Best Boba for a Sweet Tooth
Bingo Tea’s ceiling is painted light blue with puffs of white, so that when you look up you see sky. The effect is heightened after your first sip of lava milk tea ($4.50) topped with boba (+$0.75 for matcha boba) carries you to heaven on a caramel cloud. Rich brown sugar, the bottom layer of the drink, melts in your mouth leaving behind perfectly soft tapioca pearls—not too oozy, not too crunchy. Starbucks’ entire caffeinated syrup collection pales in comparison. Just ask for reduced sugar (even as a sweetness fiend, I get fifty percent) and don’t forget to shake your cup before you drink or you’ll get a mouthful of unadulterated sugar.
All Bingo shop owners have to go through a training program in mainland China before they can open their own businesses, and Chinatown’s Bingo is no exception. The preparation is evident in the tea quality—they put more care into the tea steeping process than most boba tea joints do. Even without boba, the green and jasmine teas are delectable. Perhaps the training is also why Bingo is so ahead of the curve, serving the popular Taiwanese-style “milk caps,” a foamy salty-sweet topping (also known as “cheese tea”) that’ll add an unexpected twist to your beverage.
If you’re looking for a small bite to pair with your boba, there’s a small, not-to-be-underestimated rack of baked goods across the tea counter that serves Chinese and European baked goods. And if that’s not enough to tide you over, the tea shop is located in Chinatown’s mall, where you can find a variety of restaurants and cafes that serve more substantial fare. When you exit to Chicago’s gray skies, your face will match the expression of the Bingo mascot on your surprisingly sturdy cup—a blissful, knowing grin, and maybe even a wink for being in the know on Chinatown’s best boba joint. (Alia Shahzad)
Lava Milk Tea, $4.50, +0.75 with matcha boba. Bingo Tea, 2150 S. Archer Ave., 1st fl. Monday–Thursday, noon–11pm; Friday–Sunday, 11:30am–midnight. (312) 328-6668.
Best Coffee For Sitting in the Sun
Served at the Vietnamese coffee shop Cà Phê Dá on 18th street, the Cà Phê Sữa Dá is one of my favorite specialty coffees. I usually like to drink my coffee black and only in the mornings but this one is my exception to the rule and is my recommendation if you are looking for a coffee that leans more toward dessert. A blend of coffee and sweet, condensed milk, it can be served either hot or iced. I prefer the iced version to go with the coffee shop’s chicken bánh mì on a warm afternoon in Pilsen. (Manisha A.R.)
Cà Phê Sữa Dá, $4. Cà Phê Dá, 1800 ½ S. Carpenter St. Open daily 7am–11pm. (773) 999-1800. caphedachi.com
Best Beer for Washing Down Pizza
The Falcon Inn is, by the numbers, the undisputed champ of Hyde Park dive bars. It’s been around since the 60s, and it boasts the single cheapest pitcher of beer in the neighborhood—just $7.50 for PBR. The Falcon also offers cheap eats, thanks to Cholie’s Pizza, the greasy spoon next door that mainlines into the Falcon through a window called The Chole Hole. Thanks to this un-Hole-y connection, you can order Cholie’s slices without leaving the building (very Pyramus and Thisbe).
Falcon regulars are loyal to the bar, to the point of warning off new customers—one told me not to write about it in the newspaper, for fear of bringing in unwanted yuppies and newly-minted 21-year-olds. The Falcon encourages this curmudgeonliness: according to a rarely-enforced sign on the window, no one under 23 is allowed inside. The only people who take this rule seriously, though, are UofC graduate students, who spread it as a rumor to keep out UofC undergrads. Free karaoke on Fridays! (Kyle Oleksiuk)
PBR pitcher, $7.50. The Falcon Inn, 1601 E. 53rd St. Monday–Friday, 10am–2am; Saturday, 11am–3am; Sunday, noon–2am. 21+.
Best Banana Pudding in Beverage Form for Any Occasion
I am too young to remember the golden era of the soda shop. But B&B Candy & Ice Cream in Auburn Gresham is surely a close approximation. From behind the bar of the family-owned, Candyland-reminiscent shop, the Brazley family serves up ice cream and Italian ices in the front, ground turkey nachos in the back, and hard candies to carry away from all the shelves in between. (Oh, and taffy grapes from the cooler.)
It feels a little arbitrary to single out B&B for their banana pudding milkshake when they have so many goods on offer, but the hard-to-find ice-cream flavor (Hershey’s brand) is just so good in milkshake form. And who’s to argue with a crowd pleaser? Ellen Brazley, who runs the shop alongside husband Bernard and daughter Lauren, says that the banana pudding ice cream is a customer favorite—and it’s one of hers, too. The price is just right: a milkshake starts at $3.75 for an 8oz cup, with whipped cream and a cherry at no additional charge, and then it goes up a dollar per cup size, up to $6.75 for a 24oz cup.
When the Brazleys, who are Auburn Gresham natives, first opened the shop in October 2016, candy and ice cream was brand new territory. They really just wanted to create a “happy place” with “lots of colors and brightness” for the community, Ellen says. In the years since, their candy shop has grown into a community center of sorts. The kids from the high school around the corner who populate the shop—“they never leave,” Ellen laughs—call them “ma” and “pop.” The Brazleys host school supply drives every fall and winter, and throughout the year take in and distribute kids’ coats and clothes to those who need it.
When I stopped in on a Friday afternoon, the shop was buzzing, filled with families and groups of friends waiting to order, but not so busy that I wasn’t quickly forgiven for missing the take-a-number ticket dispenser in front of the counter in my eagerness for that banana pudding milkshake. (Emeline Posner)
Banana Pudding Milkshake, $3.75–$6.75. B&B Candy and Ice Cream 8238 S. Racine Ave. $3–12. Monday–Friday, noon–8pm; Saturday, noon–9pm; Sunday, noon–6pm. (773) 322-4060.