It’s hard to count how many shops in Los Angeles and Orange County serve boba, but the number has to be in the hundreds, if not the thousands. With so many places to get the coveted drink, it’s often difficult to discern which ones are doing something special, unusual even. And with so few main ingredients from which to choose, shops have to be extra dexterous to differentiate their menus from others across the Southland. There are a few select shops doing something above and beyond, from the combination of superior fruits and teas, to uncommon toppings, to even fully handmade boba. Here are four extraordinary shops in Southern California that make boba in Los Angeles and Orange County.
Cha Bei Bei
The first thought that comes to mind after sampling Cha Bei Bei’s drinks: “This should be a Michelin-starred boba shop.” That’s how impressive Tonie Huang’s humble Monrovia shop is compared to other boba specialists. Taiwan-born Huang has 16 years of experience making boba, starting with the budget-friendly Quickly chain before opening Cha Bei Bei in 2011. She closed that and opened in Monrovia in October 2021. Huang only wants to make boba that she can be proud of, which means she’ll never expand to two or more shops, and is usually on the premises three times a week. Here, there are no powders, no artificial flavors, only organic ingredients whenever possible, and only seasonal fruit. Right now, watermelon, white peach, and mango are in season, but come winter, she’ll offer different fruit. This approach to fresh, real ingredients is how Huang says boba is made in Taiwan, as U.S. shops tend to rely much more on powders, flavorings, and fruits out of season.
The nearly 50-year-old boba chef blends five teas for her milk tea, using Horizon heavy cream, and painstakingly making boba by hand in the shop three times a week. The difference is evident from the first sip, which shows clear, focused tea cutting through the rich organic milk. Her taro, made using the actual tuber, tastes subtle and satisfying, while the texture of the boba resembles nothing else out there, with a gelatinous, substantial bite that dissipates elegantly with every chew.
730 S. Myrtle Avenue, Monrovia.
The lines are so long at this Irvine boba shop that they have Disneyland-levels of roping to form a queue, one that stretches up to an hour in this Orange County strip mall. Omomo might be the most well-packaged boba store in Southern California, sporting a Scandinavian minimalist ambience and sleek, cheerful logos that are almost compulsively Instagrammable. Omomo’s satisfying gestalt is only superseded by its polished, detail-oriented drinks that exhibit an unexpected refinement. The blended strawberry tornado laces whole strawberries into a rich, airy cheese foam while the Camo Thai has the staff pouring in Thai iced milk tea into caramel brulee for a visually arresting presentation resembling a tiger’s fur pattern. If there was such a thing as designer boba, the kind of cup worth flaunting next to a Louis Vuitton bag and a Cartier watch, a drink from Omomo would be it.
5365 Alton Parkway, Unit G, Irvine.
Arcadia’s outlet of this global brand doesn’t seem like it has the capacity of competing with the best independent shops in town given its 700 locations. But BenGong’s seems to have mastered the leveraging that comes from having that kind of scale. The modern Chinese-inspired ambience complements the vast menu of cream-topped milk teas, passionfruit sparkling teas, cheesy fruit slushes, mango-pomelo sago, and burnt brown-sugar milks. Imagine the menu as vast as Cheesecake Factory’s but produced at a chef-driven restaurant’s level of quality. What separates BenGong’s further is the shop’s selection of toppings, from Tibetan hulless barley, which offers a satisfying pop and chewy outside as if it were nature’s ready-made version of boba, to all manners of foams, jellies, and boba. BenGong’s is great for boba drinkers who know what they want and appreciate attention to detail in toppings.
411 E. Huntington Drive, Suite 113, Arcadia.
Huntington Beach’s ComeBuy looks more like a fancy cocktail bar than a boba shop. That’s due to the workers constantly shaking drinks here to order in actual cocktail shakers. ComeBuy builds drinks starting with large tubes that hold towers of tea that get ground to order like espresso. Then baristas pull shots of intensely flavored tea that get shaken with ice and milk before toppings like boba, grass jelly, aloe vera, and fresh whipped cream are added. ComeBuy’s tea sports a higher caffeine kick thanks to its espresso brew method, though the shaking with ice can lead to a slightly diluted overall flavor. Still, ComeBuy makes for a memorable boba experience with its interactive cocktail bar-style service.
7777 Edinger Avenue #174, Huntington Beach.