By now, employees, patrons, and residents of Uptown Oakland have certainly grown accustomed to the unending parade of new lunch spots opening shop beneath their windows.

The small area surrounding the intersection of Broadway and West Grand alone now hosts upwards of 30 popular restaurants. Of course, classics in the area, like Luka’s, La Bonita Taqueria, and Ozumo continue to thrive, but each day, hundreds of Oaklanders  head to the plaza anchored by Ike’s Place, for new food.

In the last year, Torpedo Sushi, Captain & Corset, Ume, and Suya have all opened within a stone’s throw of each other. Now, immediately next door to Suya, comes something previously missing from Uptown: Taiwanese food. Taiwan Bento had its soft opening earlier this month, and hopes to take advantage of the growing lunch scene in Oakland.

Taiwan Bento on 22nd St., near Webster St.

Taiwan Bento on 22nd Street, near Webster Street

Taiwan Bento’s focus is twofold: authentic Taiwanese dishes and quick, lunchtime service. The menu is inspired by classic Taiwanese cuisine and carries a deep tradition of “convenience.” Of course, bento is typically associated with Japan, as many diners are familiar with Japense rice-box meals being served as “bento.” Interestingly enough, the word originates in  Southern China, and is widely used in Taiwan today. Etymologically, “bento” is a word for “convenient” or “easy.”

As Japanese laborers turned to compact rice bowls topped with meat and vegetables as a quick, simple way of packing their lunch for work, the term “bento” became a natural fit for the dish. In the late 20th century, bento boxes exploded in Taiwan, initially as a hassle-free way of taking lunch aboard commuter trains. Taiwan has an advanced system of railways, and the government reports that around 2.4 million people ride public trains in Taiwan a day. That’s 10% of the country!

Suffice it to say, the Taiwanese have quick-serve bento meals down pat. The owners of Taiwan Bento have stuck to their east-Asian history, and have tailored a menu of very familiar options. They hope to give all palates something to try, but are focused on keeping their business streamlined. The short menu includes: the Braised Pork Bento Bowl ($9.85), Roasted Chicken Bento ($8.95), Taiwanese Sausage Bento ($7.85), a MaPo Tofu Bento Bowl ($8.85), and a Beef Noodle Soup ($9.85)

Braised Pork Bento Bowl

Braised Pork Bento Bowl

There are only five main entrees to chose from – but this is so the staff can turn out high volumes of bento bowls at lunchtime. Seriously, the food I ordered took 2 minutes to be served to me.

To be clear, Taiwan Bento’s timeliness does not diminish the quality of its food, as all bento bowls are carefully prepared and very customizeable. For each dish, you can substitute brown rice for white rice, switch out the hard-boiled egg for soft-boiled, request extra or different vegetables, and double the meat portion. Packed neatly in a deep to-go bowl, the vast majority of Taiwan Bento customers are in and out quickly. Several homemade beverages, and snacks like edamame and kimchi, help round out the menu.

House-made Melon & Ginger Beverage

House-made Melon and Ginger Beverage

Despite the quick-serve food, a clean ambiance, and lightly-colored, high ceilings give Taiwan Bento the feel of a spacious lunch lounge. Also, because the majority of patrons ordered takeout, it was quite easy to find a place to sit during lunch hour. The tables are modern: sleek and made from dark wood. The chairs and light fixtures are also contemporary, and a wall of  assorted Polaroid images gives the space a cool, trendy feel. A very large lofted dining room really keeps Tawain Bento feeling open, and provides even more seating.

Upstairs at Taiwan Bento

Upstairs at Taiwan Bento

Taiwan Bento had its soft opening on August 29, and is still strictly operating during lunch hours (Monday through Friday, 11 p.m. – 3 p.m.). The owners plan to expand not only their hours but also the menu in the coming months, but won’t move away from their tenets of authenticity and fast service.

Taiwan Bento
412 22nd Street in Oakland
(510) 250-9858

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