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One of the frustrations of living in Los Angeles and traveling through LAX is the lack of good food options near the airport — the other is the maddening absence of an airport train. While LAX has made great efforts to improve the culinary offerings in its terminals, the surrounding neighborhood doesn’t inspire greatness in terms of nice places to eat with airport views, except, of course, for the In-N-Out burger on Sepulveda Blvd, a mecca for anyone who loves plane spotting.
Enter The Proud Bird, the historic restaurant located directly across the street from LAX. First opened in 1967, it closed in 2016 for extensive renovations and reopened in June 2017 just in time for its 50th anniversary. While sporting a new look and reimagined food bazaar, the restaurant deepens its relationship to aviation and its history — let’s just say the connection doesn’t end with its address on Aviation Boulevard. Here’s a look at the recently renovated restaurant that should be on every AvGeek’s bucket list.
The Aviation-Themed Food Hall
With about 16 aircraft on the property — some real, some replicas — and close-up views of jets landing at LAX, this is not just a place near the airport that puts up photos of airplanes and cleverly names cocktails, although both of those things happen here. When the hostess greets you and says “Welcome Aboard,” you know you’re in for a high-spirited aviation-themed experience. Diners are even given a “boarding pass” to order from six different food counter menus.
It’s hard to miss the P-40 Flying Tiger replica hanging from the ceiling and the terrific display about the Tuskegee Airmen. It takes some more looking to find gems like the timeline of military aircraft that’s upstairs, the tribute to Elon Musk that’s across from the bar and some vintage advertising posters in the hallway near the restrooms.
Other nice touches include FlightAware TV displayed on monitors behind the bar and airplane-themed carpeting in the meeting rooms. Even the name of the place is a nod to Continental Airlines.
The real treasure of course is the outdoor air park behind the restaurant, which features authentic parked aircraft including a MiG-15, an A4 Skyhawk and a DC-3. Kids can spin the propellers of other replica aircraft as enormous planes from around the world land nearby at runway 25L. The Proud Bird offers guided aviation tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays. In addition to the food hall and bar, the property houses six event spaces and has hosted conferences, weddings and proms.
Food and Beverage
You could take away all the aviation accouterments and I would still come here for the food. Partnering with Bludso’s BBQ is an inspired choice; it’s an authentic LA institution that recently had to close its original location. Easily one of the top barbecue joints on the West Coast, Bludso’s brings a condensed menu to The Proud Bird that still features its ribs, brisket and pulled pork — it’s easily the best food I’ve had within miles of LAX.
Other offerings highlight Asian, Italian and American cuisines, some more innovative than others. The fried chicken came with a waffle and had about an inch of skin and breading before the meat appeared — I’m not complaining; it was excellent — while the pizza was hot and fresh with chewy dough and great texture.
The full bar, cheekily dubbed “The Mile High Club,” features wine, 13 beers on tap and a selection of specialty cocktails — four of which I happily sampled.
The best of the bunch was a Co-Pilot Strawberry Mule, made with vodka, ginger beer, muddled strawberries and lime juice. It was hard to put down.
For appetizers, the fried pickles were perfect, sour and crispy in all the right places. The loaded tater tots were a miss, held down with too much blue cheese and cured bacon. Note that there are also healthier options available, but I tend to find travel days to be the time when I really could use some comfort food.
The happy hour menu is available all day to travelers who present a same-day LAX boarding pass. Also for weary travelers: a free shot with proof of a delayed or missed flight.
This isn’t some restaurant with a couple planes thrown on it. The whole place drives home a real respect, admiration and reverence for aviation history. At the same time, if you don’t care about any of that, it serves amazing ribs.
The only real downsides for travelers are its limited hours — it’s only open until 9:00pm on weeknights — and the difficulty in arriving without a car. Though a short Uber/Lyft/taxi away from LAX, there’s no easy bus or shuttle option for passengers hoping to stop by on a quick layover. Meanwhile, if you’re just visiting the LA area and want to stop by, there’s plenty of free parking.
For an Angeleno like me, I’ll definitely be stopping by more on the way to the airport — give me great ribs, cocktails and views of airplanes and I’m a happy traveler. For fans of aviation, The Proud Bird soars.
Have you ever been to The Proud Bird? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.
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