Sunday, March 16, 2008

Discounted Bentos at Mitsuwa - Costa Mesa

It's Thursday. I'm standing near the boxed sushi section at the Mitsuwa Marketplace. I look at my watch. It's about a quarter after five. He should be coming out of that door any second now -- the man with the red Sharpie.

There are others like me waiting for him, milling around, trying to not look like obvious cheapskates. But as we attempt to blend in, we are still coiled like sprinters waiting for the gun.

Finally, the door swings open, and the man with the red Sharpie strolls out casually, oblivious that his entrance has been anticipated for the past ten minutes.

He removes the cap to his marker, hunches down to the remaining supply of boxed lunches and slashes away. He marks every container, one by one. He subtracts a whole dollar there. Fifty cents here.

What was $4.99 a few minutes ago is now $3.99. In most cases, his discounts amount to about a 20% reduction. His job is done to spur movement of the inventory. He is the Ben Bernanke of bento boxes.

I spring to action as he finishes one section and moves on to the next. Usually, there isn't too many to choose from. It's like a Soviet-era selection of barren shelves compared to the bounty seen at lunch. But today, I'm lucky. There's enough food left over. Chicken karaage with rice and trimmings. Panko-crusted fish. Even a boxed unagi rice and bulgogi. Plenty for my fellow cheapskates and I to share.

Before I leave the store at a quarter to six with my three boxes of karaage, the refrigerated shelves will be cleaned out, ready for the next morning's batch of bentos. The man with the red Sharpie would have done his job.

Dinner for me will be deep-fried morsels of fried chicken, which like its American counterpart, tastes great cold. As such, I don't bother heating it up. But unlike KFC, this is a healthy meal. Things like green beans, marinated bamboo shoots, stewed carrot, mushroom and seaweed balances the protein. Rice comprises half the bulk.

In these recessionary times, it's nice to know there are ways to shave off a few bucks, short of cooking, TV dinners or the drive-thru. Just wait for the man with the red Sharpie.

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

Pelican Grill - Newport Coast


At 11:54 AM, Blogger dumplings said...


This is a great place for me to go right after work when I don't have any rice left to keep warm in my Zojirushi. But now I run a business morning and afternoon, so I have no time to drive here and wait for the discount man to show up.

If you like bentos and boxed sushi for lunch, try Ebisu Supermarket. You have to get there by 1:30pm before all the good stuff gets taken. I like the flavorings and rice textures better than the ones at Mitsuwa, though Mituswa do offer wider selections of boxes.

At 6:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't stop laughing on this post Elmo. Now I understand what all those cheapskates are waiting for! It's almost as bad as 10% off coupon day at Macy's! :)

At 6:18 PM, Blogger Darlene said...

Ah! I see you've given out time and place. Now I can stake out Mitsuwa and take all the discounted chicken karaage myself!!

At 8:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, but are the bentos only discounted on Thursdays at this time, and no other days of the week?

At 8:13 PM, Blogger Deb said...

You crack me up. I just bought some sushi there the other day but damn, it was about 3. NOW I KNOW!! ;) Where would we be without you??!

At 9:27 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


"You have to get there by 1:30pm before all the good stuff gets taken."

So I guess there's no chance of any excess merchandise they'll mark down later on, eh? But if you say it's better than Mitsuwa, I'll need to check it out. Mitsuwa's pretty darned good.


I'd be guilty of "cheaping-out" at Macy's too, if I liked shopping!


Don't say I didn't give you a sporting chance when I blow past you in a whirlwind of cheapness!


If I were being greedy and wanted the discounted food to myself, I'd say "Yes, only on Thursday"...but I'm nice, so I will clarify that this happens everyday. At least everyday they have stuff left over. Which is most days.


With me, you are at most $1 richer by following this tip!

At 2:15 AM, Blogger Jim said...

All I gotta say is "hahaha." You're a master of descriptions. It felt like I was there with you at the starting gate waiting for the Sharpie man.

At 8:37 AM, Blogger Julian Hsu said...

Hilarious, Elmo! You and my grandfather woulda gotten along like gangbusters. Would I find lightly dented cans and slightly expired candies and shrimp-flavored chips in your pantry?

Still, they occasionally put the red pen on the sliced shabu-shabu meat- that'll get me running!


At 8:57 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

How pathetic am I? I'm tearing up a bit, rememering when we lived just next store to the only Mitsuwa in the Midwest. I could get take out sushi, bentoss and such, or enjoy lunch in the food court with Dave and William (in a pre-Xander world) or my friend Elie during our weekly mom's lunches out while the kids were at school. I miss Mitsuwa!

By the way, I started a food blog. Fir the safety of my family, it is invited readers only. I invited you.

At 10:06 AM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hi Elmo - I loved this....brought back memories of "hovering" around the bentos at Nijiya, waiting for 30% off stickers.....

At 12:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mmm.. How fast do these go? The earliest I can get over to Mitsuwa is 5:30 p.m. (on a good day). Will there be any left for me??

At 1:56 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Since you're nice enough to leave this kind comment, I'd even let you go ahead of me! Just leave me a chicken karaage will you?


Thanks for the reminder. I'm running low on the Shrimp-Flavored chips! Of course, I'm talking about the ones that sell for $0.79, not the Kalbee Brand...that's for Rockefellers.

But for all my cheapness, I've yet to be brave enough to buy the discounted boxed sushi. In that arena, I think your gramps, or anyone else for that matter, might have me beat. I'm too chicken.


I'd miss Mitsuwa too if I lived away from it. And like you, I'm not even Japanese. And thanks for the invite! Looking forward to seeing more of your eats.


30%! Damn! That's a goldmine! Too bad the only Nijiya I know of is in Rowland Heights (and I'm not even sure that one is there anymore either).


It depends. I've seen a good selection on some days which last till 6 pm. On other days, even at 5:15, there weren't any boxes for the Sharpie man to mark. And there's the added factor of who is reading this blog who's thinking of going. We are all each other's competition now!

At 1:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haha! I am one such cheapskate. Went to had some ramen based on your post, came back with friends the following trip (after 5:00 PM) and realized that discounts happened at such time. Paced around the aisle like a sucker and scooped up boxes of bento and rolls like no body's business.

inez: I think on a good day you'll have some selections left over. It wasn't exactly filled to the brink when I was there, but foot traffic wouldn't made them disappear anytime soon too.

At 2:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"He is the Ben Bernanke of bento boxes."

Best line ever! And I can't believe I actually got that reference.

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

I just discovered mitsuwa. because I finally hunted down santoka. oh man. santoka. that place makes me soooo happy. I never knew what real ramen was... I had the special pork one two weeks ago and about died from joy. went back yesterday and got a shio combo with the egg and negi meshi on rice. yum.

in any case, I'll have to keep this discounted bento stuff in mind. I am thrilled to have discovered this place.

At 4:00 PM, Blogger Griffin said...

Whenever I go there to get these, it's usually a little old lady with the red sharpie.

At 8:22 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Ha HA! you got competition now! ;-)
I always walk buy the bento area but never really felt compel to try it but maybe I might give it a chance.


At 8:37 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Ahh! So you were already a member of the club!


And I can't believe I made an Federal Reserve joke on a food blog post!


I'm so glad you tried Santoka. It's the best isn't it? Now every ramen you try will be compared to it. And most will wither in comparison.


I guess as long as they've got that red Sharpie, it can be a transvestite with a purple wig!


You're yet another competitor! But I welcome it! These benots are actually all quite good. Perfect for picnics...except it'll be dark by the time its discounted.

At 9:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can I just say for the 100th time how essential Monster Munching is in my life.

I was always too shy to ask what time Mitsuwa starts discounting the refrigerated items...I've been meaning to blast those in my local food circle to see if anyone had the scoop so I didn't have to ask at the store.

Thanks again, Elmo...
btw, don't know if it was clear in your post, but not just bentos are discounted...I think they markdown all of their shrinkwrapped goods!!

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

Now every ramen you try will be compared to it. And most will wither in comparison.

no joke. I had originally been going to kairakutei cause it's near my house (and gustavo reviewed it fairly well some time back). but santoka ruined me. ;P

At 9:06 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Thanks! Just happy to share. But you're absolutely right, everything is marked down! Not just the bentos. Everything must go! Go! GO!


It's a good kind of "ruin"! I can't wait for Daikokuya to open over at the Marukai. But their broth had better be made of cocaine if it wants to compete with Santoka in my eyes.

At 8:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly, I don't live in Costa Mesa to take advantage of the discounted bentos. Did you know that the Japanese supermarket in Tokyo marked down the prices of seafood & bentos too at late evening. Found that out when I was in Tokyo last Sept. The service apartment that I was staying at has a small supermarket downstairs & fresh seafood is discounted 50% at 8pm. One time we were at this big Japanese departmental store (I think it is called Takashimaya, can't remember which one) in the basement where all the food is at there was a line of people waiting patiently for 4pm for the fish prices to be marked down. A good way of getting their perishable inventory moving, I say!

At 8:26 AM, Blogger joanh said...

hahaHAHAHhahaha.. it reminds of when i was at berkeley and this little vietnamese place marked off 50% after 4pm, that's when i'd always the spring rolls..

sadly, the nijiya on sawtelle doesn't discount even at night, unless i've been missing out on something..

At 2:08 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Ah, but I haven't fully expressed the lengths that I go to be cheap. The bentos have their weight printed on labels. Guess which ones I take first? I think I've crossed over from 'genius' to 'miserly Scrooge'.


Sadly, I don't live in Japan. Of course, if I did, I'd be eating bentos all the time! Sale or no sale.


In my college days, the Albertson's near campus would discount their fried chicken before closing to a suspiciously low amount. Supermarket fried chickens are made from the unsold raw chicken, you this was double discounted already...but we, being college students, ate it anyway!

At 8:21 PM, Blogger Charlie Fu said...

The one in SD apparently doesn't mark it until who knows when. We stood there from 5:10 to 5:45 haha.

At 10:55 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Well that's dedication! But I would've done the same.

At 9:27 AM, Blogger Delta Boy said...

The discounted box lunches / Bentos was the best thing about living in Costa Mesa!! I have to settle for Korean food here in Buena Park since I've moved to North Orange County.

Hey Elmo, have you tried the Tofu House on Beach Blvd in Buena Park next the the Ralph's! Also check out the Cake House next door! Yummy desserts! I have some pixs posted on both my Xanga and Blogger sites.


Happy Eating!

At 9:13 PM, Blogger Jessica said...

Thanks so much for the info. I had no idea. I've had their ramen, but never the boxes. Can't wait to give these discounted delicacies a try!

At 10:19 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Delta Boy,

The only Korean place in Buena Park I've tried so far is Harubang (which is pretty good). Tofu is right up my alley though...especially since I haven't had it in a while. Thanks for the tip! And for the bakery suggestion too!


Remember, the boxes are inside the supermarket, on the right wall as your looking in. You can't miss it!

At 3:13 PM, Blogger Shiny Things said...


Ever since u posted this, I've noticed the ready made food section at SG Mitsuwa is always empty. Everytime i go there after work it's almost always cleaned out. The worst one was last week, when there was only 2 boxes of assorted sushi and 1 saba shioyaki left.

It use to not be like that at all, now that i think about it, that probably has a lot to do with this post. i love the post but I'm not loving the result... Thanks anyway :)

p.s. u can have the karaage...just save me the croquette and the saba.

At 5:32 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I laughed when I read your comment. As much as I'd like to think that I'm all influential and stuff, I went to my Mitsuwa last week as usual and there was still a good amount left behind. Although, funny enough, no karaage, just shioyaki saba! Which I know love more than the karaage! You're lucky I don't live in SGV!

But seeing as how your Mitsuwa is cleaned out, does that mean all my readers are in San Gabriel?! HAHA!

At 12:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are there some items to stay away from by the time they're discounted? I'd imagine that one should stick away from the sushi and tempura cause it'd lose that crunchy crispy taste. Anything else?

At 11:09 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I, too, avoid the sushi. Though, I usually avoid any prepackaged sushi in general. They don't have tempura in the bentos though...I think they figured out it wouldn't work because people would know it'd be limp.

All other items are good though. Even the fried items like the karaage. I'd avoid the tonkatsu though...not because the crust will be soggy, but the meat is often dry and chewy.


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