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LA's Best Boba Snacks And Where To Find Them

A person whose face we can't see holds a bubble waffle filled with ice cream in each hand
Bubble waffles.
(Toa Heftiba/Unsplash)
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Boba tea has taken its rightful place, alongside cold brew coffee, ice tea, pressed juices and coconut water, in America's pantheon of nonalcoholic beverages. Sure, a few bougie bubble tea brands have jumped into the game but OG SoCal boba culture is all about suburban teenagers enabling each others' addictions to caffeine and sugar via late night study sessions and surreptitious visits to the few boba shops open past 10 p.m.

What ties the whole boba tea experience together? The snacks. Drawn from Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese and Korean cuisines, they're salty, sweet, doughy, fried and the 180-degree opposite of healthy. They're also delicious. So don't skip the munchies on your next time boba run.

Popcorn Chicken

Popcorn chicken is the granddaddy of this culinary genre and you'll find it at almost every boba shop that serves food. Irregular, bite-sized pieces of chicken are coated and deep fried then dusted with spices that can range from mild to mouth-numbing. Most spice blends include Chinese five spice and white pepper, which makes the chicken taste almost sweet. It's often topped with fried basil leaves for aroma and presentation. A Taiwanese night market staple, the snack is loved in the U.S., a part of repertoire for Asian Americans as they sip on milk tea. Ten Ren's Tea Time makes a perfect rendition of the dish with light, crisp, evenly seasoned pieces still fragrant with a hint of basil.

  • Ten Ren's Tea Time:
    • 500 N. Atlantic Blvd., Suite 179, Monterey Park. 626-872-0800.
    • 707 E. Main St., Alhambra.626-872-2778.
    • 846 W. Duarte Rd., Arcadia. 626-821-0250.
    • 154 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel. 626-288-1663.
    • 111 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park. 626-288-2012.
  • Factory Tea Bar: 323 S Mission Dr., San Gabriel. 626-872-2969.
  • Gong Cha:
    • 3785 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown. 213-375-7143.
    • 318 E. 2nd St. #A, Little Tokyo. 213-395-0615.
  • I Love Sweetea: 318 South La Brea Ave., Mid-City. 323-852-3358.
  • Volcano Tea House: 2111 Sawtelle Blvd., West L.A. 310-445-5326.
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Shave Ice

Plenty of boba shops offer some variant of shave ice but the hybridized take on it at It's Boba Time is closer to Korean patbingsu than Taiwanese baobing, and that makes it stand out. In addition to a mix of fruits including mango and kiwi, the dish is topped with boba, lychee jellies, condensed milk and a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. Mix the toppings with the ice chips, which come drizzled with strawberry syrup or milky iced coffee, and the dessert comes into its own. The fusion of tropical flavors with the muted vanilla and coffee creates a pleasant contrast. $5.50 for cup, $7.50 for a bowl

  • Click here for a list of It's Boba Time's Southern California locations.
  • Boba Ave 8090: 140 Valley Blvd., San Gabriel. 626-288-5658.
  • I Love Boba: 3512 W. 8th St., Koreatown. 213-632-0126.
  • Mr Boba: 3805 W. 6th St., Koreatown. 213-380-0607.
  • One Zo: 500 N. Atlantic Blvd., #168, Monterey Park. 626-782-7886.
  • Volcano Tea House: 2111 Sawtelle Blvd., West L.A. 310-445-5326.

Brick Toast

A slice of bread may not sound like much of a dessert but when it's a slab of sweet, Asian-style white bread topped with ice cream and caramel sauce, it's the perfect sweet treat. Although Factory Tea Bar only serves their brick toast two ways — topped with caramel or with condensed milk and Milo, a chocolate malt powder similar to Nesquik — its take on the Taiwanese/Japanese/Korean dessert excels thanks to heaping scoops of vanilla ice cream and the size of the bread, which is large enough for two or three people. Other brick toasts around town are sprinkled with matcha (at Twinkle Brown Sugar) and or sliced into manageable pieces and offered in both savory and sweet flavors (the Toastette at Hey Hey).

  • Factory Tea Bar: 323 S. Mission Dr., San Gabriel. 626-872-2969.
  • Hey Hey: 1555 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. 213-278-0689.
  • Tea Brick: 501 W. Garvey Ave., Suite 105, Monterey Park. 626-759-3021.
  • Ten Ren's Tea Time: see list above
  • Toastea: 600 W. 7th St., Suite 120, downtown L.A. 213-628-3766.
  • Twinkle Brown Sugar:
    • 131 S. Central Ave., Little Tokyo. 213-626-8889.
    • 406 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra. 626-281-6877.
    • 5922 Pacific Blvd., Huntington Park. 323-553-6077.

Minced Pork Rice Bowl

Served with pickles and half of a soy sauce braised egg in a street food-style metal bowl, this dish is the definition of Taiwanese comfort food. Nobody does it better than Half & Half, a 626-based chain of tea shops famous for its iced milk with honey boba and egg pudding. The Half & Half Good Old Time, in San Gabriel, is less boba shop and more restaurant, complete with table service, so head here for high-quality Taiwanese grub. Although the pork belly bun and namesake soup are excellent, the minced pork with rice and pickles ($4.68) is the must-get dish. The dish recalls the world famous Jin Feng street stand in Taipei, which is known for its simple but winning combination of white rice and soy sauce-braised pork with pickles.

  • Half & Half Good Old Time: 704 W Las Tunas Dr, Suite E2, San Gabriel. 626-576-8010.
  • Click here for Half & Half's eight other locations
  • Boba Ave 8090: 140 Valley Blvd., San Gabriel. 626-288-5658.
  • Hey Hey (weekly rotating rice bowl): 1555 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. 213-278-0689.
  • Ten Ren's Tea Time: see list above

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Bubble Waffle

Adopted from the streets of Hong Kong and Macau, these concoctions are called bubble waffles because they look sort of like bubble wrap. The waffle itself is a winning comb of soft, sweet dough and crisp edges. Simplee Boba lets you transform a basic, $5 waffle (choose from plain, chocolate chip, matcha or mochi batter) into a sundae. As you build your creation, add a scoop of Fosselman's ice cream for $1.75 or then throw on toppings and drizzles. It's best to tear off the waffle, bubble by bubble, so you get ice cream and toppings in each bite.

  • Simplee Boba: 954 Mission St., S. Pasadena. 626-817-2622.
  • Factory Tea Bar: 323 S. Mission Dr., San Gabriel. 626-872-2969.
  • I Love Sweetea: 318 S. La Brea Ave., Mid-City. 323-852-3358.
  • One Zo: 500 N. Atlantic Blvd., #168, Monterey Park. 626-782-7886.

Popping Fish Balls

Ten Ren's Tea Time has an extensive menu, and its popping fish balls ($7) should be one of the first things you order as you pore through the pages of its menu. These tiny, teardrop-shaped balls, which are filled with a piping hot mix of fish roe and egg and come in three levels of spiciness, don't look like much but the result is an explosion of creamy, slightly salty umami flavors. The spice enhances the overall experience so unless you hate heat, definitely order them with some. The popping fish balls are small. If you're sharing them with friends, add an order of popcorn chicken.

  • Ten Ren's Tea Time: see list above
  • Noble Tea: 11307 Mississippi Ave., West L.A.. 424-832-7022.

Souffle/Air Pancakes

Also known as Japanese souffle pancakes, these delightful treats jiggle and wiggle thanks to a meringue-based batter. With a consistency that's like a cross between chiffon cake and pudding, they're lighter than American-style pancakes. Recently opened in Little Tokyo, Sharp Tea makes pancakes that don't disappoint in flavor or presentation. Their bestselling strawberry version ($10) is topped with a light strawberry cream and a sprinkling of fresh fruit while their chocolate variant is served with pocky. The eggy batter helps the flavor of the cream stand out.

  • Sharp Tea: 123 Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka St., Suite 101D, Little Tokyo. 213-706-6886.
  • Miss Cheese Tea: 238 S. Arroyo Pkwy., #110, Pasadena. 347-205-8644.
  • Motto Tea Cafe: 100 W. Green St., #101, Pasadena. 626-365-1049.

Dessert Taiyaki

Taiyaki are golden brown Japanese cakes shaped like fish and typically filled with red bean paste. Noble Tea offers several out-of-the-box options including Nutella, caramel, custard and, for a more savory option, cheese and ham. The texture is similar to a Belgian waffle but a bit chewier. Their shape makes them easy to hold and the Nutella version contains just the right amount of gooey hazelnut chocolate spread. One taiyaki ($3.50) is perfect as a small snack. If you're still hungry, Noble Tea also makes great masago fish balls.

  • Noble Tea: 11307 Mississippi Ave, West L.A. 424-832-7022.

Waffle Corn Dog

The waffle-and-corn dog combo is a unique creation you'll only find at Boba Lab, a small shop catering to Santa Monica High School students and shoppers who've wandered away from the Third Street Promenade. Approximately six inches long, Waba Dogs are savory, snack-sized treats. The crisp batter of the Breakfast Sausage Wabadog pairs with the smoked sausage link and tastes even better dipped into maple syrup. There's also a turkey hot dog with honey mustard. Both go well with Boba Lab's tea drinks, which are sweetened with agave.

  • Boba Lab: 711 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. 424.744-8198.
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