Monday, July 25, 2005

Mitsuwa Marketplace - Costa Mesa

Like Japanese art, and the haiku poem, Japanese cuisine finds elegance thorugh simplicity. Watch fine artists like Shibutani of Sushi Shibucho in Costa Mesa and you will see economy and precision of movement as he builds masterpieces on the plate. Like a calligrapher's brush strokes, his sushi is bound by tradition yet animated by creativity.

Go to a traditional izakaya like Honda-Ya, or even a modern Japanese bistro like Cafe Hiro, and you'll find the same reverence to this philosophy on varying levels.

But when I can't find the time or money to eat at these favorites of mine, there's Mitsuwa Marketplace. Located near the rear of the store, Mitsuwa offers a long refrigerated case of bento boxes.

"Bento" is the Japanese version of "fast-food". And it's got all the essentials for a busy Japanese office drone. Rice, meat and vegetables; all arranged artfully in compartments and packed conveniently in a sealed plastic box.

A quick and balanced meal that doesn't skimp on quality ingredients, bento is the essense of Japanese cuisine in a ready-to-go container.

My favorite has to be the chicken karaage bento ($4.99). Golden, crispy chunks of fried chicken that has been marinated in sake and soy accompany white rice and all sorts of different vegetable nibbles.

The bento I chose included crisp tender green beans glazed in shoyu and sesame seeds and in a separate compartment, a tuft of wiggly black strands that I can only guess is a seaweed of some sort. And with all bentos there's a steamed broccoli floret, some marinated lotus root, and a requisite block of tamago to cleanse the palate after you finish the meal.

And if you're hankering for a bento sampler, Mitsuwa also has a box ($4.50) that has a combination of items playing the role of protein. One I tried recently had a breaded fillet of white fish, under which lurked a fried gyoza, a potato croquette, a shumai, a barbecue sauce laden chunk of fish cake, and a morsel of their chicken karaage. All this is served with varying accompaniments and, of course, rice.

For an even quicker bite, I get onigiri ($1.00), which are rice triangles with a little bit of filling stuffed inside, all wrapped in nori (seaweed). The nori is wrapped in plastic against the rice so that it remains crisp.

You have to follow the numbered and diagramed instructions on how to unsheath the seaweed prior to eating. Do it wrong and you get a mess of rice grains and ripped seaweed. Do it right and you get the crunch and slightly fishy nori neatly wrapped around the shaped rice.

The filling in the middle of the rice triangle, whether it is salmon, tarako (cod roe), or tuna, serves as a flavoring, so don't expect a lot of it.

While the bentos and onigiris nod to Japanese tradition, Mitsuwa also has other products that flies in the face of it. If someone is looking for evidence to rally against globalization, take these curly, dense cheesy snacks being sold at Mitsuwa. Recognize them yet?

Yep. Chester Cheetah has slinked his way into the Land of the Rising Sun. Now the Japanese have their chance at obesity and slovenness too!

This version of the dastardly Cheeto is sweeter and less sharp-tasting that its stateside counterpart. They are also lighter in color and come in a bag that seems to be half the size of a regular Cheetos bag.

I say, get it over with and package it in a Costco-sized feed-bag for gosh sakes! That's the American Way!

And I'm not quite sure what the oozy mayo-like substance pictured near the bottom of the bag is, but I assume it's supposed to be melted cheese. Although when I first picked up the bag, I secretly wished it *WAS* mayo.

Think of it, "mayo flavored Cheetos"! What a decadent and unholy alliance that would be!

Nevertheless, I doubt you'd be surprised if I told you that I couldn't stop eating these until I was sure the bag was emptied of crumbs and my fingers were caked with powdered cheese dust. The Japanese better be careful or there might be a deep fried twinkie in their future!

As good as I think this junk food is, I thank goodness that Japanese cuisine still has some traditionalist hold outs to bring its food culture back in line.

Mitsuwa Marketplace
(714) 557-6699
665 Paularino Ave
Costa Mesa, CA 92626


At 3:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Elmo - The Mitsuwa's in LA are so much better than the one we have here in San Diego! I just bought some bento's from the local one and they looked good but were down right terrible! Also, the "food fair's" and stuff at those in LA are sometimess pretty fun.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

That's too bad. I would've thought the quality would stay the same throughout. But I guess geographic distance can make QA go yonder.

I agree that those food fairs are fun. I stumbled into one a month ago and couldn't figure out what it was for. I think it was called "Kyushu", which is a region in Japan. Nevertheless, there were some good eats to be had there at the time.

At 8:48 PM, Blogger Xericx said...

I went to Mitsuwa on Saturday for some Tonkatsu. Not bad....I went to the one in Culver City though. Was there an actual food court here too? Or just bentos...the one in CC has several, just like japan (for fast food-court style food)..

At 6:50 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Yup, Mitsuwa Costa Mesa has an excellent food court. In fact, Santoka Ramen, the best ramen in OC in my opinion is in the food court. Last night I ate at Miyabi, another food court resident an had an excellent katsu don with a side of miso soup and cold tofu for about $6. There is also an Italian Tomato, a Sky Express Dim Sum and a stall that specializes in udon too.

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Greg said...

Hi Elmo. There's a Mitsuwa in Torrance near the old building I used to work at. My girlfriend regularly bought the sushi bento boxes they had on display.
The food court at that location is pretty interesting - it has a place that serves okonomiyaki of various types in addition to the two udon places, a curry place and an Italian Tomato. One other neat thing about that location is that around Thanksgiving up until Christmas the store sells roasted chestnuts out front.

At 10:47 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Miyabi has some excellent food...although I miss Hebesen which got replaced. But I guess the food court is generally better now than before.

Some guy,

I wish they served okonomiyaki at the food court in the Costa Mesa Mitsuwa. I really have a craving for it now.

Although, they do sell roasted chestnuts during the holidays just like the one in Torrance.

At 10:59 AM, Blogger Stuart said...

Hebesen was moved initially to the Murakai food court on Harbor.
Do not know if it is still there.
The Sky Express place is actually very good. I usually have the daily special from Miyabi but Sky express has been good when i have tried it.
Seating is way more difficult to get around 12 -12:45 so watch out.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


It's too crazy for me during the lunch rush, so I usually go before 11:30 am or for dinner at around 7 pm.

Thanks for the tip of Sky Express. Their sample dishes do indeed look very good. Will need to try it one of these days.

At 2:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elmo - You be like me - lunch between 1100-1130, but I usually get an early dinner 5-530pm - I have a severe aversion to crowds!

At 8:07 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Yes...give me food but not the crowds...I hate it when I have a tray of food ready to chow and can't find a place to sit down and do it.

At 9:50 AM, Blogger Daily Gluttony said...

hey elmo,

mitsuwa rocks for their bentos and prepared foods! i'll often go pick one up if i know i have a full day of errands ahead of me. and i know whatchu mean about the onigiri triangles--you don't know how many times I've messed those up cause I didn't follow the instructions!

i wish the mitsuwa in little tokyo had a better food court though, but w/ all the restaurants around, i guess they don't need one!

At 2:22 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Yeah, the bentos are super time savers! They make for a nice picnic too...One of these days I'm going to pick some up for a beach blanket lunch for two.

At 2:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bento boxes are perfect for picnics. we take them to the concerts on the lawn in the summer. has anyone tried the cream buns in the bakery? oh my gosh! almost as good as Japan.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger momopi said...

There's a 7-11 center in front of Mitsuwa, I recommend going there and look to the right side of the 7-11. Next to dry cleaner (and to the left of the famous Angeo Tei) there's a Japanese fast food place that sells bento and rice balls. I've found their stuff to be (in general) fresher than what you get from the market, though at higher price.

If you go to the supermarket and get the bentos at night, they mark them down by about 50 cents to a dollar for quick sale. I sometimes buy these for lunch at work the next day.


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