TJ’s Bento Box Bonanza

Trader Joe San's Rice & Vegetable Bento Box

Trader Joe San's Rice & Vegetable Bento Box

I Paid: $5.99 for a 10-ounce meal (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 5 stars

Marketing: 5 stars

Dear Diary: Went to Trader Joe's today. Saw this crazy-looking bento-box frozen entrée and FREAKED. OUT. Nine distinct tastes in one attractively packaged, convenient meal. The Trader Joe's randomness factor is always a concern, but still. This could be the one!

And ... well, yeah, pretty much! While falling (understandably) short of fine-Japanese-dining standards, the Rice & Vegetable Bento Box soars thousands of feet above the low bar of "frozen-food lunch." Its nine different tastes consist of relatively healthy vegetables, rice, and/or mushrooms with a simple, traditional sauce or other seasoning-based twist, combining respectable flavor with good nutrition. Without further ado, nine short reviews of the bento's contents:

Pumpkin with shiso seasoning: This tasted like a simple, tender piece of steamed pumpkin. Not particularly sweet, with a mild herbal kick. Pleasant.

Spicy long beans: Green beans with an unapologetically real kick of heat to them and a pleasantly salty depth.

Eggplant with miso paste: Creamy consistency, bland, but tolerable.

Soba salad with oyster mushroom: A bit of chew to the noodles and some mushroomy depth of flavor.

Shiitake mushroom with edamame and carrot: The mushroom still had a distinct textural snap and funky flavor, and the edamame was neither soggy nor improperly seasoned.

Baked tofu with teriyaki sauce: Classic and simple, vegetarian comfort food 101.

Brown rice with seaweed and sesame sauce: Mild with a bit of seaweed flavor and a good textural pop.

Curry-flavored brown rice: The curry flavor was understated but within reasonable limits.

Teriyaki-flavored brown rice with carrot: Could've been saltier but was soothingly mellow.

In short, a riot of options that range from passable to tasty. For a healthy frozen lunch? A total keeper.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.