Gallery: 8 Great Bento Boxes in Chicago

Bento Box at Sumi Robata Bar ($15)
Bento Box at Sumi Robata Bar ($15)

It's all about the details here. Each and every component is cared for, from the juicy grilled salmon to the distinct white rice. But don't look past the croquette, a crispy sphere incasing a creamy seafood mixture. Even the bracing salad plays its part, helping to balance out some of the heavy items.

I also need to mention the miso soup served before the bento box hits the table. The bowl is so stunning and simple that it's hard to think about ever slipping a spoon into one of those grainy and bland versions again. The tender housemade tofu breaks apart into a hundred pieces when you touch it with a spoon, yet instead of dissolving into the liquid, each shard still has character.

Bento Box at Slurping Turtle ($18)
Bento Box at Slurping Turtle ($18)

Slurping Turtle's bento box is generous and playful, with the different components bringing a range of textures and flavors to the party. Nothing here is even remotely subtle, save for the gorgeous unadorned slices of sashimi. The two slices of short ribs are well charred, though their fatty meat remains tender. After that, you're left to split your time between the many crunchy fried offerings and the acidic pickles. Even the miso soup swings for the fences, with a deep and complex broth. It would get tiring if there was too much of it, but the small bowl keeps things in order.

Cocoro Gourmet Box Salmon at Cocoro Restaurant ($14)
Cocoro Gourmet Box Salmon at Cocoro Restaurant ($14)

Cocoro's bento box lacks the precision of Sumi's and the excitement of Slurping Turtle's, but it's a nicely balanced box. The salmon is on the thin side, but it's still juicy, with a good glaze. But the tempura vegetables are the real highlight. Each has a light and crackly exterior, with little to no grease getting in the way.

Roasted Salmon Bento Box at Lockwood ($23)
Roasted Salmon Bento Box at Lockwood ($23)

The bento box at Lockwood in the Palmer House is pretty much exactly how you imagine an offering at an expensive downtown hotel. It's simple and restrained, missing the exciting details of a great version, even if it is nonetheless stuffed with quality ingredients. The tempura is definitely the weak link, coming out way too thick—though I'm not sure any coating would save the soggy broccoli. But if there is one thing Lockwood knows how to do, it is cook salmon, and the juicy fillet here is about as good as it gets.

Spare Rib Bento Box at Union Susi & Barbeque Bar ($13)
Spare Rib Bento Box at Union Susi & Barbeque Bar ($13)

Union Susi & Barbeque Bar skips the normal bento box layout, slimming down the compartments to three. But there is nothing restrained about the food. The spare rib is tender, sweet, and tangy, if also a bit heavy. The only way to handle the onslaught is by alternating bites of the meat with the acidic salad. Still, it's kind of strange that the shrimp sushi may be the best part.

Shrimp Bento at Bon Bon Sandwiches ($12.95)
Shrimp Bento at Bon Bon Sandwiches ($12.95)

Perhaps it was my fault going with all the fried options, but Bon Bon's bento box was definitely the heaviest of the bunch. If everything had been fried properly, that wouldn't have been a huge problem, but both the tempura shrimp and egg roll were a bit greasy. Thankfully, the salad helps to somewhat cut through the fat.

The Pinto Box at Sepia ($20)
The Pinto Box at Sepia ($20)

What's a Pinto box? Well, the dish is actually named after Mario Pinto, who designed the beautiful little containers used for what has become the West Loop restaurant's lunch staple. While the Pinto Box shares the little compartments of a bento box, that's really about it. Of course, everything is across the board excellent, but just know that there are zero Asian influences. That includes a bright and flavorful tabouleh salad, a light pasta a la chitarra, dried fruit, and some remarkably great rolls served on the side.

Salmon Bento Box at Arami Go ($11)
Salmon Bento Box at Arami Go ($11)

Editor's Note: Sadly, I just found out that Arami Go closed yesterday. What a shame.

Arami Go's menu is full of ramen and sushi options, but as I mentioned in an earlier review, its heart is really with the bento boxes. And since the quick-service operation is kind of setup like a Chipotle, you can pick each and every component you want in your box. I'd highly suggest the salmon, which is grilled to order. I also quite like the crisp and acidic cucumber pickles. All said, this is one of the best lunch options in Streeterville.

8 Great Bento Boxes in Chicago