Ask the Critic: Where Can I Buy a Bento Box?

Summer vacation season has barely passed (for some folks, it's still high-time to hit the beach, or the mountains), but it's already back-to-school time for busy parents.

One friend, mother of two precocious girls (including a fledgling Japan nerd after my own heart), asked me where she can find bento boxes for packing kids' lunches with style.

No doubt, she's been inspired by the book she bought on our recent trip to L.A., all about insanely cute portable meals that have Japanese moms going overboard when prepping their spawn's daily meals.  

Although traditional Japanese bento boxes -- "o-bento" -- are sophisticated lacquerware, the ones my friend was looking for are the colorful, pop-inspired plastic ones that appeal to kids of all ages.

I've recently seen them at Smeeks and Red Hot Robot, two neighboring boutiques just west of Camelback and Central.

Fujiya Market in Tempe often has such knickknacks, and so does House of Rice. I've also spotted bento boxes at Asiana Market (1116 S. Dobson, Mesa), which is a great place to find Asian housewares and kitchen goods in general