The concept of washoku—the harmony of food—is at the heart of Japanese cuisine. This cooking philosophy is designed to be both nutritionally fulfilling and aesthetically engaging: just the right balance of textures, flavors, colors, and smells. Outside of an elaborate multicourse kaiseki meal, the best and most accessible way to fall under the spell of washoku is with a bento box.
Sushi Murasaki strikes that artful balance. The restaurant’s lunchtime bento has a simple elegance, including a cluster of crunchy shrimp tempura, a bowl of assorted sashimi, a broiled fillet of fish, and a cup of gently cooked vegetables with a soft egg. The intention behind these pairings is obvious. Even the starkest contrast in flavor or texture seems not just fitting, but necessary.
At Honda Ya Box, the bento-centric spinoff from the Honda Ya chain, all revolves around the combination plate. Bento boxes are for takeout only (meals are served simply on white plates), but the influence of washoku is evident. So whether you order a combination plate loaded with expertly fried chicken or tender braised pork, expect a bowl of miso, a mound of rice, a fresh salad, and an ever-changing side to bring that same, if decidedly less graceful, balance.
Miyabi Tei inside Mitsuwa Marketplace is all about quick comfort. The restaurant’s homey style is what you get with the daily special bento box, which changes so frequently—one day it might be seared salmon, another, a pork cutlet—that you could probably eat here a few times a week and not have the same meal twice. Even with such a speedy kitchen, there’s harmony in these flavors.
2901 W. MacArthur Blvd., Santa Ana
Honda Ya Box
2969 Fairview Road
665 Paularino Ave.
Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue.