The Bento Box is a delicious diamond in the rough
By Madison Rutherford
The Bento Box is a hidden gem.
Seriously – trying to locate it is like a treasure hunt.
Once you finally find it (burrowed behind Lowe’s, between Café Rio and Ray’s Pizza in Happy Valley Towne Center), don’t be deterred by its unassuming appearance. It’s sometimes difficult to tell if a spot is worth your time when it’s buried beneath dozens of chains in an enormous strip mall, but The Bento Box is the sleeper hit of sushi restaurants; it may be easy to miss, but it’s certainly worth the hunt.
Step inside and lo-fi music, a smiling sushi chef, rich, ruby-colored walls and glistening wooden floors will put you at ease before you even sit down to order. Though it’s small and simple, The Bento Box is largely lauded as a local favorite, with major points for affordability, freshness and fast, friendly service.
The dinner menu boasts udon noodles, ramen and bowls between $7 and $15, and of course, a slew of the restaurant’s namesake – a tray teeming with your choice of shrimp, chicken, pork, beef or salmon, house salad, vegetable tempura, a four-piece California Roll and a pork pot sticker. If you don’t want one of the sides, you can ask your server to add more of another; I opted for the Shrimp Teriyaki Bento Box ($14.95) with extra tempura instead of the pot sticker. It’s reasonable to be skeptical of a sushi place in a landlocked city like Phoenix, but The Bento Box packs a serious punch when it comes to seafood. The teriyaki shrimp is small but flavorful, sprinkled with sesame seeds, shrouded in sauce and served with soft, steamed veggies.
The sushi menu features an array of both classic and creative concoctions, with offerings like the spicy Orgasm Roll and crunchy Deep Fried California Roll. Try the piquant, shrimp-packed ASU Roll or the Soft Shell Crab Roll, stuffed with crab tempura, avocado, cucumber and eel sauce.
If you’re looking for no-frills Korean and Japanese cuisine and straightforward sushi without all the bells and whistles, The Bento Box fits the bill. But that doesn’t mean the restaurant doesn’t have a few tricks up its sleeve. With dishes like the sweet and spicy Cinco De Mayo Roll – which features cilantro, jalapeño, cream cheese and white fish – The Bento Box ventures into fusion food territory. But the real star of the show is the “Tears of a Ninja” appetizer: six fried jalapeños stuffed with ahi tuna and cream cheese and smothered in Sriracha and spicy mayo.
To be fair, I don’t ask a lot of a sushi place: Is the tempura crunchy? Is the miso hot? Does the maki stay intact when you dunk it in soy sauce? The Bento Box meets all of these benchmarks, but a pickier sushi purist might disapprove. On the bright side, parking is plentiful – even if you have to drive around the shopping center a few times to discover your destination.