Tanoshi Bento on the Upper East Side

This humble bento spot shows how the Japanese do lunch

At a new Japanese restaurant up on the Upper East Side, chef Sugie is so revered that the restaurant's one manager-hostess-waitress doesn't even know his first name.

Sugie has 37 years of cooking experience (he pulled out a calculator to tabulate the number for us) behind him–and one killer recipe for fried chicken.

Gyu don | The local lunch crowd

Tanoshi Bento is the pocket-sized operation where you'll find him–just five tables each seating two people, and a miniscule kitchen. It is, by any measure, worth the slog to York Avenue.

Laden with exuberant reviews, its perpetually packed next-door sibling, Tanoshi Sushi, is like a glitzier older sister, attired in gleaming fish.

But we've fallen hard for the more humble Tanoshi Bento, and so have locals. The restaurant has been quietly bumping along with a stream of lunch business and takeout orders since it opened in August.

Tempura bento ($13) | Tempura soba ($13)

Any selection from the short menu results in a guaranteed flurry of dishes. There's a salad and miso soup, followed by the main dish as center star to a satellite of smaller dishes, including potato salad, pickles, two types of seaweed and shrimp dumplings.

"Cheap and good quality," is what chef Sugie says about bento-style food, which in Japan is served everywhere from corner stores to 7-Elevens. Try his gyu don, a rice bowl ($9), laden with beef and onions simmered in dashi, mirin and soy sauce; deep-fried pork cutlets ($13); and salmon teriayki ($13).

Chef Sugie and his fried chicken

To make the fried chicken karaage ($13), Sugie marinates nearly-bite size pieces of organic, boneless chicken boneless in soy sauce, mirin, sake and fresh ginger. A side of shichimi togarashi and Kewpie mayo spiked with ume plum paste add verve to the crunchy skin.

Lunch is served.