Few things go better with aviating than eating. There's something supremely magical about liberating yourself from the bonds of terra firma to land at a destination where a hot meal and good conversation await you. Unfortunately, pilots think about eating in the most boring and mundane terms. We fly more for the experience—not the food—and we accept mediocrity.
But flying has always been more about making a journey than simply taking a trip. Instead of just "flying," we prefer the experience of "aviating" and immersing our senses in the zen of aviation. Luckily, airport restaurant owners have discovered that great food attracts more than just pilots; amazing eateries now exist at airports across the country. Finding these aerial outposts of epicurean bliss is something I call "avidining," an apt portmanteau combining the best of both pursuits.
One California destination that shatters the "$100 hamburger" mold is Typhoon at Santa Monica Airport in Los Angeles. Typhoon, with its sophisticated pan-Asian cuisine, control tower–like view of the bustling runway and fascinating clientele, stands like a beacon in the fog of fly-in eateries.
I decided to fly to Typhoon in a Piper Cub to meet some friends and savor what may qualify as the most interesting menu of any airport eatery in existence. Typhoon attracts hordes of pilots and locals who know good food when they taste it.
Like an old Buick pulling up to the valet parking lined with BMWs and Ferraris, my Cub seemed a little out of place among the glitterati at Santa Monica. After all, celebrities from Angelina Jolie to Tom Cruise have called the airport home, and private jets are as common there as the seagulls. Still, on a glorious afternoon, I planted the trusty Cub on runway 21 in a decent three-pointer.
Typhoon hosts five tiedown spots right in front of the restaurant. The inside of Typhoon is like the briefing room at some mythical airport in Far East Asia. Behind the bar is an expansive backlit mirror with meteorological depictions and exotic map locales in the Pacific. Cement pillars are blanketed with tattered pilot certificates that patrons have put up during the last 18 years. Gaping windows bathe the place with luscious northern light. Frank Lloyd Wright would feel at home.
I spotted owner Brian Vidor at the entrance, greeting patrons as always. I had met Vidor before and immediately knew I liked him. Vidor is a no-nonsense guy; his wry sense of humor and attention to detail are refreshing. I had always thought he was just a good restaurateur, but I found out that he—like me—is a musician, and he proves the notion that anybody who goes out on the road performing develops a good sense of people.
Vidor left Pepperdine University as a guitarist and played the musician gig until he tired of it. He eventually became an exotic-animal broker and spent 15 years traveling throughout Asia and Africa. The experience infused him with a love and understanding of Asian life and culture. That love translated to the restaurant business and his opening of Typhoon in 1991.
Typhoon's menu reflects Vidor's knack for selecting the best offerings from diverse culinary palates. Japanese pork gyoza and Filipino fried squid exist harmoniously with Thai short ribs and Indonesian crispy noodles. The restaurant's more exotic fare may be strange to Americanized taste buds, but it's also expertly prepared and seasoned. Selections like Taiwanese crickets and Thai-style sea worms enhance the already sophisticated menu.
Beyond the food, Typhoon is an aviator's Shangri-La. The afternoon I was there, actor/pilot Harrison Ford was gracious enough to chat with us for a bit. Flyboys director Tony Bill was just finishing his lunch, and another Typhoon regular, Howard Israel, was willing to engage anybody in spirited aviation conversation. Israel has been coming to the restaurant for 15 years and is a fixture among local aviators. "Typhoon is our official pilot's debriefing room," he offered. "It's special—a place where brand-new students bump elbows with pilots who've been flying for decades."
Though Vidor is an experienced pilot and Cirrus owner, he says aviators are only a small part of his clientele. "Oh, I don't just cater to pilots," he laughed. "I couldn't stay in business!" The restaurant's vibe is enhanced with live music on Monday nights. Aviators are learning that excellent food and flying should go together. We're rediscovering that eating well is yet another great reason to take to the sky.
Contact: Typhoon Restaurant, 3221 Donald Douglas Loop, Santa Monica Airport (SMO), Santa Monica, Calif., (310) 390-6565, www.typhoon.biz.