Boba out here in Southern California is hitting an all time high. Years ago, I would have to drive out 20 to 30 minutes to the nearest boba place, and it would have to be awesome for me to make multiple trips back. Now, they seem to be popping up all over the place, like so many trend foods before it (cupcakes, frozen yogurt, pizza, etc.).
While Boba or “Bubble Tea” (as some would call it) is not of Japanese origin (it was created in Taiwan), it’s enjoyed in various asian food malls or shopping centers. Here is a list of my favorite places in the area I live, and a few duds as well.
Best of the Best:
Milk Box is one of the more newer Boba places to open up out here. Originally based out of Los Angeles, they’ve open a few out here; one in Mission Viejo and Tustin. Both can be found in the Union Market sections of their respective shopping centers. Some of the best milk teas from there that I have enjoyed is Jasmine, Lavender, and Japanese Matcha (above). They pride themselves in using all natural ingredients and organic teas.
Cha For Tea:
Cha for Tea was one of the first boba places I would frequent to. Located in one of the shopping centers on the UCI (University of California Irvine) campus, on certain days it can really crowded because all the college students frequent here. Some of my favorites from here is their Almond Black milk tea and Honey Green Milk tea. They used to have a full meal menu, but in the last 6 months they have shortened their food selection to just appetizers. Some of their best ones are the fried tofu and gyoza dumplings.
Harmony Tea Bar:
Harmony Tea Bar is located is Mission Viejo and is only a year old. But their milks teas are amazing, using organic teas and they also can do substitutions if you cannot stomach dairy. I usually like getting their Honey Milk Tea with almond or soy milk. What’s also unique about them is they’re not afraid to experiment. On my first visit, I ended up getting their hand made Horchata with boba and the mix of cinnamon and boba took it to a whole different level. My only warning about this place is you have to be willing to brave waves of teenagers (it’s a big place for them to hang out since a high school is down the street from here).
Lollicup has two locations in Irvine and along with Cha For Tea, the location at Diamond Jamboree would be the one I would take that 30 minute drive to get my boba fix. I prefer the Diamond Jamboree location because it’s very clean and in the middle of some other amazing food places like Ajisan Ramen, 85 Degrees Bakery, and Pho Saigon Pearl. The other location is in a shopping center on Jeffery Rd., but that location is smaller and not as good. Brad (my husband) and I went there once and if your boba chewy and tastes like the food you’re cooking inside, then maybe you should skip it. My favorite drinks at the Diamond Jamboree location are the Taro, Jasmine, Royal, Almond, and Honey milk teas.
Pengo Drink Station:
Pengo has been open for only a few months, but it has won me over. Up the street from where I work, the thing that sets this place apart from all the other Boba places are two things: One, everything is made and served in their trademark bottle (pictured above), and Two, their boba is clear. While clear boba might seem weird to some, I can assure you it tastes great. The bottles are also an incentive for return visits, for if you clean and keep it, you can bring it back and reuse it; on top of either receiving 15% off of your drink purchase or one free add on. My current favorites from them are their Thai (pictured above), Hokkaido, and Taro milk teas.
Chatime has been open for a year after the food court at the Shops at Mission Viejo (mall) got remodeled. One of the first few to open close to me, you can imagine my excitement when this one opened. I give this an honorable mention because while I have gone here a few times, one of the only drinks I care to get is their Chatime Boba milk tea. Their Taro milk tea is okay but on a textural standpoint it might not be what some are used to. What has this place going for it is mainly it’s desserts. Their Japanese cheesecake is awesome (the only cheesecake I can stomach), and they used to have egg pudding as well but stopped carrying it recently.
The last two boba places are the only ones on my list that I’ve vowed never to go to again. I tend to go by the Andrew Zimmern (of Bizarre Foods fame) rule of “Twice is Nice,” and I give fair warning to avoid these places. They’re so bad, I’m not going to even justify giving them a picture.
Boba Me Baby:
With a name as dumb as that, you should just steer clear anyway. I had found this place through some Google searching because at the time, no boba places were close by. This place was just a block away from my previous job in Aliso Viejo. They have recently moved to the city of Laguna Beach, about two blocks away from the Sawdust festival. I had come here twice hoping the second time would be better than the first but both experiences turned out the same. The boba was extra chewy and probably needed a new batch made both times. The place smelled like burnt waffles (which was the only thing on their food menu at the time). And they had put too much powder in both of my drinks. They wouldn’t know a good boba drink if it shoved a foot up their ass. The service is quite bad too. Best to avoid this place at all cost.
I know what you’re going to say. How dare you put Beard Papa’s on the bad list. But before we start throwing stones, I will give kudos to them because their cream puffs are the best and would sell my soul to the devil if he can guarantee that I wouldn’t get fat or die of a heart attack if I were to eat them for the rest of my life. But just do not, I repeat DO NOT EVER buy boba drinks from here. I had bought a boba drink here only because I was pressed for time. I bought a drink thinking that if they made amazing cream puffs, then their boba drinks should be no different. NOPE. Their Jasmine milk tea (which is what I ordered) didn’t taste like Jasmine at all. I assume they must’ve got my drink order wrong, because there was also caramel drizzle in it as well. It was mostly milk and the milk was a tad too warm. And the boba was disgusting. If you’re keeping the boba in the same place where you’re cooking greasy meat anything, chances are your boba is going to taste like greasy meat anything…… And it did…. I didn’t even drink half of it and just dumped it when I got home. It was one of those rare times I regretted forking over 4 bucks for it.
Here are the links to all the good places I mentioned. Hope you all find something you like.
Milk Box: milkboxbar.com
Cha For Tea: chafortea.com
Harmony Tea Bar: harmonyteabar.com
Pengo Drink Station: pengodrink.com