Japanese Cuisine

3 Great Bento Boxes in Los Angeles

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Mon, Jul 22, 2013 at 10:00 AM
click to enlarge Takamaru Gozen Bento
  • Takamaru Gozen Bento

Leading up to this year's Best of L.A. issue (due out Oct. 3), we'll be bringing you periodic lists of some of the best things we've found to eat and drink around town. Ice cream sandwiches and bowls of tsukemen, fish tacos and dan dan mien, cups of boba and glasses of booze. Read on.

There's something wholly comforting about a proper bento box, loaded with carefully organized selections: sides such as kyuri asazuke, or pickled cucumbers, to perhaps a cut of saba lightly salted then broiled. The very sight of a bento, generally in a laquered box, can elicit a rather primal thrill.

Not all Japanese restaurants in town will have bentos on their menu, but when they do, it's usually for lunch and as such priced rather reasonably. It's standard to get your bento with miso soup, salad and rice. Some kind of tempura, whether shrimp, vegetable medley, or both, may appear alongside as well. It's not always indicated on the menu, but you'll likely find bentos in the style of makanouchi, which comes with both fish and meat, vegetables, pickled plums known as umeboshi, rice and eggs, often pan-fried and rolled.

We scoped out three spots in town where bentos are best enjoyed on site. Turn the page.

click to enlarge Fu-ga Bento
  • Fu-ga Bento

3. Izakaya Fu-ga

Izakaya Fu-ga capitalizes on its location underground, all dim lighting and chocolate tones. It's enough of a retreat, away from the daytime Downtown bustle, that you'll be unsurprised to see the dining room nearly full at lunch, occupied by professionals working nearby. The Fu-ga bento comes with requisite miso soup, salad and rice, along with a small sashimi selection of tuna, salmon and albacore. You'll have seven options to choose for your main, including char-broiled rib-eye steak and bacon-wrapped scallops; and three choices, shrimp and vegetable tempura, a California roll or a spicy tuna roll, for a side. 111 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles; (213) 625-1722

click to enlarge Restaurant Aoi
  • Restaurant Aoi

2. Restaurant Aoi

Restaurant Aoi may be to the right of Marugame Monzo, but the family-run restaurant is as diametrically opposite in look and approach as it can get. While Monzo is sleek, from its decor to the fresh hand-pulled udon noodles, Restaurant Aoi is cozy, somewhat worn, with an array of familiar homestyle dishes. The restaurant is a consummate lunch spot, offering a dizzying range of choices, from donburi to house plate lunches to combination sets. The makonouchi bento, regular or special, best encapsulates why the restaurant maintains a steady base of regulars. Each regular set comes with shrimp and vegetable tempura, miso soup, pickled cucumbers, kinpira gobo, or burdock roots, fresh sashimi, and a highly habit-forming eggplant in sesame-miso sauce. The special also comes with broiled salmon and teriyaki beef. And you have a choice of white or brown rice with both. 331 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (213) 624-8260

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