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
Ayara Thai Cuisine
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
Del Rey Deli Co.
Corrina Murdy, Tim Edwards and chef Vince Howard replaced a Playa del Rey strip mall flower shop with a sandwich shop in 2013. Their mantra is "sandwiches are our business," and they sell plenty from a glass-fronted establishment with communal tables, a reclaimed wood counter and blackboard menu. Deli sandwiches with cold cuts are the main draw, including a muffuletta with capocollo, mortadella, prosciutto, salami, pepperoni, ham, Swiss, Provolone and house olive spread on ciabatta. Three different pastrami preparations dominate hot "sammiches," including the New Yorker with slaw pickles and mustard on “Seinfeld”-ready marble rye. During weekend brunch, the owners stretch their sandwich and salad repertoire to include salmon BLT with house-cured gravlax. 8501 Pershing Dr., Playa Del Rey, (310) 439-2256, delreydeli.com
Front Page Jamaican Grille
LAX seems to be a magnet for Caribbean cuisine, considering all the restaurants that represent the region in surrounding neighborhoods, and Front Page may be the best. Valdo Carlyle, who is from Saint Thomas, Jamaica, teamed with wife Pamela and their sons on this strip mall destination with walls painted yellow, black, and green — like the Jamaican flag. Oxtail is sliced thin, slow cooked and peppery. Spoon on house-made reggae sauce. Chicken and pork loin are both treated to spicy jerk seasoning and served with greens, beans, rice and fried plantains. If you have the time, wait 40 minutes for whole roasted snapper (or perch) that comes out from the kitchen in a blanket of spicy, curry-soaked cabbage. In case you’re craving more spice, consider their house-made ginger beer. Flaky yellow patties, hand pies filled with chicken, beef or spinach, make a great on-board snack. 1117 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood, (310) 216-9521, frontpagejamaicangrille.com
Grimaldi’s New York-based coal-fired, brick oven pizzeria is now in full expansion mode, with branches across the country. El Segundo is the first California outpost, located amid office buildings and studios. The sprawling space features an outdoor patio, red-and-white checked tables, wine bottle chandeliers, and a glass-fronted kitchen with a coal oven. The menu is fairly compact, with a choice of pizza with tomato sauce and cheese, white with garlic, or pesto. Each pizza is also customizable with toppings. They also serve a crispy calzone filled with mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan, with dipping sauce on the side. There are also salads, including a Caesar with coal oven-baked croutons. Local craft beer is available by the pint. 2121 Rosecrans Ave., El Segundo, (310) 322-6220, grimaldispizzeria.com
Orleans & York Deli
The owner is from New York, his mother has ties to New Orleans, and that fusion has helped fuel a pair of delis, which dispense Orleans PoBoys or York Heros. For po’ boys, they brush house-baked bread with butter before and after baking, and fill them with ingredients such as fried oysters, chicken or salmon. Muffullettas include a Cali version with turkey, salami, Havarti, avocado and olive salad. Gumbo Mumbo includes bell pepper, onion, shrimp, chicken, ground sirloin and sliced beef sausage links between bread. There’s even an off-menu, Asian-inspired hybrid, the Cajun Asian, with fried shrimp tossed in sweet spicy sauce and served with avocado over steamed white rice. Raid the fridge for sides such as Cajun potato salad and peach pudding. 4454 W. Slauson Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 291-8800; 400 E. Florence Ave., Inglewood, (310) 671-6200, orleansandyorkdeli.com
George and Rena Panagoplous opened Pann’s in 1958. It’s been more than five decades since the restaurant opened, but the owners are still committed to comfort, whether that means country-fried steak with eggs and buttermilk biscuits at breakfast, a “dreamburger” at lunch, or a plate of fried chicken at dinner. Sit at the counter and order a Blue Plate Special, which could mean a Stuffed Bell Pepper with Tomato Sauce (Monday), Old Fashion Beef Stew (Wednesday) or Bouillabaisse (Friday). Before you leave maybe get a slab of sock-it-to-me cake for your flight. 6710 La Tijera Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 776-3770, panns.com.
Three Flames has dispensed Mongolian BBQ from a strip mall space with pagoda wallpaper and wood tables since 1973. Choose your own adventure for the gigantic convex grill. Pork, beef or poultry are all in play, as are noodles, vegetables and sauces of varying spice levels. Or upgrade to lamb or shrimp. In recent years, Three Flames has diversified with a Mongo Cheesesteak, a play on the Philly classic with thin-sliced ribeye, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions and a slice of American cheese stuffed in shao bing (pocket bread). 5608 W. Manchester Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 641-6868.