Growing up in Southern California, I’ve been a fan of boba, or bubble tea, for as long as I can remember. Each time my parents asked me where I wanted to eat as a child, I’d respond with the name of a restaurant next to a boba shop. What my parents didn’t realize is that it wasn’t the restaurant I loved, but the iced teas with chewy tapioca pearls that would send me soaring for the rest of the afternoon from a surge of caffeinated bliss. Fast forward to today and I’m not only a regular boba drinker, but I also run an Instagram account dedicated to reviewing the hundreds of boba shops I’ve tried across Southern California. I even spoke on a panel about the history and cultural importance of boba for the UCI Humanities Center.
While there are hundreds of boba shops across LA and the SGV, the spots below stand out for their unique drinks, excellent quality, and friendly service. From tea shops straight from Taiwan to other neighborhood go-tos, these are the 10 best boba shops in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.
Located across from Santa Monica High, Boba Lab is the store I wish I’d had when I was still in school. If it had been, I can guarantee that my friends and I would have been there every day. Not only does this spot have a cute chemistry theme that makes the inner nerd in me smile - there’s a periodic table on the wall and they have a beaker in their logo - but Boba Lab also has unique drinks that feature flavored boba, including hazelnut, berry, ube, and pandan.
Chicha San Chen
San Gabriel’s Valley Boulevard is lined with dozens of boba spots and Chi Cha San Chen is, without a doubt, the most famous one along the road. They’re well known for winning an award from the International Taste Institute, leading some to call it “Michelin star boba.” But what keeps me coming back here is the high-quality tea and super chewy pearls. Another thing that makes their drinks stand out is that you can order their tea with condensed milk, cream, or milk, giving you way more control over their drink.
Oh My Pan Bakery & Tea
Oh My Pan Bakery and Tea - located just down the street from Chi Cha San Chen - reminds me of the Chinese bakeries I grew up with. But what makes them unique from other places is their full tea menu and incorporation of ingredients not normally found in Chinese food into their desserts, like butterfly pea tea and matcha. The standout here is a beautiful blueberry and lychee milk tea called the Blue Web, which tastes just like a blueberry and lychee yogurt drink.
Located in Westwood, Junbi is a favorite boba spot among UCLA students. While this place does offer a selection of classic milk teas and coffee, which you can get with boba and other toppings, they’re most famous for their matcha drinks. The owners put a lot of thought into the matcha they use and only source it from farms across Japan. Additionally, their matcha drinks come in 15 different flavors, ranging from a creamy blueberry to yuzu dragonfruit and rosewater. On top of that, there’s a small snack menu, featuring matcha soft serve and onigiri.
With several locations across LA County, including Arcadia, Westwood, and Temple City, Meet Fresh is an always convenient spot for great desserts, boba, and even boba desserts (best of both worlds). You can get boba as a topping on any of their desserts, like their grass jelly or tofu puddings, or try their new black sugar boba milky shaved ice. Besides bringing boba and dessert together, one unique thing about Meet Fresh is that their toppings selection features harder-to-find ingredients like mochi, sweet potato balls, and taro puree as well.
Milk + T
Located in Little Tokyo, Milk and T is a women-owned, self-serve boba bar. This means that you can choose all the toppings you want from a selection featuring boba, jellies, puddings, and fresh fruit. Besides the drinks, what I love about this spot is that the owners, Beyah and Stacey, are dedicated to helping the community and used the proceeds from their drinks and boba kits to help organizations like KFKF Medical Initiative and to offer free lunches to anyone in need at the beginning of the pandemic.
Redstraw Tea Bar
Fresh fruit, tea brewed before your eyes, unique flavors, and a friendly staff - these are a few of the reasons why Redstraw Tea Bar in Westfield Century City is one of the best boba shops in LA. The menu is broken down into three sections: milk tea, specialty tea, and custom tea. I personally like ordering from the custom tea section, which allows you to choose your tea leaves and is then brewed on the spot. Their Blue Lady is a particularly lovely Ceylon tea with bright notes of grapefruit and a mellow aftertaste of blue mallow flowers.
Trà Space is an adorable space-themed, woman-owned shop in Culver City, and is also home to some of the best boba drinks I’ve had in a long time. The menu includes both signature drinks and a make-your-own section. To make the most of the space theme, try one of the drinks that come with fun names like The Milky Way (a creamy black milk tea), Supernova (a gorgeous rooibos, hibiscus, and butterfly pea tea mix), and Galactic Fusion (bright yuzu matcha). Not to mention, the boba is perfect here - it’s chewy, slightly warm, soft, and flavorful. They also have cute star-shaped and heart-shaped jellies, which can be added to any of their drinks.
Wushiland has some of the best milk teas around - they brew their teas strong and let the tea leaves’ natural flavors shine in each and every drink. One unique add-on that this shop located in Westfield Century City offers is a scoop of vanilla ice cream so that any drink can be turned into a tea float - perfect for hot days and for dessert. You can also get your boba in two different sizes, mini and normal.
Yifang Taiwan Fruit Tea
I first tried Yi Fang Fruit Tea in London and ever since then, I haven’t been able to shake it from my head. I always opt for their Yi Fang Fruit Tea because I have a strong belief that if the store name is in the drink’s name, it must be special, and that theory has certainly held true here. This particular drink is a refreshing green tea with chunks of real apple, orange, lemon, and passionfruit floating in it, resulting in a delicious, tropical concoction. This is the only spot on the list where I recommend not getting boba in the drink, and that’s because here it’s flavored with brown sugar, which can overwhelm the lighter fruit flavors. And since this place has locations in Koreatown, Sawtelle, and San Gabriel, you can easily get their tea no matter where you live around LA.