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Picking a Main Squeeze in the Juice Wars

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We've mentioned this before, but we're still amazed at how we take our juice and smoothies so seriously here in sunny SoCal. We aren't sure if we remember when the craze began, but we do have a fondness in our hearts for the simpler days of going to the Surf City Squeeze booth at the mall (and a time when "Wanna go to the mall and get a smoothie?" said in a Valley Girl meets flaming queen way was, inexplicably, a hilarious in-joke). Now we can't remember when there wasn't a Jamba Juice every eight square miles, and we're half-certain this is a little unique to our geography. Fruity juices blended with ferocity and poured into tall cups with straw-punctured lids have a sort of sunny optimism on par with the stereotypical image of California; the hypocrisy of the seemingly healthy but actually loaded with sugar and carbs reality also seem to stand for the plastic posing nature of our fair city. This March, in the heart of Gothamist territory, we strode past a bright and cheerful Jamba Juice glimmering in the midst of the highrises and fast crowds, and noticed it was empty, a sad fresh-squeezed ghost town amidst the carnivalesque chaos of Times Square. Clearly, no one, including us, wanted a frosty Mango-a-Go-Go on a frosty day. In fact, not so long ago, when we realized we would shell out something in the ballpark of four bucks for something in the ballpark of 400 calories and 100 grams of sugar, we opted to make our own at home, which cuts the convenience factor, but ups the quality, healthfulness, and eliminates the wait. But the homemade remedy is really just a symptom of the juice epidemic...

So we wanted to put in our $3.95 worth on the juice scene, and to chime in with a definitive winner, based on years of sipping. See what we think of the city's top three after the jump, and, as always, get ready to blend in with your berry own juicy opinions.

Quite frankly, we're about ready to vote the Jamba off the island. Lately it seems the kids behind the counter are so painfully slow-moving that a shot of their own Energy Boost might do them some good. Recently, in a Studio City location, the kid pouring was moving like a snail stuck in glue, even pausing to mull over each receipt tag stuck to the wet blender and produce a twisted smile, and with agonizing delay called out the drink. Jamaba has gone soft--less energy at the door (although hearing "Tip, Tip, Hooray!" in Pasadena was enjoyable), no energy at the cash register, and the smoothies are runny and badly blended. And it's not just one or two dud locations, but several, from Melrose to South Pas, and Burbank in between.

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Juice it Up, a smaller chain, doesn't even factor for us. They're gross. Their drinks are flavorless and full of ice. There's one near our work, and we just don't go there.

The winner, then: Robeks. Their smoothies are thick and well-made. They have a wider variety of choices, and by variety we mean different ingredients actually go into each one (unlike Jamba, who seem to put the same three things in every cup and call it something different) and their flavors are broader, and include tropical tastes like papaya and guava. There are far fewer locations of this chain, though on a nation-wide scale it's plain to see the highest concentration is in our own backyard. Which bring us back to the issue: Juice and smoothies seem to be an inherently California, even LA, kind of thing, and we here don't take them with a grain of salt. So Jamba can have their empty Manhattan stores, and their slow and runny LA locations; our main squeeze in the juice wars is Robeks.