Shopping Resources: The bentolunch community on LiveJournal has a geographic shopping guide for other cities around the world (slightly dated) and an online shopping guide. I’m still working on a separate list of low-cost, commonly available containers and lunch-packing equipment, so this is not necessarily an endorsement of any of the stores linked on the bentolunch lists. Just FYI for people seeking out bento equipment.
In addition, I’ve put together an opinionated shopping guide for the San Francisco Bay Area as a resource for local readers looking to buy bento boxes and accessories in person. I am not affiliated with any of these stores, I’m just an avid shopper and know what I like. I will edit this list as things change; please feel free to comment if you know other local stores that we’d benefit from knowing about (please disclose any commercial affiliations you may have with the store). Links point to the stores’ Yelp.com listings with maps, photos, and commentary from the larger Bay Area community. (See also the SF Bay Area guide to ethnic markets.)
Latest News: My LiveJournal site has been nominated for a Blogger’s Choice Award — Best Food Category! If you like Lunch in a Box, could you click over to the entry and vote? Thank you. I’m pretty jazzed considering this all took off just a couple of months ago with the new focus on speedy lunch prep tips added to my existing lunch blog. (Nov. 2007 update: Lunch in a Box tied for 3rd place, the only non-vegan blog in the top four. Thank you!)
San Francisco Bay Area
Shopping Guide for Bento-style Packed Lunches
If you only have time to go to one or two places, go to Daiso or Ichiban Kan (Japanese dollar stores) for a great selection of very cheap lunch packing equipment, accessories and cooking equipment. Buy everything here cheap instead of through eBay sellers charging a 600% to 1200% markup.
Kamei Restaurant & Supply
507 Clement St (in the Inner Richmond)
(between 6th Ave & 7th Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94118 (415) 666-3699
Huge Asian kitchenware and restaurant supply store with unusual, excellent quality products at good prices (the only cheaper places will be Daiso and Ichiban Kan). Onigiri and sushi molds, jubako, and other sushi gear together in with the sushi serving gear (right hand side of store); cheap thermal food jars in the cooking equipment section on the left hand side of the store. The good-quality thermal food jars (Mr. Bento, Nissan Stainless, etc.) and high-end Zojirushi-brand insulated bento sets are behind the register; just ask for assistance and they’ll show you what they’ve got. Also a variety of plain bento boxes and side dish containers, intricate Chinese cutters, utensil sets, chopsticks, good-quality tamagoyaki pans, etc. Reasonably priced children’s melamine lunch plates and bowls (Thomas the Tank Engine, Monkey line, etc.) on the right hand side of the store, extensive rice cooker selection (all ranges, excellent prices). Good Lock & Lock container selection displayed outside the store, with the Lock & Lock picnic sets on the back wall of Aisle 6 with the cheap thermal food jars.
In addition to the variety of traditional, small Hakoya boxes that I wrote about earlier, (Aisle 4) they’ve also got a selection of new thermal bento sets from Tiger at excellent prices and different colors/sizes. They’re behind the counter in the housewares half of the store (in front of Aisle 6). I haven’t yet used the Tiger thermal bento sets, but they look to be the some of the better quality ones I’ve seen to date. The rectangular side dish containers have locking flap lids (Lock & Lock style) and an insulated flap around and over the thermal rice container that helps keep the rice warm and the side dishes cool. (I’ve also seen these here on Amazon (affiliate link).) Kamei also has an expanded line of GlassLock tempered glass food containers (Aisle 7), a good Lock & Lock selection, and good-quality large Asvel boxes (950ml) with insulated carrying bags.
22 Peace Plaza # 540 (Japantown Mall)
San Francisco, CA (415) 409-0472
Excellent Japanese dollar store with a variety of low-end bento boxes, insulated bento sets, cheap collapsible sandwich cases, lunch carrying bags (regular and insulated), accessories, antibacterial bento sheets, freezer containers and organizer baskets, mini microwave steamers, GlassLock tempered glass bento boxes and food containers, cheap tamagoyaki rectangular frying pans, etc. They often stock hard-boiled egg molds (2-pack for $1.50). Be sure to look all over the store, not just in the main bento area. You’ll find little bento carrying bags, sauce containers, dividers and the antibacterial bento sheets in different areas in the back for $1. They also have Japanese snacks, nori, basic cooking supplies, etc. Branches in San Mateo and El Cerrito (see below). Parking is scarce, but worth it (try the cheap parking garage by Nijiya Market, get your ticket validated for a discount if you spend more than $50 in Nijiya). If you’re here anyway, check out Moritaya and Daikoku by Shiki just across the Plaza. Ichiban Kan also has a new online store; check out my review of Ichiban Kan’s online store review and their blog for updates.
1758 Buchanan Street (in Japantown)
San Francisco, CA (415) 922-8331
Decent selection of higher-quality men’s bento boxes, including Asvel and Hakoya brands. Look for the microwave-safe donburi bento box (“Don Don Lunch Box”) from Hakoya and 350ml two-tier bear box, which I haven’t seen elsewhere. Their expanded bento section is in the left rear corner of the front room you walk into; you’ll also find some children’s boxes (3-tier nesting/stacking Lilo & Stitch for about $11) and nice Hakoya boxes for women in addition to the plain but sturdy large Asvel boxes for men. In response to customer demand, they’ve added a line of unusual, high-quality bento accessories that I’ve only ever seen online (my sauce pig/elephant with spreader, chick-shaped furikake dispenser, unusual food picks, sandwich cutters, cute rice molds, etc.). Bins outside have some discount merchandise, but Ichiban Kan and Daiso are cheaper for things like onigiri rice ball molds. Good selection of unusual furoshiki and Japanese-themed bandannas that are the right size for wrapping up a bento box (furoshiki are in the rear corner of the adjoining room). Prices are not extremely cheap, but you’ll find excellent quality things here you won’t find elsewhere. Full store review here.
October 2008 Update: Sanko’s bento inventory has been a bit depleted, and they no longer have the microwave-safe donburi bento boxes (”Don Don Lunch Box”) or the best selection of men’s bento boxes in San Francisco. Still worth checking out if you’re in Japantown anyway, but ratchet down your expectations. They expect to get more bento inventory in December.
1737 Post Street (in Japantown)
(between Buchanan St & Webster St)
San Francisco, CA 94115 (415) 674-1345
Lots of very unusual (but extremely overpriced) character bento boxes and accessories such as cups, lunch bags, utensil sets, oshibori (damp hand towel) cases, aluminum bento boxes for toaster oven warming, etc. Think Totoro, Anpanman, Thomas the Tank Engine, Hello Kitty, Snoopy, Miffy, Monokuro Boo, Pokemon, Gaspard et Lisa, Spongebob Squarepants, etc. Be sure to look all over the store, not just the left wall.
1737 Post St., Ste. 326 (in Japantown)
(between Buchanan St & Webster St)
San Francisco, CA 94115 (415) 931-9822
This small sword and souvenir store in Japantown is tucked away next to Moritaya, and at first glance seems an unlikely place to find bento boxes. But reader kuzatab clued me in to their pretty decent Hakoya bento box selection, at a slight markup over other Japantown sources like Soko Hardware. Thanks, kuzatab!
Daikoku by Shiki
1737 Post St., Suite 1C (in Japantown)
(between Buchanan St & Webster St)
San Francisco, CA 94115 (415) 563-4550
Japanese pottery and ceramics store on the same floor as Moritaya (by the Peace Plaza entrance). Worth quickly checking out as it usually has a few good-quality Hakoya brand bento boxes in the back (traditional looking). Closed on Tuesdays.
1698 Post Street (in Japantown)
(between Buchanan St & Laguna St)
San Francisco, CA 94115 (415) 931-5510
If you’re in Japantown anyway, check out their cooking gear and bento accessories (downstairs) and their high-quality, traditional bento boxes and juubako (upstairs in the back). Ichiban Kan and Daiso are cheaper, but sometimes you’ll find something interesting like a square egg mold or plastic spam musubi molds. annoyedwabbit writes: Upstairs, in the back, they have a very few bento, and a few large, multi-layer picnic bento. Downstairs, in the far left corner, they have a whole bunch of useful stuff. I noticed several sets of steel shape punches (2 sizes, and I think each set had four shapes), foil food cups (round and oval) – which I did not see at Ichiban Kan, they only had the laminated paper cups – as well as all sorts of rice/sushi presses. There were at least two different styles of triangular onigiri presses, as well as the cute shaped presses (bear, heart, etc), and presses for different styles of sushi and sashimi. They had a few egg molds as well, and an egg-cuber. I also found a takoyaki pan, and they have multiple sizes of what I think were omelet pans – rectangular frying pans. There’s also a pretty big selection of rice cookers downstairs. (Biggie notes: If you’re in the market for a rice cooker, be sure to check out the selection at Kamei before you buy — very reasonably priced.)
1737 Post Street (in Japantown)
(between Buchanan St & Webster St)
San Francisco, CA 94115 (415) 563-1901
Big Japanese market with a few bento accessories, notably the antibacterial sushi grass dividers and good-quality tamagoyaki pans. Nijiya now has a few more good-quality, plain boxes by Asvel at competitive prices, including larger 950ml sizes. The boxes are in the kitchen section near the produce aisle, along with disposable baking cups and plain disposable food dividers. Prices for the boxes are quite competitive — I was a little surprised.
865 Market St. (downtown)
San Francisco, CA 94103 (415) 495-3056
I was wandering around in the Westfield Mall on Market Street, and popped into the Sanrio store on the bottom floor by the food court (Bloomingdale’s side). Definitely worth stopping by if you’re into cute character goods: they had a variety of kinchaku lunch bags, insulated lunch bags, utensil sets, Shinkansen rice molds and Hello Kitty sandwich cutters. Prices are predictably high, but there’s no avoiding that if you’re in the market for Sanrio character goods (which are admittedly good quality). Inventory photo at the full write-up.
251 Clement St. (in the inner Richmond)
(between 3rd & 4th Ave.)
San Francisco, CA 94118 (415) 668-1118
I found some of the elusive Lock & Lock insulated bento sets (blue and red striped bags) at this tiny Japanese market run by Chinese. Prices on the new Lock & Lock sets are excellent, and they have both small individual bento kits as well as the large multi-person picnic sets. It looks like they bought some of the Natural bento sets from Ichiban Kan and are reselling them at a mark-up. Inventory photo at the full write-up.
5406 Geary Blvd. (in the Richmond)
(between 18th Ave & 19th Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94121 (415) 666-3826
www.kawaiicorner.com Hours: Mon-Sat 11:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Kawaii Corner has character bento boxes, lunch bags, insulated lunchboxes, and utensils as well as all kinds of Sanrio & San-X goods that will thrill little girls and other fans of cute. Kawaii Corner’s online store ships internationally, and prices are about par for the branded items. They’ve even got a line of Angry Little Girls gear with attitude, like the yellow lunchbox shown at this post.
2206 Irving Street (in the Outer Sunset)
(between 23rd Ave & 24th Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94122 (415) 681-6826
vanillacupcake writes: They have a large selection of character bento boxes, thermoses and spoon+fork sets, as well as chopsticks with containers. Every character bento box is $9.99. And almost every spoon+fork+chopstick set (you get all 3 in the set) is $9.99, they come in containers that will fit perfectly in your lunch sack, and there are a TON of character ones. As of today, the bento boxes they had were Winnie the Pooh, Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse, Doraemon, and I think a few other really cute character ones. They are larger bento boxes, 500 ML +, some have 1 tier, some have 2 tiers. Biggie notes: They also have Shinkansen character gear (water bottles, utensil sets, loose oshibori hand towels, etc.) and a lot of Totoro gear (non-bento).
Irving Housewares & Gifts
2200 Irving Street (in the Outer Sunset)
(between 23rd Ave & 24th Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94122 (415) 759-1559
vanillacupcake writes: Large selection of basic bento boxes (nothing cute, just plain plastic colors but with lock lids, etc.) and thermos jars. They also have a large selection of picks, but no soy sauce or mayo containers. Also some side dish containers too. Biggie notes: Three sizes of Leaflet boxes (500ml, 650ml and 740ml?) and some cheap Hello Kitty boxes in the front, foil cupcake liners in the back, onigiri molds, children’s utensils and matching chopsticks/cases. Prices are okay, but you can probably find most everything cheaper at Kamei, Daiso or Ichibankan. Worth a look if you’re in the neighborhood anyway (definitely check out the big, cheap, fresh produce market at 22nd & Irving).
2345 Irving St. (in the Outer Sunset)
San Francisco, CA (415) 242-5170
Located near Sunset Supermarket on Irving Street, Yes Variety is a Chinese discount housewares store with some good-priced Lock & Lock insulated bento sets, cheap Chinese thermal lunch jars, cheap (low-quality) Chinese bento boxes, and little GlassLock-style tempered glass food containers with lids. They’re all in the first aisle as you walk in. If you do a lot of baking, be sure to check out their bulk baking supplies in the back, including cupcake liners, disposable baking pans, food picks, and to-go containers. Inventory photo at the full write-up.
146 Seramonte Center
Daly City, CA 941015 (650) 992-7462
Excellent, huge Japanese dollar store (okay, $1.50 store) with a large selection of cheap bento boxes, accessories, antibacterial bento sheets and food cups, freezer containers, cooking equipment, metal bento boxes, mini microwave steamers, stovetop fish/veggie grills, home products, dishes, hobby gear, children’s toys and books in Japanese, etc. Depending upon where they are in their inventory cycle, you can hit the bento jackpot here (or come up short). Look all over the store, not just the bento area right behind and to the right of the cash registers (be sure to go in the back room with all of the plastic freezer containers, and in the utensil aisle behind the bento section). Located in Daly City at the Serramonte Mall where Good Guys used to be (across the parking lot from the Target store anchoring Serramonte Mall). Lots of parking, definitely a must-go. The global Daiso store locator is here. EDIT: They also have branches in San Jose, Union City, Mountain View, and Newark (see below).
Kukje Super Market
2350 Junipero Serra Boulevard (by the In & Out Burger just off of 280)
Daly City, CA 94015 (650) 992-0333
Huge Korean supermarket with sizable cookware section. Excellent selection of Lock & Lock containers, sometimes including their lunch sets and other bento boxes and side dish containers. Nice insulated bento sets (buy those more cheaply behind the counter at Kamei or at Ichiban Kan if they have them in stock — almost half the price of Kukje). They’ve expanded their other bento offerings as well, now carrying a variety of standard bento boxes (including Leaflet and Asvel brands), as well as thermal lunch jars and good-quality Tiger thermal bento sets. Prices are generally higher than Kamei, but their selection is quite good. (9/08 inventory photo at this post.)
Ichiban Kan, a popular Japanese-style discount store with lots of bento gear (see above), will be opening a new store in the Tanforan Mall in San Bruno. Ichiban Kan manager Rumi confirmed that the store is planned to open in March 2009, so it’s still a ways off. Nonetheless, it’ll be a welcome addition so that shoppers on the Peninsula won’t have to drive all over or pay for shipping via Ichiban Kan’s online store. Stay up to date via the Ichiban Kan blog or the Tanforan Mall website.
The Shops at Tanforan
1150 El Camino Real
San Bruno, CA 94066
2125 New Park Mall (in the New Park Mall by I-880)
Newark, CA 94560 (510) 742-2410
7,545 sq. ft., opened Dec. 22, 2007
Large Japanese dollar store (okay, $1.50 store) with branches in San Francisco, San Jose, Union City and Mountain View. See Daly City entry above.
Daiso Union City
El Mercado, 1785 Decoto Rd. (next to Marina Foods, betw. Alvarado Niles Rd & Meyers Dr)
Union City, CA 94587 (510) 477-9441
17,760 sq. ft., opened Aug. 8, 2007
Large Japanese dollar store (okay, $1.50 store) with branches in San Francisco, San Jose, Newark and Mountain View. See Daly City entry above.
10562 San Pablo Avenue
El Cerrito, CA 94530 (510) 528-5210
Japanese dollar store with branches in San Francisco and San Mateo. See SF entry above.
10057 San Pablo Avenue
El Cerrito, CA 94530 (510) 526-6615
mlouise007 writes: Pastime Hardware has well priced mini butterfly/flower cutters, mini Halloween cutters, and paper and foil cup cake baking cups regular and mini sizes.
Tokyo Fish Market gift shop
1220 San Pablo Avenue (between Gilman St. & Harrison St.)
Berkeley, CA 94706 (510) 524-7243
mlouise007 writes: Tokyo Fish Market gift shop next to the fish market, Berkeley, about 2 miles from Ichiban Kan in El Cerrito has several kinds of Zojirushi Bento Lunch Jars. [...] They had what seems to be the new version of Ms Bento, the Classic, and both versions of the Mini, priced less than amazon. Also have basic cooking supplies including the slicing multi-tool you featured for quick cucumber salad. The Fish Market has a good variety of food items.
Daiso (Mountain View)
550 Showers Ave. #1, (near El Camino and San Antonio)
Mountain View, CA, 94040 (650) 947-9320
(opened October 8, 2007)
Japanese dollar store (okay, $1.50 store) with branches in San Francisco, San Jose and Union City. See Daly City entry above. Freecia notes: “Location is near Trader Joe’s, in the complex to the right of TJ, before the 24 Hour Fitness. For those who know the complex, a hobby shop used to be in that space. The shopping complex is maze-like and Daiso can’t be seen from the street.”
19750 Stevens Creek Blvd
Cupertino, CA 95014 (408) 973-0331
Reader Freecia points out that Daiso, the big Japanese discount store chain where I get a lot of cheap bento and household gear, has opened a new store in Cupertino, CA (see Daiso Daly City entry above). Freecia reports that it’s smaller than the Mountain View store, which in turn is smaller than the Daly City store.
Ichiban Kan (San Mateo)
98 E 3rd Ave
San Mateo, CA 94401 (650) 347-1347
Japanese dollar store with branches in San Francisco and El Cerrito. See SF entry above.
Eastridge Mall, 2200 Eastridge Loop, Ste. 1103
San Jose, CA 95122
Japanese dollar store (okay, $1.50 store) with branches in San Francisco, Union City and Mountain View. Not as big as the Daly City branch, but closer in for South Bay folks. See full entry above under Daly City.
231 E. Jackson Street
San Jose, CA 95112 (408) 294-3184
Anne writes, “This is located in Japantown SJ two stores away from the famous manju shop. They carry about 15 types of bentos (lacquer-looking) from $14+. There are a few Hakoya bentos. Five or six 3-tier bentos with sakura/neko designs. As for bento supplies, they carry rice molds.”
675 Saratoga Ave.
San Jose, CA 95106 (408) 255-6699
Japanese grocery store with kitchen and bento supplies. pure_trance writes, “They have several mens, womens and childrens bento boxes that are +/- $15 but they are really good. They have aluminum cups, separators, sauce and mayo containers, and rice molds.”
Nikaku Japanese Arts (Animart)
615 N 6th Street
San Jose, CA 95112 (408) 971-2822
Anne writes, “Nikaku has very traditional bentos ranging from $35+. They have a couple ‘huge’ ones that can fit on one’s lap. They sell the little fish sauce containers and mayo containers. They also have flower rice molds.”
- SF Bay Area guide to ethnic markets
- How to care for your bento gear
- Choosing the right size bento box
- How to pack a bento lunch and use “gap fillers”
- Biggie’s list of top speed tips, tutorials and equipment reviews