Smiling Face – Best Boba Ever

3 Jan

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Yes, this place is actually an outlet of the Beard Papa chain. Yes, BP is worthy of its own post. Another time. We’re talking boba, and my never ending quest for boba perfection.

This space has been owned by the same boba-master (mistress) for at least seven years. It used to be a Taiwanese snack shop called Smiling Face (get it? You eat stuff and your face smiles.) with a bunch of bins like you’d see at Sprouts, but here holding Taiwanese snacks like dried fruit and packaged candy.

A few years back the owner bought into Beard Papa’s foray into the San Gabriel Valley, buying up two franchise licenses and converting Smiling Face into a BP (the other location on Valley Blvd has since closed). She got rid of all the snack bins and put in sleeker furniture and started pumping out cream puffs. But she kept her boba drink operation from the old Smiling Face, including this sign.

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I am a classicist – I like getting milk tea with my boba. I consider it like the carne asada burrito – the standard by which you have to judge a spot. It’s also a critical dividing line between places that actually brew tea for their milk tea (good) and those that use a tea powder (bad). You can taste the real tea that Smiling Face uses and it makes a huge difference. The tea is a nice medium-body black tea before it’s mixed with the creamer (while I’m sensitive to places using real tea, I don’t mind a place using non-dairy creamer. Oh well.). This tea is very good – tea flavor, creamy but not overwhelming, not too sweet.

While i really like SF’s tea, the real killer app here is the perfect boba. It’s soft and chewy, sweet, and (!) warm. If you’ve never had warm boba in your boba drink you’re probably thinking, “why on earth would I want something warm in my iced drink?” I can’t explain it. But the contrast is awesome – like having a cold Coke and hot French fries in the same bite. Try it and if you don’t like it just wait a few minutes for the boba to cool down.

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You’ll notice that these bobas are green. SF does this on the weekends only. They are green tea flavored and add an interesting flavor. They go especially well with the mango smoothie drink pictured above (made with real mango, ice, and sugar- that’s it). I actually prefer the regular black boba, but SF is the only place I know that does the green ones.

SF also does a very interesting option I haven’t seen before- fresh grapefruit. Add it to the green tea for a refreshing twist on a classic.

Lastly, to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room, SF is just a few stores down from Half and Half. H&H is great – real tea, decent boba. I think it’s too sweet generally, but I’m not a hater. If you don’t mind waiting 20 minutes in line, H&H is very good and sometimes I’m in the mood for it. But SF’s boba is better, no wait, and the boba-master is nicer than some 16 year-old wage-slave.

Anyways, if you’re a H&H devotee, then I recommend you do a side by side comparison next time since they are practically right next to each other.

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