You’re fresh off a cross-country flight, and the only thing that was left when the food cart got to your seat was a “cheese platter,” except they’d run out of cheese. Don’t succumb to the first thing you see when you get off the plane. Your reward for walking very quickly past Cinnabon is food that doesn’t come in a plastic container and is actually good. Though to be perfectly clear, you could do worse than Cinnabon.
The area around LAX is full of better options than anything in the terminal - from Thai in Westchester and Mexican seafood in Inglewood, to Roman-style pizza in El Segundo and In-N-Out right off the runway. So next time you need to pick something up before a flight or get a meal as soon as you clear baggage, check this guide for all the restaurants near LAX worth your while. Even if you did succumb to Cinnabon.
Travel involves a lot of decisions - like window or aisle, or if $20 is too much to pay for a hat you’ll probably never wear again. So if you don’t want to make yet another decision when you land, go to Zam Zam. This Pakistani market in Hawthorne has fantastic food and the best way to order is to ask the person at the counter what’s cooking that day. At that point they’ll just tell you to sit down - they’ve got this. What they’ll proceed to bring you will inevitably involve incredible biryani, a curry or two, maybe a kebab, and some garlic naan.
You’ve picked your best friend up from Terminal 5 at 2pm on a Saturday and she wants to reward you for your kindness with a celebratory lunch. Point your car towards Manhattan Beach and Fishing With Dynamite. This tiny seafood spot just off the main drag is the ideal welcome to California, especially if you order prosecco and the Peruvian scallops. Everything on the menu is fantastic, and once you’re done you can walk right down to the beach, since your friend probably doesn’t have one of those where she lives.
You spent a cross-country flight sandwiched between someone sobbing about a recent break up (who wouldn’t stop talking after you finally asked if he was OK) and the world’s most aggressive typist. Now that you’re free, all you want is excellent food, preferably in a place where people don’t burst into tears every 10 minutes. Jame has both those things, and is a short drive away from LAX in El Segundo. The pasta here is truly fantastic and seeing as all you ate on the flight was a crumbled granola bar, you deserve to order at least two of them. Plus a slice of the key lime pie.
The pre- or post-LAX In-N-Out stop is an LA rite of passage. If you’ve never had to run to your gate because you stopped for a Double Double Animal Style on the way to the terminal, you haven’t really lived. Eat there and you’ll get the added pleasure of watching tourists just order plain cheeseburgers and wonder what the hell the fuss is all about.
Taking the red eye seemed like a great idea when you booked your flight a month ago, but now it’s 8am, a guy has been kicking the back of your seat, and you suspect the coffee on the plane is secretly decaf. Time for an emergency trip to Phanny’s. This cash-only spot on PCH has one of the best breakfast burritos in Los Angeles, filled with carne asada and everything else you need to power up for the rest of the day. The coffee here is great too - and definitely not decaf.
Turns out, three hours was more than enough time to get to the airport. Don’t sit in the terminal and eat a terrible $15 salad. Take a little detour to Otafuku for soba noodles instead. There are three types, all made in-house, and this way you can pretend you’re going to Japan for a holiday instead of Arkansas for work.
You just got back from a weekend in your hometown where the only restaurants of note are a late-night diner and a Subway inside a gas station. You need some spice in your life. Al-Noor is a quick 10-minute drive from LAX and it’s home to the best Indian food in the city. Located in a strip mall in the tiny suburb of Lawndale, this traditional family-owned spot is where you go to get Indian staples like tikka masala, saag paneer, and the best garlic naan you’ve ever eaten.
You booked an early evening Thursday flight and are dreading the hour-long drive you will face if you leave the house anytime after 3pm. So leave earlier and have a long lunch at Coni’Seafood. The back patio at this Mexican seafood spot is sunny and laid-back, perfect for eating shrimp approximately a thousand different ways and washing it down with beers. You’ll be on your way to vacation mode in no time.
Located between a car wash and an apartment complex, Aliki’s doesn’t exactly have the strongest curb appeal. But don’t be fooled, this is some excellent Greek food at extremely affordable prices. Aliki’s is also a great option if you’re only here for a night and staying at an LAX hotel, because it’s one of the few places in the area you can actually walk to. The menu is massive, but stick to the classics - the greek salad with lamb gyro on top is one of our go-to’s.
After a three-hour delay and sitting on the tarmac for another 45 minutes, you’re finally off the plane, and you need a drink and a burger to enter your system as quickly as possible. The Tripel in Playa Del Rey should be your destination. The low-key neighborhood bar and restaurant isn’t big, but always manages to have an open table or a seat at the bar whenever you need one. The have a fantastic craft beer list, and both their Tripel burger and lamb burger are exellent. Get the shoestring fries on the side.
After spending a week in whatever tundra hellscape you grew up in, your frozen heart needs some thawing and ASAP Phorage is where you go to make it happen. The Vietnamese cafe inside the back of a convenience store in Playa Del Rey has fantastic pho (get the washugyu beef) and a curry banh mi that will make you wish all banh mis were like this. Service is also very efficient, ensuring you’ll be back in your Uber heading home fast.
Your flight’s at 6:30pm but you got down to LAX early to beat the 405 traffic. If you don’t want to sit at an airport bar and pay $21 for a bloody mary that’s 100% tomato juice, head to Cinco instead. The modern Mexican spot in Westchester has an extremely solid food menu of stuff like chicken mole, ceviche, and tinga taquitos you’ll be thinking about for the entirety of your flight. Happy Hour runs Monday-Saturday, 3-7pm.
An office park on the outskirts of El Segundo might not be what you were envisioning as your before-flight pitstop. Except that’s where you’ll find Il Romanista, a simple spot with a few seats and a whole lot of Roman-style pizza-by-the-slice. Which essentially means huge square pies with a focaccia-like dough and minimal Italian toppings, cut into slices with scissors and warmed up to order. We may or may not have sat in the parking lot inhaling these pre-flight, and you may or may not choose to do the same.
A tiny, family-run place in Inglewood, Front Page serves great Jamaican food that’s ideally located for driving past after you’ve picked up your rental car. Jump in line, get the oxtails, make your friend get the jerk chicken, and know you’re starting your LA visit in a strong way.
It’s 8am, your flight just landed, and the last thing you need is a second Starbucks spinach wrap this morning. Head to Playa Provisions, the all-day restaurant in PDR where you’ll find good coffee, good pastries, and a very good spicy breakfast sandwich. The space is large and casual, with a nice front patio where you can decompress before resuming real life.
When your flight is late, you have to be in Playa Vista for a meeting in 45 minutes, and you’re also about to eat your hand, you might be tempted to grab a boxed salad on your way out of the airport. Go to Da Kikokiko instead. This poke spot is right in the middle of the high-rise jungle that is this part of town, and you can grab a bowl to go pretty quickly. And then come back afterwards for some shaved ice.
When caffeine is your highest priority upon landing, Two Guns Kitchen is your very best option in the area. It’s a New Zealand cafe on Main St. in El Segundo, and just like their Australian cousins, NZ-ers know their way around a flat white. As well as excellent coffee, they serve a full menu of stuff like french toast, smoked salmon bagels, and a very good breakfast sandwich that comes on a pretzel bun.
If you’re headed to the airport from the middle of the city you know there’s one rule: always take La Cienega. But if we had to give you a second rule it would be: stop for brunch at Pann’s on the way. This old-school diner has been open since the ’50s, appeared in too many movies to count, and serves chicken and waffles we always order. They’re definitely not the best chicken and waffles you’ll find in LA, but you feel like you’re on the set of Pulp Fiction, so that doesn’t really matter.