Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
The building that houses Boba Teas, Smoothies & Coffees is a small, blink-and-you'll-miss-it building that in a previous life was an apathetic and rather disappointing Smoothie King franchise — but the word "smoothie" on the sign is the only similarity the current occupants share with their predecessors. Stepping up to the menu at Boba Teas is an almost overwhelming experience, with over 75 different drinks available from tea and coffee to fruit juice blends and, yes, smoothies. It's a menu that has something to please almost every taste, whether it be for a Starbucks-style coffee-flavored frappe or a more healthy juice blend like the carrot, cucumber, watermelon, and apple blend I ordered on my most recent visit. All the drinks are available with or without the tapioca pearls that give "boba" or "bubble" tea its name, so if the idea of sucking up the chewy tapioca pearls doesn't appeal to you, the friendly folks at Boba Teas will accommodate you.
The real hidden treasure of this menu lies at the very bottom of the extensive drinks list, and isn't a drink at all — it's a sandwich listed as French Sandwich (Vietnamese Sandwich), and it's one of the best examples of a bánh mì I've found in the city, hitting the mark on nearly every aspect of what this sandwich style should be. What makes a good bánh mì? Well, first you need excellent bread, and the crunchy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside French bread that used in this version is exactly what's needed to hold the plentiful pile of flavorful ingredients. Secondly, good pickled vegetables are a must, and it's here that the Boba Teas sandwich really comes into its own: crunchy, still-fresh vegetables that start with a perfect amount of briny tang that's soon followed up by a stout kick of sharp cilantro and a peppery heat that made me thankful I had also ordered a tall glass of cold Thai Milk Tea to sooth the excellent burn. The meat on the sandwich is the only weak spot, but that's not as much of a detriment as one might think, as the sliced pork and ham here are still quite tasty. It's not the most flavorful meat I've had on this style sandwich, but since it's the bread and vegetables that usually get the short shrift on a bánh mì, the fact that those elements are of such high quality here elevates the meat aspect of the sandwich as well — and for around four dollars, the sizable sandwich makes for a very good, cheap lunch.
I'm always excited when I find new places that use fresh, quality ingredients to make their products, and this is definitely one of those place. South University has developed a very respectable line-up of Asian restaurants and grocery stores, and this Vietnamese-run tea, coffee, sandwich, and smoothie shop is just another great example of the diverse offering available in the neighborhood. Boba Teas, Smoothies & Coffees is located at 3600 S. University, and they're open for lunch and dinner daily. There's limited patio seating available, so take advantage of the Arkansas fall and make trying one of these sandwiches a priority.