The Bento Cafe has a look that’s a bit of a time warp to 1930s modernism. The most dominant colors in the eatery are black, white, the grey of concrete, the silver sheen of steel, and the tan color of lightly stained wood. It’s almost the essence of an industrial look, and you sort of expect the plates to be carved out of granite or something. And then there is the cute Bento motif, found on the sign outside, the front door, the online menu and most of the posters inside.

The next gotcha is that this restaurant has nothing to do with the Japanese but is actually a Taiwanese eatery. It has a huge, almost laser focus on young Taiwanese, and that means that the entrees have names like “DRUM” or “CHOP”, totally unappealing to anyone but their target audience. Then there is the near total inability of staff to describe their own food, though massive steps forward have been taken by actually putting pictures of food on their menu.

And it’s a shame, because this place has offal the likes of which you never see in a quick-to-table restaurant, and it had these kinds of dishes before Abattoir was even a gleam in a butcher’s eye. But because this restaurant really can’t explain or sell itself, it has missed out on being any kind of hip or trendy. And that’s where it stays. A crowd of in-the-know Taiwanese go there, and not much of anyone else. Oh yes, to get off track briefly, this restaurant is looking to hire people to work there. Wifi, oh yes, they have that too.

The tables here are steel and immaculately clean. You order up front, and sit in one of the concrete sided booths if you’re sticking around. Service is good until they deliver food, and then they tend to forget you’re around. That’s not uncommon in Chinese eateries, and it’s true here too.

To food: thanks to the pictures on the menu, I found out about gua bao, a kind of pork sandwich wrapped with bread the color and texture of a fluffy white dumpling. It was good and a lot of fun to eat.

Otherwise, I was warned away from trying the rice (dry) noodles and ended up getting Taiwanese stir fried noodles. It surprised me a little, a bit of cilantro in the spices adding a bite. I was hoping for more mushrooms than I got, but maybe I can slowly find a dish with a few more bits of black fungus, a dish that’s more mushroomlicious.

Someday I’m going to get up the nerve to try the pig ear and pork feet appetizers. The gua bao is proof positive I need to jump on the snack foods hard sometime.

This is a place with substantial foodie potential, but it needs a guide for those of us not willing to spend weeks and hundreds of dollars exploring the menu. More pictures would help. A bit more English text would help.  BuHi parsing this place for the rest of Atlanta would help a lot as well.

Verdict: This restaurant seriously needs to learn how to explain itself. Recommended anyway, on the food and sheer potential.

Bento Cafe
5495 Jimmy Carter Blvd
Norcross, GA 30093
(770) 300-9868

Bento Cafe on Urbanspoon

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