I had never understood the appeal of boba tea. Now that I’ve actually tried it I’m in boba lust. (Although I still don’t get the giant globs of tapioca.)
My boba quest began by complete accident. In my never-ending search for food in the Great North (i.e., around Keller), a guest and I ventured out to Noodles @ Boba Tea House (7355 N. Beach St., #101) with a Groupon in hand. The place is your standard-issue strip- mall environment, with some nice flourishes, like comfy booths. The house specialty is all things pho and, as the joint’s name suggests, the fruity tea aswim in tapioca “pearls” that feel like squishy marbles going down.
When the very young server asked for our drink order, my guest went for the green jasmine milk tea ($3.25). That combination of concepts seemed odd to me, as though my guest were just randomly putting words together. Kind of like, “I’ll have the goose liver rosehip bubble gum steak tartare.”
Our server informed me that the boba was a part of the Groupon, so I had one coming too. Without much passion, I went for the passion fruit black tea ($3.50), because that sounded more like a drink I could wrap my occidental brain around.
As it turned out, both drinks were outstanding. Though my passion fruit was a little sweeter than I like, it was still refreshing and tasted of actual fresh fruit. The green jasmine milk tea had a subtle sweetness, with floral notes. I knew then I had misjudged boba.
The rest of the meal was equally impressive. The enormous portion of Vietnamese beef noodle soup deluxe ($7.50) combined bold and complex flavors: rice noodles topped with eye-of-round steak, beef brisket, tripe, and tendon, garnished with fresh onions and cilantro and served with bean sprouts, jalapeño peppers, a lime wedge, and fresh basil. The broth was rich and not at all oily. Similarly, there was no shortage of flavors in the hearty grilled pork vermicelli ($7.50). The pork had been marinated with fresh lemon grass and herbs and was served with roasted peanuts, bean sprouts, shredded lettuce, cucumbers, fresh mint leaves, and a tingly “house special sauce.” Both dishes were simple and spicy, the ingredients fresh and the flavors gi-normous — overall, an excellent dinner.
The very next day I found myself in my old stomping grounds near the University of Texas at Arlington and the Bethany Boba Tea Shop and Café (705 West Park Row Dr., Arl.). Kismet, surely. I’d been to the café before but always avoided the boba tea. Time for the next stop on my new quest.
The place has a cool, hole-in-the-wall vibe but is sometimes overrun by annoyingly high-spirited college and high school kids. Summer is the season for curmudgeons like me to visit.
It’s a walk-up counter operation, and the service was prompt, bordering on hurried. My server told me that a boba tea drink comes free with an entrée, so I jumped at the chance. I ordered the panko-crusted, deep-fried pork chop over rice ($4.99), which was beautifully crisp and surprisingly tender. The menu is chock-full of similar Chinese and Taiwanese street food options. Gourmet Magazine won’t be doing a spread on it anytime soon, but you can’t beat the prices. My server also talked me into the classic milk tea from the boba menu, which was excellent, albeit not quite sweet enough for my Western palate.
I don’t know if this is a fad or an obsession, but I’m officially neck deep in the boba stream. Since I scored some excellent food along the way, I’m confident that at least I won’t starve as I continue to follow where it leads me. Sorry, Starbucks, I’m dedicating my caffeine allowance to boba for a while.
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