Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving! Travel Well, Fellow Foodies!

There is so much to be thankful for this year: good health (relatively, considering the lack of effort), amazing friends (special thanks to Lindyhopper for taking in the stray on Thanksgiving again, and all that you do all year, love you!!!), incredible new job that I love that comes with so many opportunities to meet interesting new people and travel to new places (and of course, check out good eats)...

For those who are travelling this Thanksgiving - I am especially thankful that LAX has started to catch up with the rest of the modern world / metropolitan airports and began to install feeding posts that serve actual, edible food (oops, not supposed to let sarcasm through on this feel good holiday...).  With all the travelling this year I've had a chance to try some of the new spots, and thought I would start a running list share if you've tried something good, even great, so we can all vote with our $$$ for better dining options!  Foodies unite!

Of all the new spots announced to roll out at LAX, I was most excited about Skewers by Iron Chef Morimoto, one of the most creative and skilled Iron Chefs in my opinion. So I couldn't wait to see what he would serve up at this eatery in Terminal 5.  Judging by the name, you could expect meat on a stick.  But I happened to go on an early morning - they were serving only a limited breakfast menu, of which the most appealing thing to me was: Oyako Don chicken, egg and onion cooked in sweet soy sauce, served over white rice. If you go in with expectations of Iron Chef quality fare, you will be disappointed - the rice was tough and not fragrant, the egg a little congealed - it tasted like fast food, something you can get from the refrigerated case at your local Japanese grocery store.  But everything is relative, and compared to other food at LAX, I would say this is decent.

Since breakfast really isn't the specialty of Skewers though, I need to come back on another trip to check out their lunch offerings.  I managed to grab a glimpse at the lunch menu - see pic to the right - which focuses on kushiyaki (small bits of robata-grilled meats and seafood on a stick) and kushiage (deep fried panko-crusted meat and seafood skewers), all served over rice with veggies, and with curry options. Prices range from $9.95-$15.95.  Will let you know how these taste the next time I get a chance to visit.
Where the real treasure trove was for me on that trip to Skewers was the refrigerated case.  You know how it sucks that you can't have any sizeable drink in your carry-on anymore, so you're stuck with whatever the shops/stands at the airport care to sell you before you're stuck for hours on a plane with even more limited beverage choices? Well, now there's a place to get CALPICO and decent green tea at the airport - yep, at Skewers.  And that's not all - you can get DORAYAKI here!!!!!  Red bean filled pancake 'sandwiches' in a 5-pack. These were my favorite as a kid thanks to Doraemon, and actually make the perfect in-flight snack as they're not dry and salty and won't make you as thirsty. 
Update March 2013: Kushi yaki (pork) $13.95 for 3 skewers + steamed veggies + rice: if Yoshinoya served meat skewers, this is what it might taste like. Also totally oversauced and overpriced.Curried Kushiage (chicken) $13.95 for 3 skewers + steamed veggies + rice: panko crusted chicken skewers topped with thick curry sauce was better than the Kushi yaki and the chicken was quite tender and juicy. These skewers also seem bigger than the kushiyaki and definitely more filling. Given the still limited food options at LAX, I'd go for the kushiage again next time I'm at this terminal around lunch time.
Skewers By Morimoto on Urbanspoon
Another place with edible food is Lemonade, also in Terminal 5 pretty much right next to Skewers.  Yes, this is a branch of the popular chain that serves a wide variety of gourmet salads, entrees and flavored lemonades.  At LAX they have similar set up where you move through an assembly line where you can customize your plate from their offerings.  It was another early morning trip for me that would go through lunch, so I got the egg and cheese souffle and smoked salmon 'towers' to eat there, and a small container of truffled mushroom cous cous, and curried cauliflower to go.  The egg souffle was light and fluffy, but in the end not super flavorful and a little too rich in terms of amount of cheese and portion size for breakfast.  The smoked salmon was nice to be able to have at the airport, and tasted fairly fresh and delicious.  I loved being able to get a drink that tasted semi healthy and clean before being locked into a plane for a few hours - on this particular trip I got the watermelon rosemary lemonade.  Not as good as Pressed Juicery juices, but obviously not nearly as expensive either, and definitely great for LAX fare.
Lemonade on Urbanspoon

Another welcome sight at LAX is Sammy's Woodfired Pizza and Grill in Terminal 4 - with an actual wood burning oven you can see just beyond the open kitchen! I really wanted to try their Margherita pizza, but as it was another early morning flight I got their breakfast pizza to eat on the plane.  There was a huge line for the take out counter, no surprise, and I barely made my flight - even though they had some ready made pies in the case so I didn't actually have to wait for it to cook - the wait was for the cash register, and all the people who frustratingly were there just to get coffee.  So if you're planning to hit up this counter - depending on your flight time, try to make sure there's at least a half hour or so to stand in line and get your food.

The breakfast pizza ($14) was topped with egg, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon and cheese - and though the crust of course does not measure up to some of the amazing pies you can get in the city (i.e. Stella Rossa), it was leaps and bounds above what you have ever expected at an airport.

Nate 'n Al's Deli in Terminal 2 has a Matzo Ball Noodle Soup ($6.75) - which I would not crave when not at the airport especially at that price and quality (the matzo is a little dry and too dense, soup is fairly bland), but is a good soul-soothing comfort food option for weary travelers stuck at the airport for a while (beats $7 for fast food). You can also just slide up to the counter at the bar versus waiting for a table.

(Update April 2013): United Terminal 8: Marmalade Cafe offers some fresh-er looking salads, sandwiches, wraps and soups and also serves breakfast.

I tried the Quinoa Vegetable Soup ($7.95 large) as it was morning and I felt like something lighter but hot, before a business trip packed with what I know will be days of endless heavy handed Tex Mex. While it really needed more flavor, the soup was light, not greasy and tasted fairly fresh - and the quinoa actually had a nice soft but still structured texture. I also liked the look of the free range chicken pot pie, but it was too much food for an early morning flight. Making a note to check that out next time I have a flight out of this terminal.

(Update June 2014): Farmers Market at LAX is a new addition that I'm very excited about.  Located in Terminal 5, it's a mini market place inspired by the original and iconic Farmers Market on Fairfax.  There are little fruit stands and displays with delicious staples from famous food stalls at Farmers Market like jams and preserves from Monsieur Marcel, nuts and candy from Magee's.  There are also hot food stations from Farmers Market represented at the LAX food court.

On a recent trip, I loved that I could get a flavorful taste of  something that finally does LA food some justice on my way out of LAX, at Loteria Grill. 

Loteria Grill offers several breakfast served all day items as well as a menu of tacos organized by protein type (there is also one section for all veggie).  I went for the Pork Tacos with roasted pulled pork, citrus-pickled red onion and chile habanero a la carte no rice and beans.  It was served on a plastic tray fast-food style, but it is many levels above and beyond what you would have ever gotten in days past at LAX.  The pulled pork was tender and packed with flavor and delicious heat that toed the edge of my pain threshold in the best way.  All counterbalanced by the crunch and sweet acidity of the pickled onions and soft, fresh made tortillas. 
Given the great bites I had this last time and the full bar (with seating) next to the food counter: I will definitely be returning, and likely with Loteria Grill as my top choice in Terminal 5.

Oh, and did I mention they also serve agua fresca and horchata here?  Fantastic.

 Loteria Grill on Urbanspoon

 I also love Monsieur Marcel for brunch at Farmers Market, and was excited to try the offerings from their counter at LAX.

For breakfast, and because they are still fairly new, a lot of the menu was unavailable.  Thankfully, the Croque Monsieur was - I managed to grab one to go with minutes to spare to make my flight.  It was fairly decent, with cheese pleasingly pliable and flavorful even 15 minutes into the flight, when I finally got around to being able to dig into it - and the quality is definitely leaps and bounds above any breakfast sandwich that you could have gotten at LAX previously.
The other thing I love about Monsieur Marcel's Farmers Market set up at LAX is the marketplace: not only could you pick up delicious bites pre-flight (including Fabrique Delices pates and various charcuterie), you can also score some last minute gourmet goods as souvenirs, whether for yourself or those back home. And finally, items that are NOT just generics (mugs, t-shirts etc.) lazily emblazoned with 'Los Angeles' in some form of garish typeface, but thoughtfully curated goods that actually represent the incredible locally sourced products or flavors inspired by the makeup of the city, from Malibu honey (though, at $30 a jar, a bit painful) to Peach Jalapeno jam. 

LAX has a long way to go yet before it can become a place where travelers *want* to arrive early to grab a bite before heading out - and before that last bite can be capable of being the icing on the cake of happy adventures in LA for tourists - to be a place where you would *want* to schedule a layover, like Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Miami or other major international airports where they take utmost care with their dining offerings, as a last impression of the city for travelers.  But, it's a solid start and for that we give thanks to all the good people behind the scenes who set this in motion, and continue to move us forward on the culinary front.

I'll continue to add to the post as I check out more of LAX's offerings.

Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels!


LAX Los Angeles International Airport Dining (highlights)

Terminal 1 directory (departures)
  • La Brea Bakery (still need to try at LAX)
  • Pinkberry (still need to try at LAX)
  • California Pizza Kitchen ASAP (think this has been there, but a decent food option)

Terminal 2 directory (departures)
  • Nate 'n Al's Deli
  • La Brea Bakery (still need to try at LAX)
  • Wolfgang Puck Express (still need to try at LAX)

Terminal 3 directory (departures)
  • La Brea Bakery (still need to try at LAX)
  • Gladstone's (still need to try at LAX)

Terminal 4 directory (departures)
  • Sammy's Woodfired Pizza & Grill

Terminal 5 directory (departures)

  • Farmers Market: marketplace / mini food court that includes:
    • Loteria Grill
    • Monsieur Marcel
  • Campanile (still need to try at LAX)
  • Cole's (still need to try at LAX)
  • Burger Bar (still need to try at LAX)
  • Skewers by Morimoto
  • Lemonade

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing the good news about these wide array of food choices in LAX. Travellers can indulge in delicious food even in the airports. This is to help them keep going for the rest of the trip because food served in the plane might not suit their taste. :)



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