LAX may have upgraded its in-terminal food offerings, but the restaurants ringing the airport still provide better, more diverse, and cheaper ways to fuel up before or after flying into the city. Here are 10 places to eat within 5 miles of Lot C, rental car returns and the gates. Listed alphabetically, these are restaurants with international diversity — a benefit to travelers and Angelenos alike — that don't have LAX equivalents.
The late, great Alejo Castro, who helped to create La Scala’s much-loved chopped salad in Beverly Hills, opened his own restaurant in Westchester, right between LAX and Loyola Marymount University. Alejo’s Salad is still there, a mix of mozzarella, lettuce, garbanzo beans, salami, tomato, turkey, bacon and red cabbage in a tangy, canary-yellow dressing. Beyond that, your best bets are Italian American classics such as spaghetti with meatballs (and meat sauce) and chicken piccata with white wine, lemon and garlic. Factor in complimentary bread with garlic-bombed olive oil, and you’re liable to smell like garlic for at least a couple days. That probably won’t please your fellow fliers, but it sure tastes good. 8343 Lincoln Blvd., Westchester, (310) 670-6677, alejosrestaurant.com
Vanda Asapahu presides over her family’s side street restaurant, named for a white elephant that carried the Thai king in a famous children’s book. Ayara has been open for over a decade, and the food is better than ever. Dishes such as boat noodle soup and baked river prawns with glass noodles are tough to find outside Thai Town. They do right by dishes like crab fried rice, made with actual crab meat, and kai jeaw, a fluffy omelet. Ayara also bottles a line of Thai sauces, including peanut and chile-lime, but you’ll have to check your bottles if you want them to reach your destination. 6245 W. 87th St., Los Angeles, (310) 410-8848, ayarathaicuisine.com
Malik Awan, a native of Haripoor, Pakistan, opened his restaurant in 1999, naming it for his oldest son. Bilal Halal is located in Airport Plaza and features faux green marble tables and cherry oak wood walls. Indo-Pak classics, many prepared in the tandoori oven, include chargra, a well-spiced barbecued chicken; ground beef seekh kabab and naan. Chapli kabab is a specialty of Peshawar featuring deep-fried beef patties seasoned with tomato, onion, cilantro and coriander. For adventurous eaters, slow-cooked shanks from cows and lamb are also available, as is maghaz masala, stir-fried cow brains. To quell the spices, Bilal serves sweet mango lassi and savory Afghani lassi with cucumber, cumin, salt and lemon. 1117 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood, (310) 641-4435, gobilal.com
Coni’Seafood, a joint effort from Nayarit-born owner Connie Cossio and Sinaloan chef Sergio Penuelas, serves some of the best Mexican seafood in L.A. Coni’seafood’s pescado zarandeado is practically a religious experience, with a butterflied, char-grilled snook lavished with soy sauce, mayo and spices. Served with caramelized onions, corn tortillas and house-made salsa, it makes fantastic tacos. Raw seafood preparations are also popular, including aguachile, which bathes shrimp in lemon juice, lime juice and jalapeno salsa. Langostinos showcase the crustaceans in a spicy pool of garlic, red chile, lemon juice. 3544 W. Imperial Hwy, Inglewood, (310) 672-2339, coniseafood.com