Words & Deeds

Talk about clean eating! This new restaurant will open in a former Boise car wash.

Zen Bento plans to share a building with soon-to-open Reed Cycle in a former car wash being renovated into two retail spaces.
Zen Bento plans to share a building with soon-to-open Reed Cycle in a former car wash being renovated into two retail spaces. mdeeds@idahostatesman.com

You’ve heard of “clean” eating, a diet based on whole, unprocessed foods?

Prepare for squeaky-clean eating.

Local chain Zen Bento plans to open a fourth restaurant in a former car wash.

Zen Bento will join Reed Cycle in the old Car Tub building at 2340 N. Bogus Basin Road. The structure is being renovated into two spaces.

Serving rice bowls to Boise since 1996, Zen Bento is a popular option for diners seeking healthy grab-and-go lunches. The menu isn’t advertised as “clean” — more like “cleaner eating,” owner Rene Iwamasa explains. “We don’t fry any foods. We steam our vegetables.”

But soon, Zen Bento plans to go beyond car-wash clean — at all its locations.

Along with its normal array of barbecued chicken bowls and salads, Zen Bento will launch a new, secondary “ZB Fit” menu. Customers with specific dietary needs will have “a no-brainer way of ordering healthy foods,” Iwamasa says, from a menu that is “absolutely clean eating.”

“It’s going to have more superfood options. We’ll be able to cater to people on paleo diets. Or diabetics watching sugars.”

Salmon bowl.JPG
Steam rises from vegetables in a salmon bowl. Zen Bento

The ZB Fit menu will roll out by midsummer at Zen Bento’s three locations at 1000 W. Main St. and 2454 S. Apple St. in Boise, and at 342 E. State St. in Eagle. The fourth restaurant should be open by late fall or early winter.

Iwamasa decided to expand to Bogus Basin Road after being approached by the owner of Reed Cycle, who is targeting a June opening for the bike shop. Zen Bento has operated next door to Reed Cycle in Eagle for 14 years.

Fitness-minded bicyclists often discover Zen Bento because of its proximity to Reed, Iwamasa says. “It’s like a perfect match,” she says. “The cycling and our product.”

Positioned between Greenwoods Ski Haus and McU Sports, the new Zen Bento will cater to skiers, hikers and bikers. The small restaurant will have 14 to 20 seats, lots of parking (but no drive-up window), patio seating and later hours.

Most notable to hungry North Enders and Highlands residents? Zen Bento will serve nourishing, Japanese-inspired cuisine that isn’t Lulu’s Pizza or Hawkins Pac-Out — two of the few quickie dining options nearby.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a slice of pizza. Or an occasional fat cheeseburger.

“We’re the polar opposite of Hawkins Pac-Out,” Iwamasa says with a laugh. “I will admit, we’ve eaten there, too! That’s part of what I like about what we do. I always say you’ve got to have balance in life. If you can at least eat a couple of healthy meals a week, you can go do your Hawkins Pac-Out once in a while.”

Online: zenbento.com.

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Michael Deeds is an entertainment reporter and opinion columnist at the Idaho Statesman. Since starting at the Statesman as a news intern in 1991, he has been a sportswriter and features/entertainment editor. Deeds also has freelanced for The Washington Post, Relix, Country Weekly, Velo News, Beer Advocate and more.