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REVIEW: Culinary Treasures Abound at Tea Leaf Café

By Kyle Young

Fishcake udon soup

Tea Leaf Café on Sierra Center Parkway serves an eclectic menu of soups, sandwiches, rice and noodles alongside some of the tastiest boba and milk tea that I’ve tried. The food and drinks are especially affordable and the service is especially warm and welcoming.

Kim Phan’s Vision for Tea Leaf Café

Kim Phan, originally from Los Angeles, moved to Reno in 2008. Before coming to Reno, she observed the fun and flavor available at bubble tea cafes in LA. Since moving to Reno, she has seen the tastes of our community grow and develop.

As Reno grows, so does its desire for the culinary variety of larger cities such as LA, San Francisco, etc. Wanting to join Reno’s blossoming food scene, Phan opened Tea Leaf Café on August 24th of this year. The restaurant interior is two parts cute and one part minimalistic with ample seating and board games available to diners.

The tea selection is great with a multitude of customizable options including various milks, sweetness level, boba, jellies, popping pearls, and more. Also available are refreshers, slushes, smoothies and coffee drinks.

Phan explained that she prepares smalls batches of the base ingredients for her dishes daily using organic foods. She offers Vietnamese sandwiches, summer rolls, vermicelli noodle bowls, and udon soup. Also available is Pâté chaud, a puff pastry chicken pie. Don’t miss Phan’s weekly specials. This week’s specials include chicken noodle soup, Thai egg fried rice, and house-made soy milk.

A Trio of Tremendous Fish Cakes

My wife ordered the Thai egg fried rice at $6.25 while I ordered the fishcake udon soup at $6.75. We also shared an order of the summer rolls at $5.50.

The summer rolls were fresh and delectable. They included lettuce, cucumber, grilled pork, pickled carrots and vermicelli noodles. They were served with a thick and creamy peanut sauce. The rolls, two of them, were generous in portion size. We both enjoyed them.

Thai egg fried rice at Tea Leaf Cafe.

Thai egg fried rice at Tea Leaf Cafe. Image: Kyle Young.

The Thai egg fried rice was mildly flavored. It’s the kind of food that brings comfort on chilly days and remedies the occasional hangover. The dish includes pieces of fried egg, onions, and wonderfully cooked rice. This dish isn’t a flavor bomb, but the use of limited ingredients really lets each of them shine. Eggs, onion, and rice, at least for me, is timeless. My wife thoroughly enjoyed the dish.

The star of the meal for me was the fishcake udon soup. I’m normally accustomed to fresh udon noodles which are large, cylindrical, part translucent, springy and chewy. In this dish, Phan uses a dry variety of udon noodle which was thinner and egg-colored. They reminded me of the classic Campbell’s noodles in their chicken noodle soup.

The broth tasted of bonito flakes and was enhanced with the flavors of fishcakes, seaweed ribbons, spinach and a crab stick. I really loved the three varieties of fishcakes. One variety was spherical, fried and included cabbage, carrots and corn. The next was spherical, plain and boiled. The final cake was rectangular and fried with a part sweet, part savory flavor. Each of the cakes was delicate and spongy. I forgot to ask, but if I’m not mistaken, both fishcakes and crab sticks use surimi as the base ingredient. The soup’s flavors and textures were varied and very delicious.

Tempting Teas to Weaken Your Knees

Rose milk tea with boba

Rose milk tea with large boba at Tea Leaf Cafe. Image: Kyle Young

Phan explained that she imports her boba, cups, teas, etc. straight from Taiwan. The variety of teas available is fantastic. She recommended that my wife and I try her rose tea with large boba and her house-made soy milk. The teas are $3.50 with $0.50 per topping. The serving size isn’t listed on the cup, but, by my estimate, it’s something like 24 oz. In my book, a $4.00 24 oz. tea is an exceptional value. Really, I found the whole meal an exceptional value.

I had not previously tried a rose flavored tea. I never specifically avoided the flavor. It was just one of those things I hadn’t gotten around to sampling. Now that I have, it’s one of my new favorites. People sometimes pejoratively describe food and drinks as having a potpourri quality. The rose tea at Tea Leaf Café has a certain potpourri quality, but I mean that as a compliment. It’s so fragrant and the taste somehow mimics the scent.

Some contend that boba is boba wherever you go, but I strongly disagree. My first exposure to boba happened years ago at a Vietnamese restaurant. The boba there was very firm and served just as cold as the drink it arrived in. After that experience, I marked boba in milk tea as not for me.

It wasn’t until the start of 2018 that I tried remarkable boba. Great boba, for me, is warm at the bottom of the cup and is slightly sweet, soft and springy. Tea Leaf Café hit all the marks and as I write this review, I’m already craving another milk tea.

The house-made soy milk was another treat that I had not previously tried. I’ve always been satisfied with cow’s milk, so I’ve never really endeavored to explore the modern era’s many milks. Phan’s house-made soy milk is distinctly delicious. It’s creamier than cow’s milk and has just a touch of sweetness. If you haven’t tried house-made soy milk, I highly recommend it.

Kim, Megan and Summer were all incredibly warm, welcoming and helpful while we dined there. They indulged our many questions about the menu offerings and happily provided recommendations when asked.

One final note, the restaurant does not currently have the ability to accept tips with their credit / debit card reader, so bring cash and tip well!

Visit Tea Leaf Café at 6775 Sierra Center Pkwy #200, Reno, NV 89511. The café resides in the same shopping center as Target and sits right next door to Quiznos. Give them a call at 775-686-6116. They are open Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and open on Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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