THE GUPPY TEAHOUSE
Yummy spicy popcorn chicken and 1-foot-high shaved ice
The Guppy Teahouse specializes in trendy Taiwanese food with a pan-Asian twist. In addition to Chinese fare like sweet and sour chicken, Guppy serves up munchies like kimchi fried rice and noodle soup. It is popular for afternoon snacks as well as for full-blown dinners. Guppy also serves bubble milk teas, coffees and ice blendeds. Its popcorn chicken and 1-foot high shaved ice (their smallest size) are the most popular dishes. As the hang out place for local high schoolers and college students, the decor is casually hip. Fish tanks give it an underwater flavor. Waiting in line for 20 minutes is not uncommon. The Guppy Teahouse was invited to open up a City Hall mini-branch in 2005. It is fondly known as Guppy II.
11803 South Street, Cerritos, CA 90703, (562) 865-7288
TEA LEAF CAFE
Awesome burgers, bubble tea and late hours, like its college-age clientele
This late night haunt is located outside the heart of Chicago's Chinatown. It serves everything from bubble milk teas and fruit freezes, to burger-joint standards like mozarella sticks, hot dogs, pizza puffs and chili cheese fries. For those who don't see the allure of a gourmet half-pound burger, it also serves bulgogi, kalbi and veggie burgers. Local artwork adorns the walls. Board games like Connect Four and Shoots and Ladders find a happy home next to the more intellectual chess and Scrabble boards. For laptop users, wi-fi is available. Like its teenage audience, Tea Leaf Cafe keeps late hours. On Mondays through Thursdays, it operates from noon until midnight. On Fridays through Sundays it is open till 2 am.
2336 S Wentworth Ave, Chicago, IL 60616, (312) 808-3668
WILD GINGER VEGETARIAN CAFE
Veggie cuisine even carnivores will scarf
Somewhere between cozy and cramped, this small restaurant in New York's Chinatown serves delicious pan-asian vegan and vegetarian cuisine. From staples like curry and General Tsao's "chicken," to yummy appetizers like spinach shu mai and scallion pancakes with mango salsa, they've got the veggie spectrum covered. The pair who own the cafe, Winnie Liu and Tim Fang claim to use over two-dozen home-made sauces. You can expect to pay between $6-$8 for their lunch specials which are served between noon and 4 pm. They include miso soup, steamed pumpkin, brown or coconut rice, and a spring roll. And for dessert, you can try their black sesame or vanilla ginger soy icecream. If you're simply in need of some non-caffeinated refreshment, the homemade ginger-ale is delicious. The decor is surprisingly rustic, green moss adorns the exposed brick walls. Wild Ginger is tasty enough for self-proclaimed carnivores to enjoy too.
380 Broome Street, New York City, NY 10013, (212) 966-1883
Shop while you sip
Momoko's has turned gift shopping and snacking into a pleasant one-stop experience. There are over 200 beverages on their menu including "mystery" drinks like the "French Kiss," which is a French vanilla tea with floral undertones, and the "Junky Racoon," which has a caramel flavor. Drinks range in price from $3.50-$4.50. Also sold are cute Japanese stationary and toys. Momoko's tea quality is noticeably better than most boba shops. It avoids overpowering the flavor of the tea with too much sugar. But for those who prefer something more substantial, imported snacks are also for sale. There are only two tables, perhaps to discourage in-store studying. Momoko's is located near the University of Texas.
705 W 24th St, Austin, TX 78705, (512) 469-0232
A more mature crowd and bubble tea, served martini style
Its motto is "A bit of zen in the zoo of life." Zen Zoo's decor is more conducive to meditation and sleep than to work. It is more upscale than your typical boba joint or Starbucks, and the audience is older. It serves tea lattes, and even offer a barley tea espresso. The Zenfusion drinks, made with black or green tea and a variety of different flavorings, are shaken in a martini shaker and then served in a tall glass. The result is a beverage with a foamy head. For the adventurous, there are fusion drinks like their SnakeZen Fusion, a combination of green tea and passionfruit, and their BoarZen Fusion, green tea and mango. In addition to unique beverages, Zen Zoo offers more substantial fare like chicken curry and rice or their spicy black pepper beef. It also serves various dim sum favorites like char siu bao and dumplings as well as gourmet salads, like their ginger chicken salad. For around $12 you can get a milk tea and a rice plate. It is little over a year old. The six year old sister branch is located in Brentwood. There is now a third location in Beverly Hills.
1517 N Vine Street, Hollywood, CA 90068, (323) 962-9969
Bubble tea for early risers and the calorie-counters
This is the place for the no-nonsense bubble tea afficiando. It opens at 8:30 am, their boba is always reliably chewy, and they take special requests. Sweetness is negotiable. Sugar substitute can be used for the health conscious. Beyond boba though, their menu is limited to rice krispies treats, three or four pastries and a few ice cream flavors. On special occasions like Chinese New Year's though, Cassava serves customers BBQ buns. Compared to its California boba counterparts, at $3.23 a cup Cassava's prices are a little steep but by New York bubble tea standards, they are relatively cheap. Cassava isn't a place for lounging. It is a narrow space and lacks the plush seating and intimacy of other popular cafes.
474 6th Avenue, New York, NY 10011, (212) 255-4805
FAR LEAVES TEA
Upscale tea for the connoisseur
The Berkeley branch is located off of College Avenue, It is a narrow, multi-level space, furnished with tatamis, an opium bed, a window seat and shelves packed with charming teapots and pretty ceramic cups. Its eclectic, mismatched spread, makes it more cozy than hip. Gourmet tea is the only beverage served. The cafes supply is replenished twice a year by the owners' trips to Asia. The Emeryville location is a humble, modified warehouse. From 12-3, they serve fresh paninis, noodles, cookies and cake, all novelly infused with a hint of tea. The Emeryville location is great for long lunch breaks and moments of solitude. And the one off of College is a perfect place for couples who seek a bit of intimacy. Both are good for the older-than-college age crowd who value a more mellow environment.
2979 College Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94705, (510) 665-9409
JASMINE TEA HOUSE
Great casual take-out
Few San Francisco locals have been to the Bernal Heights district. It is serviced by limited bus lines and located on the southern edge of Mission Valley. The Jasmine Tea House is nestled in this quaint, old-fashioned town. It serves everything from fried chicken wings, General Tsou's chicken and Hunan salmon to delicious teas and drinks. It is a popular place takeout place. And in-restaurant dining is a humble but tasty experience. The ambience isn't anything to write home about. But the reasonable prices and varied menu are impressive. Their vegetarian offerings like Kung Pao and sesame "chicken" are hailed as the best fake poultry in SF. If you're looking for some cheap but yummy food and not a stickler for presentation, check out the Jasmine Teahouse.
3253 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110, (415) 826-6288
Many milk tea flavors, comfy seating, free wi-fi, good study spot
It is located near both the University of Houston and the Galleria. They have an extensive milk tea menu with unusual offerings like "champagne grape," "peanut cream," rose and ginseng flavored drinks. They also have some interesting extras like egg pudding and coffee gelatin. It is crowded here and earplugs are a popular accessory. Nevertheless, the decent-priced drinks, comfy seating, and free wi-fi have turned Teahouse into a popular college student study spot. Their board games and piles of magazines are studying alternatives. The only downside, other than the crowd, are the dirty restrooms.
GOSSIP ESPRESSO AND TEA
Bubble tea, fried goodies and free wi-fi
In a town where boba joints proliferate like Starbucks, picking a favorite is no simple matter. There's Yunnie Bubble Tea, WoW Bubble Tea and Pochi Tea Station on University Way, and Oasis Tea Zone on 6th Avenue to name a few of the more popular ones. But Gossip Espresso and Tea in Seattle's Chinatown has the best mix of ambience, variety and quality. Not to mention the yummiest snacks: ice cream, flavored toasts plus plenty of fried goodies. The wi-fi, downstairs karaoke room and upstairs area complete with manga for your perusing pleasure, are some nice extras. The twinkle lights that adorn their walls and cartoonish bubbly furniture caters to a younger crowd. Perhaps the biggest draw for their younger clientele is probably their prices. A large bubble tea smoothie costs $3. However, like all trendy cafes, there is often a line.