Thursday, August 22, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 25
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

If you squint real hard, this little corner of Lompoc tastes like paradise

NICK POWELL

Have you ever avoided an entire cuisine out of pure spite? To be clear, I’m not talking about race-based spite here. I’m an idiot, not an asshole, and for decades my aversion to Hawaiian food has been based entirely on an unarticulated resentment from being too broke to visit America’s favorite tropical getaway. 


TRYIN’ HAWAIIAN
I was 33 before I first tried Hawaiian food. Would’ve been nice to be soaking up the tropical sun 1,000 miles from work at the time, but the grilled meat and macaroni salad at QQ Aloha BBQ was still pretty damn good.
PHOTO BY NICK POWELL

Forget Hawaii, I’d told myself in anger thinly masking jealousy. It’s probably crowded with upper-middle class “sheeple” wolfing down Spam between their surf sessions on perfect, warm waves; snorkel excursions through underwater wonderlands; and epic hikes through lush, volcanic jungle … . If Hawaii doesn’t want me, I don’t want it, I’d mutter to no one as I passed by a fun-looking island-themed restaurant.

All that was subconscious, though. I didn’t even realize I’d been avoiding Hawaiian grub until I found myself eating it for the first time last week wondering why I’d avoided it for 30-plus years.

The opportunity presented itself when my family and I were enjoying our favorite liquid treat: that sweet, quirky boba tea. It’s a weekend tradition in our clan, and when we first moved to Lompoc, we were disappointed to find the town utterly boba-less. But our despair was short-lived. TEAklish Boba and Cafe opened in October of 2018 and has been scratching our itches ever since.

It’s a nice spot, like a Pinterest page in 3D, and the drinks are top-notch, far better than the tea chains that first got us hooked on that chewy goodness. 

I’m kind of insulated in my family life, so I don’t know if people generally know about boba. Are y’all into this stuff? If you haven’t tried it, know that the texture is a little weird, but that’s part of the fun, and the flavors are many and exotic. 


Teamwork makes the meal work
Surrounded by the worst of Lompoc blanditude (Walmart/Applebees/Round Table), there exists a nigh undiscovered oasis of tropical flavors. TEAklish Boba and Cafe supplies the drinks while QQ Aloha BBQ grills the meats at 515 and 517 W. Central Ave. They aren’t affiliated though there’s a mere wall betwixt them, but that didn’t stop me from visiting both at the same time, and it shouldn’t stop you, either.

Basically, these places serve refreshing iced tea—green or black—mixed with fruit syrups, milk, and traditional Asian flavors like purple taro, green matcha, and jasmine. Then, they add soft chewy morsels to the drink, which shouldn’t work but it totally does. Boba itself is just little blueberry-sized pearls of tapioca. It’s usually pretty flavorless but is still fun to suck through the oversized straw and chew with the drink. 

At TEAklish, they infuse the boba with honey to add little bursts of sweetness to each bite. They have other options for add-ons like fresh fruit, chia seeds, slivers of custard pudding, and cubes of mango-coconut jelly, but I’ve always preferred those titular boba pearls.

The quality of tea and balance of flavor is really what sets TEAklish apart from other boba places. They import many of their ingredients from Taiwan for an authentic taste, and they don’t overload the fruity drinks with sickly sweet syrup. It’s the only option in Lompoc, but it’s also genuinely the best boba I’ve ever had. 

The cafe is clean and pleasant with board games to play while you wait for drinks and popular snack brands from Asia you don’t usually see in the states.


AMAZING ACCOMPLISHED
How many layers of flavor does your drink have… one? ONE?! TEAklish Boba and Cafe’s fresh beverages rock three delicious layers without breaking a sweat. Pictured from left to right are the cheese foam green tea, TEAklish Gold with signature premium gold milk tea and Oreo crumbles, and the Sunset passion fruit tea, all with honey boba.
PHOTO BY NICK POWELL

But the only food items at TEAklish are those little bags of cookies and chips. Last weekend, my family was thirsty and hungry. Very hungry. Hungry enough to take a second look at QQ Aloha BBQ, the Hawaiian take-out joint that’s been right nextdoor to TEAklish this whole time.

The interior was bright with tropical colors and a coral collage, and for a take-out place, the service was great. A very friendly cashier made helpful suggestions to us first-timers, and we settled in to try the barbecue beef ribs, teriyaki chicken, and fried fish and shrimp. Each plate came with steamed rice, macaroni salad, and a green salad.

The combination of smokey char and tangy teriyaki made the chicken my favorite dish, and the fish was surprisingly tender and juicy inside that crispy breading. The macaroni salad was probably the most “Hawaiian” thing on the plate, and I could’ve eaten a bucket of that simple, comforting side dish. 

The real star of the show though was our appetizer of fried sesame balls. That chewy dough was stuffed with some sort of sweet mush and tasted like piping-hot heaven.

All told, it was a good, solid meal, but probably not the most authentic introduction to Hawaiian cuisine. Owner Anthony Wang immigrated from China six years ago and cooked in a local Chinese restaurant for several years before he noticed a lack of Hawaiian options in town and decided to fill the void. A friend taught him a few recipes and Hawaiian techniques, and QQ Aloha BBQ was born.

“We work for the customer always,” Wang said. “We are happy when they are happy.”


HANDFUL O’ BALLS
These sesame balls from QQ Aloha BBQ are possibly the best $3 I’ve ever spent, and there used to be two more … before I ate ’em that is.
PHOTO COURTESY OF KATRINA DORSEY

It’s hard not to be happy with a full plate of three meats and sides for just less than $10. Add some boba and sesame balls, and you’ve got yourself a sweet, affordable vacation from the standard Central Coast food scene. 

Contributing writer Nick Powell is still feeling fishy. Send seafood recommendations to npowell@santamariasun.com.

Powell’s picks

• Also right near QQ Aloha BBQ and TEAklish Boba and Cafe is my favorite Lompoc grocery store: Foods Co. It’s not the prettiest place, but it has the town’s best selection and prices on produce (pineapples for just 99 cents each?! Mangoes, three for a dollar?! That’s practically ridonculous!) Their deli and meat selection is pretty good, too, but avoid the boxed and canned goods, where mark-up is king. Also, their beer selection could be improved. There, I said it. Get yourself some produce at 601 W. Central Ave.

• Chef Rick’s in Orcutt has opened softly for lunch and seems to be a big hit. As of this typing, the restaurant is only open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Saturday and the parking lot is packed to the gills every time I pass by. I haven’t tried it yet, but Chef Rick is a local legend, and the food is likely fantastic. Stay tuned for more info, or squeeze in for lunch at 135 E. Foster Road.

• I traveled to good ol’ San Luis Obispo for hiking, breakfast, and the Central Coast Cactus and Succulent Society annual show and sale this past weekend. It was a good time, especially the breakfast at Bon Temps Creole Cafe. I’d never enjoyed a bloody mary till then and also never thought to use an artichoke heart as the base for a poached egg breakfast. These folks know what they’re doing, and it’s definitely worth the trip. Have yourself some bon temps at 1819 Osos St. in SLO.

• Treat dad to a breakfast for kings at Solvang’s Root 246 this Father’s Day, June 16. Bottomless eggs accompany ribeye and New York strip steaks for $30-plus a plate. Add bottomless beer for $16 and let dad know you appreciate all those lessons and love and whatever. Call (805) 686-8681 for reservations. 

Contributing writer Nick Powell is the king of breakfast. Send steak and eggs—and food news—to npowell@santamariasun.com.




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