Obento-Ya: Everyday chic in Japanese dining

Healthy, quick, and tasty Asian lunch

You could select all these items à la carte, but it'd be a damned shame not to order them as a bento. For a couple more bucks, the skewers, sushi, tempura, or fish fillets are served in a neat, compartmentalized box with sticky rice, tossed greens, and a scoop of creamy Japanese potato salad that's flecked with crunchy bits of cucumber and apple. Meticulous little garnishes tie all the elements together: spongy blocks of sweet scrambled egg, burdock root sautéed with carrot and sesame, and those addictive Japanese pickles that look like purple snails.

In recent months, Obento-Ya has started to feel more like a full-service restaurant, having acquired a fancy dessert list, a beer and wine license, and additional seating on the back patio. A local Japanese woman makes the pastries—I tried a fluffy, not-too-sweet, black sesame cheesecake and a pastel green tea roll cake stuffed with pastry cream and sweet red bean paste—which tend to be light, deliciously uncommon, modestly priced, and modestly portioned. In addition to the intriguing nonalcoholic beverages, such as the green-tea latte or a Ramune Japanese soda (the bottle is sealed with a marble that's kept in place by the pressure of the carbonation—it could keep kids occupied for hours), Obento-Ya now serves Japanese beers, red and white wines, and Hou-Hou Shou sparkling sake. When the Hou-Hou Shou's junior-size, sky-blue bottle arrived at the table, I wondered both how I might sneak the empty into my purse so I could take it home and fill it with flowers, and also if there was a limit to how much preciousness one could handle—a presh thresh I might cross over in the process. In any case, the creamy, frothy, fruit-kissed brew is the perfect thing for patio drinking, and Obento-Ya's backyard digs create a particularly hospitable oasis, tucked behind a fence with a tinkling fountain and a cluster of birch trees, along with a psychedelic mural and car-hood awning left behind by a previous tenant, an architecture firm.

A square meal: Bento box with tempura shrimp and vegetables
Jana Freiband
A square meal: Bento box with tempura shrimp and vegetables

Location Info

Map

Obento-Ya

1510 SE Como Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: University

Details

OBENTO-YA
1510 SE Como Ave., Minneapolis
612.331.1432; www.obento-ya.com
appetizers $4-$6; entrees $7-$20

One night, four of us wound down our meal as the place cleared out about 9:30 (they stop taking customers at 9). We'd stuffed ourselves with bentos, appetizers, beers, and dessert for a total of about $80. The flavors had been as vibrant as the lime-green accent walls, which are so bright they're almost squint-inducing. But I didn't dare close my eyes, or even blink, lest I open them to find Obento-Ya was just another model showroom.

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