By Nguyet Tran
Combining three different ethnic concepts into one small package, Boba Bear in El Monte is quickly attracting attention.
Located off Baldwin Avenue, the compact lounge offers Asian fusion teas, coffee and boba; as well as hookah and crepes.
With a seating capacity of 45 customers, the décor is simple yet inviting. The white walls are decorated with fun and quirky hand-painted murals of cute bears smiling and laughing while hip-hop is played on the speakers.
The shop usually gets crowded around 11 p.m. most nights, with a majority of the customers being in their early twenties. A major plus side of Boba Bear is that it is open until after midnight, allowing restless bodies to come and relax instead of being bored at home.
The lounge is sectioned off with glass walls, one side for students who are doing their work and the other for people who are there to socialize.
Boba Bear doesn’t offer any savory dishes, but they do offer dessert crepes ranging from $4.50 to $6.50. In total, there are six different types of crepes you can choose from, with a majority of those containing fruit and Nutella.
Desserts are created on a legitimate crepe pan and the finished product comes out soft, warm and fluffy.
The Juliet crepe consists of sliced fresh strawberries, Nutella and is topped off with whipped cream. For fans of chocolate and overly sweet desserts, it’s best to go with the Nutella crepes, since there’s an obsessive amount of the hazelnut spread inside the crepe.
The apple cinnamon crepe is a combination of fresh apples, cinnamon, butter and brown sugar also topped off with whipped cream. The flavor for this crepe, however, is very bland and disappointing. The brown sugar and cinnamon aren’t prominent, so the crepe is left tasting unsweetened.
The drink list provides a different array of selections, ranging from coffee to milk teas with boba depending on your mood. The prices are reasonable, considering how delicious the drinks are.
Although the cities of El Monte and San Gabriel are known for Asian drinks, Boba Bear offers unique concoctions that can’t be found elsewhere.
There are usually only two to three workers during the night shifts, but drinks are made quickly and the hookah is brought out within 10 to 15 minutes after ordering.
The banana milk tea was tasty and different. Most milk teas are diluted with ice and have no flavor, but Boba Bear’s was thick, cold and ice-free. The banana flavor was fragrant and not overly sweet.
Their chocolate-mint-mocha-blended coffee was also a hit at the table. The drink was not overbearing; the flavors were distinct and didn’t mask each other.
What makes Boba Bear unique, is the hookah. Considering there are only a handful of hookah spots within a 10 mile radius, this spot provides an opportunity for hookah lovers to stay close to home instead of having to drive far for good hookah.
Boba Bear provides more than 40 flavors of hookah with prices as low as $15 to $22, depending on quality. For customers who are uncertain about what flavors to choose, the shop offers small glass tubes filled with different hookah flavors that allow their customers to smell the flavor before purchasing.
The Safari Melon Dew flavor is sweet and pungent and lasts for about two hours between three people. Although the coals burn out quickly, the workers are prompt getting new coals and making sure everything is running smoothly.
Jenga, Uno and decks of cards are provided for the customers if they request it. They also provide cups filled with soap, water and a straw to blow smoke bubbles for entertainment as well.
The downside of ordering a hookah is that there is a minimum of one drink or dessert per person to sit in the lounge to smoke. Also, there is no outdoor seating, so the hookah is smoked inside even though the lounge is a little cramped.
Overall, the experience is great. The service and drinks were fast, on point and did not disappoint at all. The crepes were decent but not the best. The hookah is a different twist to a boba shop and provides the neighboring community with an opportunity to smoke hookah close to home.
Boba Bear is located in a hidden plaza at 9216 Flair Drive in El Monte. Their hours are Monday-Thursday noon to 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday noon – 4 a.m., and Sunday noon – 1 a.m.