At Las Cruces' Boba Cafe, the "Bubble Tea" is just the beginning of an inventive eating experience.
The "Boba" in the name of Las Cruces' Boba Cafe refers to tapioca pearls, an ingredient in the lively, casual eatery's signature beverage, Bubble Tea. The mild tea, tapioca pearls, soymilk and optional flavorings — ranging from berry and other fruit flavors to chocolate, hazelnut and even Irish cream — are served with a straw large enough to sip the pearls as well as the tea ($3.50-$5.25). A note on the menu cautions that this "delicious and fun drink," which originated in Taiwan in the 1990s, "does pose a choking hazard."
But you don't have to sit with a Heimlich expert to enjoy Boba Cafe. The menu offers plenty of other beverage options, from espresso drinks to fountain sodas to beer and wine, along with a long list of soups, salads, sandwiches, appetizers, wraps and "other stuff." The menu is the same for lunch and dinner, although Tuesday through Thursday nights Boba lays on special Caribbean fare and Friday nights are Asian-themed, with sushi.
If you've brought a hearty appetite, you might start with the Combo Appetizer ($7.25), which enables you to sample Boba's green chile chicken wontons, krab wontons, chicken strips and coconut shrimp with dipping sauce. Both wontons are incredibly crunchy — as are the chicken strips — with a pleasingly regional bite to the green chile chicken variety; the "krab" spelling signals imitation crab, so don't expect the real crustacean. The coconut shrimp are real, however, and luscious enough to make us long for an appetizer option — or, better yet, an entree — featuring just these coco-crunchy treats. No such luck. You can, however, enjoy them as part of the Thai Coconut Shrimp Salad ($8.50).
Still studying the starters, we've never seen a place with such a selection of soups — all made fresh when you order ($4.95 cup, $5.95 bowl). We count 10 soup choices, from the Oriental-inspired Egg Flower or Shrimp, Tofu and Seaweed to the closer-to-home Albuquerque Chicken Tortilla Soup. For a bit of both, Boba fans recommend the Green Chicken Wonton Soup, a hearty concoction of spinach, carrots, chile and green onions, with just enough Southwestern zing.
Boba's seven different salads ($4.95 to $8.50) are mostly entree-worthy, such as the Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad ($7.50, or substitute shrimp for another $1.25) and the Border Salad ($7.50). Made with your choice of grilled or breaded chicken, the Border Salad combines black beans, cheese, tortilla strips and salad greens, all topped with wasabi ranch dressing, for a salad that eats like a meal.
Sandwiches ($4.95 to $7.95) all come with French fries, potato chips, cole slaw or a side salad; we recommend springing for the extra $1.75 to get the irresistible Sweet Potato French Fries. The sandwich choices lean toward the traditional — Reuben, grilled cheese, Philly cheese steak, French dip, club, tuna or chicken salad — though there are a few options that would make your mom raise her eyebrows, such as ham and pineapple. Vegetarians — who'll generally find Boba amenable — will zoom in on the sandwich of roasted eggplant, roasted red peppers, artichokes and Swiss cheese.
If your eye wanders to the "Other Stuff" on the menu, you'll find similarly creative combos in the form of wraps and rollups, plus quesadillas and further sandwich-y and salad choices such as the scrumptious Honey-Orange Salad ($6.95). In the latter, honey-orange dressing bathes baby spinach, romaine lettuce, sun-dried cranberries, cucumbers, almonds and bleu-cheese crumbles.
Whatever you choose, you can eat in a pleasant outdoor courtyard or in two bustling interior rooms painted in vivid reds and greens; the right-hand room boasts a stage for Boba's occasional live entertainment. Service is friendly if not super-speedy — maybe just as well, so you can take your time sipping the Bubble Tea. It'd be a shame to spoil a relaxing meal at Boba Cafe with a tapioca pearl going down the wrong tube. — David A. Fryxell
Boba Cafe, 1900 S. Espina St. #8, Las Cruces, 647-5900, www.bobacafelc.com
Open daily except Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.