud Bird, next to the LAX runway, boasts 12 vintage planes (some replicas). Newly revamped, its four firepits surrounded by picnic benches allow guests to dine outside and watch today's planes take off. Find interactive exhibits inside showcasing aviation history like America's first air meet, the Tuskegee Airmen, daredevil flyers and female air and space heroes. A food hall offers numerous restaurant options, including pizza, burgers, tacos, a kids menu, Asian fare and healthier salad choices from the farmers market. Bludso's BBQ serves up brisket, ribs and pulled pork smoked slow and low for up to 14 hours. Chicken and waffles can be found, too, along with the Double Cluck, a breakfast chicken sandwich with bacon, egg, maple syrup and maple butter. Wash it all down with a Starbucks cold brew from the bar or a personalized soft drink from the Coke Freestyle machine. Indulge on Sundays with the Unlimited Brunch Pass from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
If you're in the mood for a pre-flight buzz, you won't miss your plane while imbibing at the indoor bar due to conveniently located departure and arrival screens. Happy hour at the Mile-High Club is from 4 to 8 p.m., and if your flight is delayed or canceled, show your boarding pass for dedicated drink specials or a free shooter. After an aviation cocktail like Frequent Flyer Old-Fashioned, Next Stop Cancun or Puddle Jumper Wild Berry Mojito, you'll be soaring above the clouds before you know it. Expect $3 Bud Light Drafts, $4.50 craft draft beers, $6 wines on tap and $7 aviation cocktails.
Schedule in advance for a complimentary tour of the aviation exhibits with a docent on the weekend. For your budding pilot, take home a free plane poster and entertain your little ones on the aviation-themed jungle gym coming in 2019.
11022 Aviation Blvd., Westchester; (310) 670-3093, theproudbird.com.
Hal's Bar and Grill in Playa Vista
[Editor's note: Both Hal's locations were abruptly closed at the end of 2018.]
For almost three decades, Hal's Bar & Grill has been a Venice landmark, but now you can find Hal's on Runway Boulevard in the tech hub of Playa Vista with a live jazz brunch on Sundays and jazz on Mondays. At this new mod space filled with world-class contemporary art, sit at the wrap-around bar where you are sure to make friends fast. Spacious booths, high-top tables and outdoor seating with heat lamps enhance the restaurant's liveliness, along with intoxicating brunch punch bowls, top-notch wines and craft beers.
Chef Lee Garman's new menu includes braised short rib paired with chorizo red beans and rice; duck pan-roasted sea scallops with guava jelly and pickled jalapeno; and collard greens salad with blue cheese crumbles, crispy bacon, candied pecans and honey cider vinaigrette. Vegans can rejoice with the Impossible Burger. Our favorites include whipped avocado dip; hummus made from roasted pumpkin seeds; and the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich with house-made pickles, purple slaw, aioli and pimiento cheese. For a jazzy brunch, amp your day with blueberry vegan pancakes, osso bucco hash with truffled Hollandaise sauce, or baked eggs with crispy prosciutto, stewed tomatoes and broccoli spigarello. Before your LAX departure, enjoy happy hour daily from 3 to 6 p.m. and again from 9 p.m. to close.
12751 Millennium Drive, #140, Playa Vista; (301) 751-6834, halsplayavista.com.
Ayara Thai Cuisine
For 14 years the bustling family-run Ayara Thai Cuisine has been serving home-cooked Thai selections with California fresh-ingredient flair on a side street in Westchester. The simple restaurant creates authentic Thai dishes with a harmonious balance of flavors providing that unique Thai blend of sweet, sour, salty, creamy and spicy.
Order the rich coconut soup tom kha with Thai herbs, wild mushrooms, lemongrass, kaffir lime, Thai chili and your choice of shrimp, chicken or tofu. Healthy heaping cold shrimp spring rolls are stuffed with carrots, green leaf lettuce, cucumbers, alfalfa sprouts, egg noodles and sweet basil leaves. Wrapped with rice paper, the rolls come with Ayara's famous peanut sauce for dipping. The peppery crab fried rice is loaded with crab while the sweet and savory pad Thai overflows with egg and chicken. Try a northern Thai specialty like curry noodle soup (khao soi); the Ka-Pow Belly with spicy chili basil and greens stir-fried with thick pieces of crispy pork belly; or the sweet creamy red curry cu chee salmon with steamed broccoli.
With family recipes and cooking styles passed down through generations, the Asapahu family of Ayara Thai offers a taste of authentic Thai food using the freshest ingredients, with each dish prepared from scratch and enhanced individually by herbs and spices to ensure bold, genuine flavors.
6245 W. 87th St., Westchester; (310) 410-8848, ayarathai.com.
Superba Food and Bread at the Point
Known for its Venice location, Superba Food and Bread's bakery-cafe-restaurant expanded to the pleasurable outdoor shopping mecca at the Point. Dine outside in the warm sunshine and impress your out-of-town guests with a healthy Angeleno order: Brussels sprouts with melted onion and soft egg; avocado toast grilled with watermelon radish, beets and burrata; or a grain bowl with sprouted brown rice, baby kale, egg, almonds, avocado and seared tuna. Top off your perfectly L.A. order with a local beer or turmeric latte.
Consider sharing the smoked trout with caviar, horseradish and crème fraiche on sprouted rye crisps, the fried chicken sandwich on pain au lait, the Aspen Ridge cheeseburger, or the mushroom toast with raclette fondue.
Nearby, kids can release their cooped-up energy on the turf grass or jungle gym after sampling Superba's kids menu. Snag a few of Superba's fresh-baked pastries or desserts to-go as a nice little plane treat. We recommend the peanut butter cookie with Rice Krispies, the pear apple tart, bombolinis filled with cream, a chocolate croissant or a chocolate chip scone. In the summer, stay for a free concert on Wednesday nights and listen from Superba's outdoor seating.
830 S. Sepulveda Blvd., El Segundo; (310) 906-4598, superbafoodandbread.com.
Caló Kitchen + Tequila
A sophisticated Mexican restaurant and bar has popped up in El Segundo, bringing eager guests to take over Caló Kitchen + Tequila's bilevel mod space for midday spicy pineapple and chili margaritas and three-combo lunch plates (around $20) with options such as hard taco with beef, mole chicken enchilada, baked chili relleno stuffed with carnitas, and Mexican-style street corn smeared with chipotle cream.
The Heredia family has added to its numerous Carmelita's restaurants up and down the coast with a menu inspired by three generations of real family cooking. Think somewhat elevated Mexican fare in a fancier establishment decked out with fancy light fixtures ornate tilework, and leather seating. Complimentary chips arrive with warm pureed black bean dip and mild salsa. Hefty taco options include bacon and shrimp, pineapple and pork, Carmelita's rib-eye, and halibut. Diners rave about the short rib enchiladas and grilled rib-eye salad.
With more than a dozen margaritas and 60 tequilas (some rare), Caló Kitchen focuses on small-batch handmade sipping tequilas made “Tahona style,” using a volcanic stone wheel to crush the roasted agave hearts, separating the sweet juice from the pulp. You may enjoy these sweeter, smoother tequilas so much that you'll be happy LAX is just an Uber ride away. Besides ending with fried ice cream or caramel-stuffed churros dipped in chocolate or peanut butter and vanilla ice cream, you can pick up iconic Randy's Donuts and a Philz coffee (San Francisco–born) right next door.
2191 Rosecrans Ave., El Segundo; (424) 269-2322, calokitchen.com.
Uncle Bill's Pancake House
The Manhattan Beach area is an easy detour from LAX to walk around and stretch your legs. Nicknamed by some of us former East Coasters as “Westport” (as in Westport, Connecticut), this idyllic beach haven offers miles of beachside walking on the Strand past modern mansions and wide stretches of sand with beach volleyball. Watch the surfers or shop in town at numerous boutique shops. Pubs and upscale eateries abound. If you're looking for a homey diner with outdoor patio seating and views of the ocean, order lunch or a basic breakfast at Uncle Bill's Pancake House. This true Manhattan Beach classic — more than 50 years old — is where you go before 3 p.m. for pancakes and waffles. Try a cheddar cheese and bacon waffle or a pumpkin spice pancake. Your out-of-town guests will surely consider moving here after a visit to this laid-back surf community.
1305 Highland Ave., Manhattan Beach; (310) 545-5177, unclebills.net.
One reveler bragged of landing at LAX and taking the free shuttle at departures straight to the Courtyard Marriott and then walking to this eclectic, refined cool bar. With its midcentury-modern vibe, cozy seating, walls and ceilings lined in stretchy industrial cords and perfectly placed glowing orbs, Sam First is where you'll find the world's best jazz musicians. Order a classic old-fashioned, a nice pour from the decadent list of spirits or seasonal local beer and unwind to the smooth melodic tunes. On Sunday evening the intimate space was packed with an attentive audience relaxing to a jazz trio helmed by drummer legend Joe La Barbera with Eric Reed on the piano and 27-year-old Mike Gurrola on the bass. The booker (who is also a talented bassist) has great contacts, so expect the best new young talent in L.A. and legendary musicians to perform here. Just a little over a year old, Sam First serves after-work cocktails Wednesday through Sunday. Jazz is offered Thursday to Sunday nights starting at 8 p.m. with a second set at 9:30. You would never think an airport detour could be so unforgettable.
6171 W. Century Blvd., Suite 180, Westchester; (424) 800-2006, samfirstbar.com.
If you don't have much time, consider showing off L.A. to your friends with a pit stop at the iconic In-N-Out Burger drive-thru burger joint with the LAX runway across the street. The menu is small but mighty — burgers, fries, shakes and sodas. Order up a double double, animal-style fries (topped with melted American cheese, grilled onions and In-N-Out's signature spread) or a chocolate milkshake for a classic SoCal meal. Order off the secret menu for any number of patties in your bun, a lettuce-wrapped burger, or an animal-style burger where the beef patty is mustard-cooked with your choice of lettuce, tomato, pickle, grilled onions and extra spread. Need to eat in the car? They even provide paper printed placemats for your lap! See why Californians have been obsessed with this burger since 1948.
9149 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Westchester; (800) 786-1000, locations.in-n-out.com/117.