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Here’s Who Should Take Over LAX’s Closed Jetsons-Era Restaurant Space

Eater staff speculates on what should open inside LAX’s Theme Building

The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport
The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport
Carlos A Torres via Shutterstock

LAX’s flying saucer-esque Theme Building is impossible to miss, though it’s been a tragic figure in recent years. Its previous iteration, Encounter restaurant, closed in 2013 and remains empty. But LAX officials want a new project in the space, which may or may not include a restaurant.

Over the years, there is constant speculation on what might fill the iconic space, and LAist spoke to LAX officials about the Theme Building’s future plans. Conversation surrounding change is a frequent one, as the Los Angeles Times suggested the transformation might evolve into a restaurant or conference center with an adjacent hotel back in March.

If the Theme Building does venture in the direction of dining, Eater staff considered what to do with the space, and who might be a good candidate to operate it.

Farley Elliott, Eater LA Senior Editor

One possible option is for Jon & Vinny to take over the restaurant. The tag team has more name recognition than just about any other hot operator right now, and they continue to be great ambassadors for the city of Los Angeles. Not to mention the duo’s existing Delta in-flight food deal, and their adjacent commissary kitchen. If not them, then perhaps Wolfgang Puck is up to the task? He has a knack for going big, is a well-known brand, and isn’t afraid to think about what sort of food the tourists want.

If the place wants a more local feel, consider Dulan’s. The soul food staple could expand off its locations on Crenshaw and Manchester, and would offer travelers a real glimpse of the below-the-10 freeway eating that really keeps so much of the city fed.

Or, let’s think dramatic, and use the quirky location and space to its own advantage. Enter Jordan Kahn with a just-as-out-there Vespertine spin-off, complete with mood lighting and fine dining touches. After all, what better way to bring Kahn’s food to the world stage than by parking it at LAX?

Mona Holmes, Eater LA Reporter

Designers should start by sectioning off areas for cocktails, casual dining, and sit down dining. And when they do, add LA’s most recognizable foods and business owners to represent LA.

For ease and convenience, KazuNori is a solid choice. You never spend too much time waiting and their hand rolls or sashimi are perfect before or after a flight. Kazu Nori’s minimalist style also fits well within LAX’s Mid-century structure.

The fast food spot should be Tacos 1986, Monty’s Good Burger, or Howlin’ Rays. People will disembark from the plane and lose their minds if they have access to any of these hotspots. Hollywood’s gorgeous tiki bar Lono should handle the cocktails.

And if sitting down for a while is an option, Venice’s The Rose would be a gorgeous and modern add. They’re pros, can create a vibe, and passengers will have the luxury of ordering an outstanding meal from one of LA’s most enduring restaurants.

Matthew Kang, Eater LA Editor

Just put a food hall of the greatest hits from LA in there. Howlin’s Ray’s, Kazunori, Tacos 1986, Chego, Night + Market (quick service khao soi, anyone?), All Flavor No Grease, and Mariscos Jalisco. Throw in a couple of great craft beer, coffee, and cocktail stalls and it’ll be a big draw for travelers and locals alike. I don’t think anything fancy or time-consuming is going to work (like, Howlin’ Ray’s should do a chicken tenders-only stall, or just fried chicken sandwiches). And a secret eight-seat $100 omakase that takes only 40 minutes to eat would be a cool thing to hide somewhere in the building.

The other option is just to turn it into the coolest In-N-Out burger ever. Yes, figure out how to make it a drive-thru too.