Three weeks ago, L.A. Bento quietly opened on a nondescript street in Glassell Park, in the tiny space that used to be Julie's Gourmet Cafe. L.A. Bento specializes in, as you might imagine, bento boxes. Specifically, take-out and delivery lunch bento boxes, comprised of sandwiches made on Breadbar bread, market-driven salads, house-made potato chips and cookies. You order from a selection of sandwiches and salads, which are packed in smallish cardboard boxes compartmentalized like the Japanese lunch boxes from which the place takes its name.

Owner Steve Fortunato (Room Forty) has transformed the little cafe into what resembles a woodsman's hut (Fortunato is from Northern California, and liked the rustic outdoorsy look), with outdoor seating and a wooden drop-down service window. L.A. Bento is a coffee and take-out stand and in the morning–they're only open until 10 a.m.–serving coffee from Jones Coffee Roasters and pastries from South Pasadena's Heirloom Bakery, after which they close down and transform into a delivery business.

lunch to go; Credit: A. Scattergood

lunch to go; Credit: A. Scattergood

Chef Chad Aaland, who has worked at Craft and 750 ml, fills the $10 boxes with his salads (orzo with blistered corn and chipotle vinaigrette, quinoa salad with pickled onion and lime vinaigrette), chips, cookies and house-made pickles, and sandwiches (muffletta with Niman ranch meats and pepperoncini, jidori chicken salad with fines herbes), which are made to order. The daily delivery route is posted every morning on Twitter; deliveries on this route are free.

Fortunato says that, given this economy, “now is the time to be resourceful,” and that a high-end lunch delivery service filled a needed niche. “A lot of companies have downsized their lunch allowances; we thought we'd do a fine dining version. And the concept of having your lunch in one box is kind of cool. It's the Room Forty take on the lunch box.”

L.A. Bento: 3329 Division St., Los Angeles. (323) 221-1060. (Website under construction.)

LA Weekly