During the pandemic in Los Angeles, restaurants were forced to pivot into to-go businesses, changing their products into packageable, easy-to-consume items that gave customers an experience close to eating inside their establishments.
One of the most delicious byproducts of this to-go swivel has been the proliferation of the bento box. To put it plainly, a bento box is a Japanese invention that is an assortment of cooked and raw meats, vegetables, and other delicacies, tightly packed into a to-go container that is tantamount to a lunch pail. The bento box turned out to be the perfect Covid-proof treat.
While most businesses around LA have reverted back to what they do best (mainly, eating inside), many Japanese establishments have stuck with their bento offerings, along with new bento businesses popping up, solidifying a trend that is here to stay.
Here are the best bento boxes in Los Angeles, which are sure to make your to-go experience all the more memorable.
The newest bento box in LA is also one of the finest – which shouldn’t be a surprise when you consider the source. Imari is run by chef Derek Wilcox (formerly of three-Michelin-starred Shoji in New York), and assisted by chef David Schlosser (Michelin-starred chef of Shibumi in Downtown LA). The two chefs bring an attention to detail and precision to food that is unrivalled in the city, and it shows in their delectable bento boxes that include everything from New Zealand tai sea bream and uni to tilefish and albacore. It’s a perfectly packaged delight in a box.
From the team that brought you SUGARFISH, KazuNori is a handroll bar that specialises in fresh fish, perfectly warmed rice, and salty seaweed for the ideal hand-filled bite. The group recently rolled out a Toro Tataki bento box that includes sustainably-ranched Bluefin from Mexico, and is packed with sushi rice, nori strips, salmon eggs, cucumber, and more.
Ima is actually a sukiyaki and shabu-shabu restaurant in Beverly Hills, which makes their bento boxes that much more exciting and unique. Here, you’ll find bento’s littered with A5 wagyu beef in a range of styles and flavours. The bento’s change all the time, all but ensuring a new takeout lunch experience with each visit. The one constant – A5 wagyu that melts in your mouth.
Chef Niki Nakayama is a pioneer of LA’s Japanese food scene and her fine-dining restaurant n/naka earned two Michelin stars in the most recent California guide. During the pandemic, Nakayama and her partner Carole Iida-Nakayama introduced elaborate to-go bento boxes that were a massive hit. As a result, the team opened a new restaurant, n/soto, that focuses on the to-go treat with an ever-changing menu of goodies. The latest is the Izakaya Bento that features grilled shrimp, teriyaki Jidori chicken wing, grilled salmon, Hokkaido scallop sashimi salad, a sushi roll with albacore, shrimp, avocado, and cucumber, and loads of other hidden specialties.
During the height of the pandemic, Thai chef Nan Yimcharoen turned her home into a bento-making factory, with elaborate, gorgeous, and delicious bento boxes for take-out. The success has now turned into a brick-and-mortar bento shop opening in Virgil Village. The three-layer boxes are good for 2-3 people and include a dizzying array of sashimi, sizzling wagyu, pickled veggies, and so much more.
The name Gozen is a portmanteau of Go and Zen which roughly translates to ‘five good things’. That ethos also translates into stunning, geometrically shaped bento boxes that highlight the ‘good things’ with excellent sake, water, meat, seafood, and vegetables. As you unveil each box, you’ll be thrilled to discover dishes that are steamed and raw, that include noodles, sashimi, smoked duck, and even a wagyu katsu sandwich
Helmed by chef Makoto Okuwa, Edobox is a modular bento box experience, which gives guests the opportunity to build their own bentos. The standard boxes are outstanding on their own, however, and fluctuate with tasty treats that include black miso cod, beef dumplings, fried chicken, and more. One of the more unique options is the Vegan Bento that is filled with mushrooms, cucumbers, and other herbivore-based items.