BINGO board featuring restaurants serving bento boxes
Credit: Julia Terbrock

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The beauty of the bento box is its ability to travel, making it, like a sandwich, an ideal meal during the pandemic, when diners have prioritized takeout and outdoor hangs.

If you board a train in Japan, you’ll see office workers and sightseers bent over impeccably assembled containers, with each compartment containing iconic components of Japanese cuisine: light and fluffy tempura, glistening grilled fish, white rice, savory stewed vegetables, fried snacks, seasonal salads, pickles, and slightly sweet omelettes. Bento boxes served on-site at restaurants often contain sushi and sashimi.

Bentos are also a popular picnic food, especially during cherry blossom season when “hanami bentos” are consumed at the base of flowering trees. And, if a Japanese school doesn’t offer school lunch, kids bring cute or “kawaii” bentos that often feature animal faces or famous characters lovingly crafted by parents.

While the bento isn’t as ubiquitous in the U.S.—you can’t find them in department stores, at convenience markets, or on train platforms—there are plenty of restaurants that sell them locally. Little gets lost in transport because bentos are actually meant to be eaten at room temperature. The containers they’re packaged in keep all of the components from clashing in the back of a car, and all you need to eat one on-the-go is a pair of chopsticks.

See if you can yell BINGO by stringing together five bento box meals using the board above. Below you’ll find which bento box City Paper recommends at each restaurant, as well as pricing and when it’s available. Some are steals, others are splurges. Restaurant hours continue to be fluid during the pandemic. Should operations change, City Paper will update the details.

D.C. Restaurants:

Photo of Kintaro bento box by Laura Hayes

1039 33rd St. NW
Bento box with fried oysters or fish, sashimi, rice, pickles, homestyle meat dish, and miso soup ($15, lunch only)

Kaz Sushi Bistro
1915 I St. NW
Vegetarian bento box with a vegetable sushi roll, tempura, Brussels sprouts, seaweed salad, hijiki seaweed, miso soup, and rice ($24 for dinner, restaurant currently closed for lunch)

Sushi Taro
1503 17th St. NW
Japanese-style fried chicken (karaage) bento with panko-fried shrimp and vegetables, pickles, and rice ($15, lunch and takeout dinner)

Izakaya Seki
1117 V St. NW
Rotating bento box features main dishes like ebi furai (fried shrimp) or roasted salmon ($23.50, carryout only from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.) 

Daikaya Mini Market
705 6th St. NW
Hambagu bento with Japanese hamburger steak, chopped romaine, napa cabbage, cherry tomatoes, and soft boiled egg over steamed rice ($15, pick-up only Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m)

Korean brisket bento at Teaism by Noldon Photography

2009 R St. NW
Korean brisket with gochujang sauce bento box with miso sweet potatoes, cucumber with tosazu dressing, and rice ($15, lunch and dinner)

1900 Q St. NW
Deluxe bento with sashimi, ribeye steak, miso-marinated black cod, shrimp and vegetable tempura, seaweed salad, rice, and miso soup ($42, dinner only) 

1811 Columbia Road NW
Pork tonkatsu bento box with seasoned rice, pickled vegetables, tamagoyaki (Japanese-style omelette), nasu agedashi (eggplant in dashi broth), potato salad, squid salad, miso soup ($16, restaurant currently open for dinner only)

Photo of Cranes omakase bento box by Christian Ward

724 9th St. NW
Bento box “omakase” with mushroom soup, pickled endives with stracciatella cheese, smoked pork dumpling, vegetable tempura, arroz de chorizo with a sous vide egg, chicken yakitori, and gulf shrimp. ($26, weekdays from noon to 4 p.m. for dine-in and noon to close for takeout and delivery) 

505 H St. NW
Bento box A with four pieces of nigiri sushi, chicken teriyaki, seaweed salad, shrimp and vegetable tempura, miso soup or salad, and orange slices ($23, lunch and dinner)

The Hamilton
600 14th St. NW 
Salmon bento with five pieces of salmon nigiri sushi, salmon over seaweed salad, spicy salmon roll ($17.99, lunch and dinner)

3312 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Deluxe bento box with sushi, sashimi, California roll, beef tenderloin, shrimp and vegetable tempura, and seaweed salad ($17, lunch only) 

815 7th St. NW
Salmon teriyaki bento box with choice of sushi roll and rice ($19.20, carryout only, lunch and dinner)

2026 P St. NW
Sushi bento with nigiri sushi, tempura, sushi roll, a grilled dish, and rice ($15.50 at lunch, $16.25 at dinner)

Maryland Restaurants:

5455 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase
Sushi and sashimi bento box with two pieces each of tuna, salmon, and yellowtail sashimi, four pieces of chef’s choice nigiri sushi, choice of roll (spicy tuna, salmon avocado, blue crab California, or crunchy avocado cucumber roll), miso soup, seaweed salad, and salmon tartare ($22.50, carryout only, 3:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.)

Sushi Jin Next Door
8555 Fenton St., Silver Spring
Tempura bento box with mixed tempura, California roll, vegetable dumplings, and miso soup ($12.95, lunch only)

Hanaro Sushi
7820 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda
Eel box with four pieces of eel over rice, four pieces of California roll, chef’s appetizer, miso soup, small salad ($12, lunch only, dine-in or call-in takeout order)

Tako Grill
4914 Hampden Lane, Bethesda
Tonkatsu (fried breaded pork) bento box with rice, vegetables, omelette, shrimp, shumai dumplings, and pickled radish ($18, lunch and dinner)

706 Center Point Way, Gaithersburg
Sashimi bento box with tuna, salmon, and whitefish sashimi, tuna roll, kurobota pork, shrimp shumai, roasted cherry tomato, portabella mushroom and green beans, house salad, and miso soup ($18, noon to 2 p.m. only) 

Yuzu bento box courtesy of Yuzu Japanese Dining

Yuzu Japanese Dining
7345 Wisconsin Ave., Unit B, Bethesda
Regular bento box with grilled mackerel, chicken, vegetable spring roll, tofu, oshinko pickles, kanikama (crab stick), rice, seaweed salad, and miso soup ($12.95, restaurant currently open for dinner only)

Northern Virginia Restaurants:

Maneki Neko
238 W. Broad St., Falls Church
Dinner bento box with miso soup, salad, rice and either two or three selections from the following: assorted sushi, assorted sashimi, California roll, spicy tuna roll, beef teriyaki, chicken teriyaki, salmon teriyaki, tonkatsu (fried breaded pork), and shrimp and vegetable tempura ($19 for two choices, $23 for three choices, dinner only). A similar combo-style bento box is available during lunch.

6715 Lowell Ave., McLean
Bento box A with shrimp tempura, grilled salmon, yakitori (grilled, skewered chicken and vegetables), tamago (Japanese-style omelette), hijiki seaweed, and miso soup ($18, lunch only) 

1209 King St., Alexandria
Shidashi bento box (intended for special gatherings) with four to five rotating cooked dishes with a selection of sashimi ($48, dinner only) 

310 S Washington St. B, Falls Church
Deep-fried soft shell crab bento with sushi, rice, soup, salad ($18, lunch only)