Wow Bento & Roll’s Sashimi Salad is Far Less Scary Than I Expected
When I first moved to Los Angeles from NYC and decided to keep doing Midtown Lunch I had a decision to make. Do I focus on one specific area, like Downtown (the Midtown of L.A.), or do I try to cover a larger area of lunching- thereby making the site as useful as possible to as many office workers as possible. In the end, people convinced me that Downtown L.A. was no Midtown, and I selfishly decided to cover the area from Downtown all the way to Santa Monica. Well, I’m starting to think that might have been a huge mistake! Downtown L.A. is kind of amazing, and every time I’m there for lunch I think about how much I wish I worked there full time. (No, this is not April Fool’s.)
Just like Midtown Manhattan, Downtown L.A. pretty much has everything. Your ethnic enclaves (Little Tokyo, Chinatown), your new generation chains (Mendocino Farms, Starry Kitchen, Gram & Papa’s), and your old school classics (Philippe’s, Cole’s, Grand Central Market, Clifton’s Cafeteria, and Uncle John’s Ham’s and eggs). But even more important than all that, Downtown L.A. is dotted with all sorts of dirty looking, semi-hidden gems. Places that probably won’t survive their next lease renewal, but until that day comes continue to serve up cheap and tasty lunches to longtime regulars, and those of us newcomers with adventurous stomachs. Places like Wow Bento & Roll, my newest DTLA lunch discovery.
Despite its “Voted #1 Japanese Fast Food in Downtown” banner I was pretty skeptical of Wow Bento & Roll when I happened upon earlier this week. For one thing, it has a sister restaurant right next door called Wow Bowl with crappy looking Chinese food that even I wasn’t interested in (and that’s saying a lot.) But there was something about Wow Bento & Roll that called to me. I do love me some cheap sushi, but when it’s too cheap… well… that’s the one thing I get weird about. But cheap sushi that’s been deep fried? Well that’s a completely different matter altogether!
What can I say? I love spicy tuna roll. What’s that you say? Spicy tuna is made from the leftover dregs, and cut with mayo and lord knows what else? And they don’t cook the tempura roll long enough to kill any bacteria? Shut your mouth, and let me enjoy my deep fried tuna dregs roll with mayo in peace! Actually, there’s not a ton of mayo in Wow’s version, and it was kind of awesome. And you know what else was awesome? The spicy chicken. It was semi crispy (maybe from grilling?) and gooey and sweet and spicy… everything I want from my cheap Asian chicken. Some may find it a bit dry, but it was just the way I like it. And the spicy pickles were a nice addition (and the only hint that the owners are likely Korean.) The only complaint I really had was that it would have been nice if one of the components wasn’t spicy, for balance (and a break from the heat.) But in the end, the spicy tuna wasn’t really that spicy once you dipped it in the tempura sauce (of course they give you tempura sauce!) it provided that nice respite from the heat.
Ironically enough, a day after my surprisingly enjoyable meal, Lunch’er Bucky actually mentioned Wow Bento & Roll in his Tuesday profile, highly recommending their $8 sashmi salad over rice. $8 sashimi? I liked my deep fried spicy tuna roll, but was I really ready for the kind of commitment it takes to eating $8 sashimi. Reluctantly, I decided I was, and returned to WB&R to meet my maker.
Wait a second… that doesn’t look too bad at all. In fact, it looks kind of awesome. The sashimi rice (not to be confused with the sashimi salad, which is $10 and doesn’t come with rice) actually turned out to be hwe dup bap, the Korean version of the chirashi bowl. It had scoops of tuna, salmon, spicy tuna, some kind of white fish, and imitation crab on top of a bunch of lettuce and a scoop of white rice. They give you a cup of Korean chili paste to pour over the top, but their version is just ok. Bucky’s recommendation of asking for their ginger dressing was a much better idea. Pour if over the whole thing, and you’re in business. Over with fear, to overcome with adoration in under a day… and it only cost me $8. What a steal. This one will definitely be making my “healthiest lunches you will ever see me eat” list next year.
I also couldn’t leave without trying their $4.50 chicken and tempura bowl, which I saw a couple of old Asian men enjoying the day before (how could they be wrong? They’re old! And Asian!) I also figured it couldn’t hurt to have a backup lunch for my $8 sashmi adventure. The bowl was as good as it looks, and probably one of the best under $5 lunches in all of Downtown. The chicken was just as good as the spicy chicken (minus the spicy sauce, obviously) and the tempura was freshly fried… and you even get a shrimp! For $4.50! How great is that?
Wow Bento & Roll is actually a chain with locations in Glendale, La Crescenta, and on Melrose, but I have a hunch that none of the other three franchises are as dirty and scary looking as the one Downtown. And that might just be the best thing about it…
THE + (What people who like this place would say about it)
- The raw fish isn’t terrible… especially if you make it into a roll and deep fry the whole thing!
- Their chicken and spicy chicken are kind of awesome
- I still can’t get over how not scary the $8 sashimi rice bowl was
THE – (What people who don’t like about this place would say about it)
- I will not eat under $10 sushi, no matter how much you pay me!
- The chicken is a little dry for me.
- Did I mention cheap sushi scares me?
- What’s next? A review of SanSai?!
Wow Bento & Roll, 710 S. Hill St., 213-489-3636