Some places come and go, while some places become icons. Mandatory Milwaukee is all about the latter. Join us as we revisit beloved and well-worn local staples with fresh eyes, and explore how they might figure in the city’s future.

Though it’s rarely ideal to do so, sometimes it’s just necessary to eat in your car. Maybe you’re scarfing down fast food between errands. Perhaps you’re famished partway through a long commute and need to shove something into your face. You might be brown bagging it at your job and want to get away from your workplace for a little while. Whether the result of sheer necessity under ever-intensifying capitalist constraints or plain old impatience, many Americans tend to squeeze in meals on the go.

Well, if you’re among the countless who consume in their car…and you happen to be driving near Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport when hunger strikes, we have just the place for you. Out on Layton Avenue—very close to south side stalwarts like Nite Owl and The Packing House, and in the vicinity of an abundance of fast food chains—is an unassuming parcel of pavement that’s bordered by barbwire fencing.

Though it doesn’t look like much from the road, this little lot grants motorists a front row view of takeoffs, landings, and other aviation-based happenings taking place at the airport. This otherwise average parking lot faces the airport’s runway, which sure beats trying not to make eye contact with a stranger parked beside you at Taco Bell.

You can add to the experience by turning your radio dial to 88.5 FM to listen to air traffic controllers communicating with each other.

You can watch the departures and arrivals from the temperature-controlled comfort of your automobile.

Or, if the weather permits, you can stretch your legs and enjoy a bite with a side of flight outside your vehicle.

Beyond aforementioned local favorites like Nite Owl (only open seasonally and usually closes before 2 p.m.) and The Packing House (which still does drive thru fish fry on Fridays), the airport-adjacent portion of Layton Avenue and the surrounding area is also home to lauded local establishments like Kim’s Thai, Layton Fruit Market, Suburpia, and Hot Dish Pantry, as well as a wide range of fast food favorites like: Taco Bell (arguably Milwaukee’s best location), Qdoba, Burger King, McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, Hardee’s (just off Layton Ave. in nearby St. Francis), Wendy’s, and a very-soon-to-open Taco John’s. Oh yeah, and Rocky Rococo, which we enjoyed during an Observation Area stop this week.

Just make sure to avoid littering. And don’t feed the birds!

Whether you’re an aviation enthusiast seeking a close-up view of the airport’s activity or you’re just looking for something interesting to look at as you take a Super Slice to the dome in your car, the MKE Layton Avenue Observation Area is there for you. At least until 10 p.m., when it closes every night.

Just look toward the airport when traveling east on Layton and turn into the lot when you see this sign and/or the consistent presences of other vehicles taking in the view at this unconventional airport attraction. Enjoy!

About The Author

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Co-Founder and Editor

Before co-founding Milwaukee Record, Tyler Maas wrote for virtually every Milwaukee publication (except Wassup! Magazine). He lives in Bay View and enjoys both stuff and things.