It's not every day you find traditional Japanese cuisine on your block. Sure, sushi is ubiquitous in this town, but when does it strike a genuine note and when does it fall flat?
Mio Bento, a take-out Japanese quick-bites eatery in North Center, leans toward the true-to-form side of things. A small but thoughtfully designed menu of wide-ranging appetizers such as octopus salad and edamame, udon noodle soups, and entrees of donburi bowls ($4.50-$7.50) and bento boxes ($6.50-$9.50) suggest Tokyo, not a trendy take on sushi. Vegetable tempura, bulgogi marinated beef slices and galbi marinated short beef ribs being the most enticing of nine choices.
But in no shape or form does sushi take a back seat here. The sushi chef carves up between 20-30 types of maki rolls, and replenishes the fish case every 45 minutes.
In addition to the usual suspects of spicy tuna, dragon and rainbow, California and the like, there's a medley of specialty rolls which look as mouthwatering as they sound.
Samurai ($9.50), containing eight pieces, is stuffed with fresh eel, crab, cream cheese, flanked artfully by slices of cucumber and fresh tuna on top. Another glamorous choice is the Chicago spicy roll, stuffed with shrimp tempura and encrusted with sweet crab and masago fish ($8). Did you notice the prices? Finally, a place to pick up the goods without throwing a wad cash on stuff that's been sitting in the case for too long.
Decor strikes an oriental note of the simple yet striking. Black wrought iron patio furniture, coral walls, and lively green plants make for fresh and breezy atmosphere. A few tables on the outside patio invite long and leisurely summer sits.
For a much lower price than a Japanese sit-down dinner, Mio Bento offers value and authenticity in a one-shot deal.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Marla Seidell