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Bobalastic is a mix-and-match bubble tea adventure

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Tofu is served with traditional sushi garnishes over rice or salad at the Bobablastic food truck in Medford. Photo courtesy Bobablastic.
Boba tea comes in more than 6,000 combinations at Bobablastic food truck in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Crispy spring rolls come in orders of three or six at Bobablastic food truck in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Sweet and sour chicken is one of three flavors served over rice at the Bobablastic food truck in Medford. Photo courtesy Bobablastic.
Bobablastic operates daily in the parking lot of Orley’s Stoves & Spas on Medford’s Crater Lake Highway. Photo courtesy Bobablastic.

A chain of food trucks that picked up speed in Portland has appointed an ambassador for its boba tea in Medford.

Bobablastic, aka “the red bubble tea truck,” has expanded its business since 2016 to approximately 25 locations in Oregon and Washington, half of which are based in Portland and the metro area. With Eugene’s truck its closest compatriot, Medford’s Bobablastic is the brand’s southernmost outpost. Regularly parked at Orley’s Stoves & Spas since early summer, the truck serves up its “secret traditional honey boba” and other ingredients that can combine for an “astonishing” 6,000 combinations, according to the company’s website, bobablastic.com.

With so many ways to mix and match, ordering boba can be a bit daunting for the uninitiated. Originating in Taiwan in the 1980s and arriving in the United States a decade later or so later, boba is common across the Pacific Northwest’s larger cities. Bobablastic claims credit as one of the region’s “first leading companies selling bubble tea.”

It’s not Southern Oregon’s first such establishment. But Bobablastic does bring the flair and panache of Portland food truck pods to the local boba scene, which also includes four Noonie’s locations and Ashland’s new Matcha Boba House. Bobablastic distinguishes itself in the field with a fusion menu to complement boba’s fun, funky vibe.

Quintessential boba combines black, oolong or jasmine tea, chilled, mixed with milk and topped with chewy beads of tapioca. But diverse toppings, dairy alternatives, fruit and floral flavors and other add-ons make boba infinitely customizable. The original black boba pearls made from sugar and tapioca flour seem almost unremarkable next to “jelly,” “crystal,” “popping” and “pudding” toppings.

How to interpret all the boba buzzwords and select the best option? A recent Seattle Times article helped me bone up on boba terminology before a recent visit to Bobablastic.

Similar in size and shape to regular boba, crystal boba are made with agar (an algae-based ingredient) and come in a whitish-clear color. Chewy, they are not as sticky and gelatinous as regular boba and have a neutral, sweet flavor that pairs well with any type of drink.

Although similar in size and shape to other boba, popping boba offer very different texture and flavor sensations. Consisting of a thin, edible membrane encasing a small pocket of fruit juice, these burst when you bite into them for a nice complement to fruity iced teas.

Also paired well with fruity iced teas, jellies provide a soft texture that’s easier on the jaw. They come in refreshing flavors, such as mango, coconut, lychee, green apple and more.

Easiest to chew, pudding is a silky-smooth egg-based custard that’s not too sweet. These giant yellow globs sink to the bottom of a cup, but slurp up easily with the wide-diameter boba straw and blend well into drinks, particularly milky ones.

Favoring slightly sweetened milk teas over smoothies and other fruity concoctions, I homed in on the taro flavored tea ($6), after considering matcha and rose. And because “honey boba” is Bobablastic’s claim to fame, I added those to an iced beverage. Drinks can be made hot with the caveat that some toppings, including tapioca and custard, will melt in hot drinks.

A boba newbie, my partner predictably gravitated toward tropical fruit flavors blended with ice into a slushy ($6.75). At my suggestion, he topped his mango-flavored drink with strawberry-flavored popping beads.

Multiple toppings can be added to drinks, but at 75 cents apiece, they add up fast. And because so many layers of sweetness can become overwhelming, most boba shops ask customers to specify their preferred sweetness — very light for both me and my partner.

A light lunch also appealing to us, we skipped over the menu’s hot dogs ($7 to $9), loaded French fries ($7 to $9) and nachos ($7 to $9). The waffle cone ($8) stuffed with sweet chile, maple-bacon or cheesy breaded chicken tenders was more intriguing.

My partner opted for his chicken sweet and sour style over rice ($10). I requested the tofu bowl ($12) and confirmed that the lack of its usual imitation crab salad didn’t affect my choice.

While we bypassed some of the more indulgent dishes, the siren song of fried food still compelled me to order three crispy spring rolls ($4.50). And if our drinks hadn’t practically doubled for desserts, we likely would have concluded with a chocolate-dipped banana ($5.50) or wedge of cheesecake ($6.50).

With at least two orders ahead of ours, the wait stretched to nearly 15 minutes for our boba, 20 for our food. The hot day’s smoky haze chased us into our car, where we gratefully quenched our thirst with the milk tea and slushy once they arrived.

A subtle flavor, denoted mostly by its lilac color, the taro milk tea was refreshing, its thin body easing the suction of its honey boba pearls. My partner proclaimed his blended mango beverage delicious and the popping boba an unexpected treat.

The spring rolls likewise were a hot, fresh, satisfying snack that we unceremoniously gobbled in the car. The rice bowls had to bide their time until we arrived home.

The texture of my partner’s fried chicken most certainly was diminished by its stint in a takeout container. Regardless, the prebreaded chunks of poultry were the stuff of generic fast food, nothing distinctive. It’s easy to see how piling the protein into a waffle cone would go far toward redeeming it.

The tofu bowl contained a commendable variety of produce, but the avocado and cucumber could have been much fresher. And the canned or frozen corn kernels and packaged seaweed salad didn’t do much to elevate the dish, even with garnishes of pickled ginger and toasted nori. Next time, I’ll go for the gusto and order a sweet chile chicken waffle cone with my boba.

Bobablastic operates from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily at 3050 Crater Lake Highway.

Tempo Tidbits

Downtown Medford’s Ghostlight Grille has raised the curtain on weekend brunch.

The new restaurant supports the nonprofit Randall Theatre Company, which took over the former location of Howiee’s on Front a year ago. After months of planning and navigating setbacks, the Grille opened last week at 16 N. Front St.

Serving from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday through Sunday, the Grille offers a menu of eight brunch items prepared by chef Nic Lanier. Patio seating, limited indoor seating and takeout are available. Restaurateurs say they plan to add lunch and dinner service in the fall.

Randall’s Kickstarter campaign is set to launch Monday with the goal of raising $20,000 to revive the space, where upgrades are ongoing. The Ghostlight Playhouse is a live entertainment venue for plays, musicals, bands, comedy, karaoke and more. Most shows also are available for live streaming. The Grille prepares a showtime menu of burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, fries and other concessions, priced from $3 to $13.

For brunch, Lanier draws from Southern cuisine to cook fried chicken over biscuits and waffles, as well as biscuits and gravy, crabcake eggs Benedict, breakfast burritos, French toast and a brunch burger, priced from $12 to $15.

Policies for masks in both the restaurant and theater follow current state mandates. See randalltheatre.com

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Got a hot set of wheels?

Bring that “baby” to Sunday brunch at Medford’s Downtown Market Co. and get your meal for half price. The restaurant at 123 W. Main St. reserves storefront parking for classic and muscle cars from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.

The restaurateurs who love their cars also love the local music scene and host Friday Night Music Hall from 6 to 9 p.m. See the lineup at downtownmarketco.com

Regular restaurant hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.

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The following restaurants in July received perfect scores of 100 on their semiannual inspections by Jackson County Environmental Public Health:

The Olive Garden, Medford; Orange Julius, Rogue Valley Mall, Medford; O’Ryans Irish Pub, Ashland; Puerto Mazatlan Mexican Restaurant, Ashland; Purple Parrot No. 13, 10546 Highway 62, Eagle Point; Red Robin, Medford; Sansei, Rogue Valley Mall, Medford; Schoolhaus Brewhaus, Jacksonville; Standing Stone Brewing Co., Ashland; Star Sushi, Medford; Stone’s Jamaican Roots & Juice, Talent; Wendy’s Restaurant, North Pacific Highway, Medford.

The county’s searchable database of restaurant and food service inspections is at healthspace.com/Clients/Oregon/jackson/Web.nsf/home.xsp

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Have a Tempo tidbit to share? Email news about the local dining, food and beverage scene to: thewholedish@gmail.com

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Sarah Lemon has relished the Rogue Valley’s dining scene for nearly two decades as one of the original contributors to Tempo’s dining column. Her palate has helped to judge some of the region’s culinary competitions and festivals. The former editor of A la Carte, the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section, she writes a biweekly column, The Whole Dish, and blogs and podcasts under the same name. Listen at mailtribune.com/podcasts and read more at mailtribune.com/lifestyle/the-whole-dish. Follow @the.whole.dish on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.