Suika: New Bento Café
By: Angela May Chen
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You can now find your Japanese food fix on the block of 18th and Mission with Suika, a new bento café that opened right next to Ken Ken Ramen. Founded by the same three owners as Ken Ken, Robert Patterson, Stefan Roesch, and chef Taka Hori, Suika specializes in homemade bento boxes that are the perfect take-out lunch.
What's special about Suika is that it has no set menu. "Everyday is different," said chef Taka. "We decide on the menu the night before." He likes to get experimental, so customers can experience all the endless bento combinations. The only thing you can count on is that there will always be a meat, fish, and veggie option available. Some past creations include saba (mackerel), pumpkin croquette, kimchi pork, minced beef katsu, and even hamburger bento. Each lunchbox also comes with assorted sides such as rice, tamago (egg), burdock potato salad, hijiki seaweed, nasu eggplant, or kabocha squash.
Taka told me his inspiration comes from ekiben, which are bento boxes unique to each train station in Japan. His goal with Suika is to bring San Francisco that same healthy and traditional taste.
Suika also makes fresh Japanese desserts and cakes daily. After all, it's hard not to indulge a little in some sweets when the lunches are so healthy. Some baked delights include the layered Mille crepe cake, cheese mochis, Kawashima macaroons, and green tea sable cookies. Suika has also partnered with the Boba Guys for tapioca drinks and Frozen Kuhstard to serve homemade ice cream with flavors like Four Barrel Coffee and Thai Iced Tea.
While Suika offers all these other delicious treats, its main focus is bento. “We don’t want to have too many menu items,” said Taka. “We want to focus on having one high quality product. Taka explained that the Japanese mentality is to specialize in making one thing and making it very well. So while Jiro dreams of sushi, Taka dreams of bento, and is working to perfect his craft here at Suika.
The café has a very cozy wood-paneled interior, which was also concepted and designed by the three founders. This clever design with a high ceiling and horizontally-lined walls makes the actual shoebox-sized café feel surprisingly relaxing. Although Suika is mainly for take-out, there are a several tables for eating in and nice window seats perfect for sunny Mission days. Suika is planning to expand in the near future and is actually in the process of building a back lounge. I got a quick sneak peek and it looks like a mini greenhouse back there. The plan is to turn the space into an earthy, tree-filled skylight back lounge by the end of next month, so keep an eye out!
Currently, Suika is only open Wednesday to Friday from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. My advice is to come early because the bento boxes tend to sell out by late noon. (Especially when folks come buy them in bulk for office lunches!)
Suika Bento Café
3378 18th Street
Fun Fact: Suika actually means “watermelon” in Japanese. The logo with three dots comes from the three cofounders, which serendipitously looks like a watermelon seed.
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