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The Boba Enthusiast’s Guide to Berkeley

The majority of newcomers to Berkeley fall into two categories: those who adore boba, the popular Asian drink, and those who are soon to be introduced to it and quickly fall in love. The term “boba” refers to the chewy black tapioca pearls which can accompany any wide variety of teas (ranging from the classic milk tea to more exotic flavors such as passionfruit green tea). To those unaccustomed to the drink, the combination of the two may sound odd, but the tapioca pearls add an enjoyable texture to the already satisfying experience of drinking a fragrant, chilled tea.

boba/bubble tea - a popular asian drink

As far as boba options are concerned, Berkeley may as well be one of America’s boba capitals. The choices are seemingly endless and can be easily puzzling to a newcomer to the area. Here’s a guide to lessen that confusion and to direct you to the boba establishment that is best for you!

1. Quickly’s (located in the Asian ghetto) – The best selling point of Quickly’s is the quality of the tea which is smooth-textured and consistent in its flavoring. Quickly’s also has a great location because it is among varied eating establishments, making it a convenient stop for someone who is planning to pick up dinner and some bubble tea. My one complaint about Quickly’s is that the actual boba that is put into the drink can be sparse, leaving you with a regular tea before you finish your drink.

2. Lotus House (located near Cafe Durant) – Lotus House is a Chinese restaurant that offers limited flavors of bubble tea. Sometimes its quality of the tea is not as good as Quickly’s because it often has a slightly grainy texture, indicating that it has been made from a powder. However, Lotus House surpasses all the other options in regards to how many boba they put in each drink; on several occasions, my drink from Lotus House has almost been half-filled with the delicious tapioca pearls. All in all, if the main appeal of drinking bubble tea is its chewy tapioca, Lotus House is your best option.

3. Sweetheart Cafe (located adjacent to the Asian ghetto) – My experiences at Sweetheart Cafe have been varied. The level of sweetness of the teas often fluctuates, but it usually stays in the range of “enjoyable”. However, Sweetheart does offer many different flavors of the tea as well as “snow bubbles” which are essentially heavily iced smoothies. Another advantage to Sweetheart Cafe is that it opens the latest. Whereas most of the bubble tea shops close around 11 PM, Sweetheart Cafe is often past 2 AM because the owners will keep it open as long as a steady stream of customers is still present. Thus, Sweetheart Cafe is the easy choice if you’re craving boba as a late night snack.

4. Mocchacino (located on Bancroft across campus) – Mocchacino is a convenient place to visit with a friend because their 2 for $3 deal makes them the cheapest boba establishment I have visited. The quality of the tea and boba is generally constant: the jasmine milk tea is deliciously fragrant but the number of the tapioca pearls is on the lesser side. An advantage of Mocchacino is that it offers boba with hot tea for the same price as chilled boba (at every other bubble tea place that I have ever visited, the price for hot boba is always greater). Unfortunately, the wait is can be quite long (once, I waited around 20 minutes for my drink), making this establishment a hit or miss if you are pressed for time.

5. Mandarin House (located in the Asian ghetto) – personally, I found the boba tea at Mandarin House to be disappointing for several reasons. For starters, the tea was cloyingly sweet –  to the point that it was difficult to drink. Additionally, the drink was around 50% ice and had few actual tapioca pearls. Perhaps it was an anomaly (seeing as I did not return after my first visit), but because Quickly’s and Lotus House are only a few steps away, there is no need to take the risk.



Filed under Berkeley, California Restaurants

The Asian Ghetto Exploration #1: Bear’s Ramen House

the infamous asian ghetto of UC Berkeley

Asian Ghetto is one of the oft-frequented casual dining gems of UC Berkeley. Located on Durant (between the intersecting streets of Telegraph and College), the Asian Ghetto is a cluster of convenient fast food eating options (incidentally, only a few of them are Asian).

The Bear Ramen House is a hole-in-the-wall Korean eatery. The seating space is nearly non-existant (perhaps 5 people can sit inside, bar-style seating), and the food takes roughly 5 to 15 minutes to be made. So far, I have only tried one of Bear Ramen House’s dishes (one of their most popular dishes) – Kimchi Fried Rice with Spam ($7.50).

kimchi fried rice with spam

The dish is spicy in a nuanced manner (with sour undertones) accompanied by small, diced pieces of spam and a fried egg on top. Several of my friends who are not as accustomed to spice found the dish hard to eat after a few bites; however, if you crave spicy food, the dish will definitely hit the spot. The more subtly flavored crisp fried egg on top is a great contrast to the thicker tasting spam scattered throughout the rice. The portion size of the rice was more than adequate — I would suggest ordering “to go” even if you plan on eating in the surrounding area so you can easily carry the leftovers home.

I would recommend this place to someone who craves spicy, filling food and does not have access to a kitchen (if you do, I imagine it would be much more time and cost effective to whip up this simple dish in your own home).

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Filed under Berkeley, California Restaurants

Welcome to The Gourmet Life

Hey there!
We’re two college students living in the food capitals of the US — the Bay Area and New York City. We enjoy sampling food from a wide variety of cuisines and exploring unique gastronomical creations. On Welcome to The Gourmet Life, we hope to share some of our favorite restaurant picks and general food commentary.

Hope you enjoy and bon appétit!
Robert Baldwin and Ishita Arora

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