Trendspotting: Bento Boxes

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Are Bento Boxes the new sandwich wraps?

All of a sudden, bentos are everywhere, inciting flashbacks to the tortilla attack of the early 2000's, when everything but old gym socks was getting the "roll it up and call it lunch" treatment. Now everything's going in a box.

Both fads are rooted in tradition: Tortillas, of course, have been a go-to staple in Latin American countries for centuries. Likewise, conveniently compartmentalized meal containers called bento have been enjoyed by the Japanese for hundreds of years. As with most restaurant trends, however, the bento boom is marked by wide variations in quality and execution.

At their best, the boxes hold a delicious selection of protein, rice and condiments for mixing and matching. On the other end of the spectrum are overpriced schlock boxes filled with random odds and ends (kinda like the aforementioned "kitchen sink" wraps).

A bento sampled at Manow last week ($13) fell into the latter category. For starters, its near jerky-like chicken skewers (sans dipping sauce) necessitated an emergency mid-day flossing. Their flavor indicated they'd been pre-cooked, perhaps hours in advance. A silken salmon filet in coconut curry broth salvaged the meal from a flavor standpoint, but still didn't justify the high price tag.

Up the Tollway, Legacy NAAN's bento ($8) offers a satisfactory experience on the whole. The Korean-slash-Japanese restaurant tosses a crisp green salad and tempura veggies into their boxes, which can be filled with various teriyakis, ribeye steak, or tofu ($3 more will get you short ribs or sushi). Teriyaki salmon sampled was tame, but sides of cabbage and bean sprout kimchi livened up the meal.

Below you'll find a list of a few more bentos available around town. Do your own trend research and tell us know what you think, or if we've forgotten your favorite, let us know.

  • Mr. Sushi
    Wide selection, including chicken teriyaki with fried oyster and ginger beef and sushi combinations. ($10-20)
  • Blue Fish
    Lunch bentos include chicken and beef teriyaki, grilled salmon, fried chicken and sushi. ($12-16)
  • Yutaka
    Choose chicken teriyaki ($9.50) or miso black cod ($14.50).
  • Kyoto
    Many options, including teriyakis, shrimp tempura and sesame chicken. All come with miso soup and California roll. ($10)
  • Zenna
    Many entrée choices featuring veggies, tofu, meats and seafood. ($6-11)
  • Sushi Axiom
    Lunch bento comes with sushi, sashimi and a roll. ($11)

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