Photo by Joy WeberTyping "Graffitea" on Google summons up the confessions of at least seven Orange County blogs raving about the Costa Mesa boba house. Read these online diaries (the most lurid are nessanguyen.blogspot.com, www.drowning-poo.org and justmyshit.blogspot.com), and you'll get an accurate overview of Graffitea's young, Asian, annoyingly chatty clientele. Don't blame the last quality on youth, though—most of the people here are college students from the equidistant Orange Coast College, Santa Ana College and UC Irvine campuses desperate for nightlife, attracted to Graffitea by its 2 a.m. last call and sleep-staving espressos.
Though scholars frequent Graffitea, the Tokyo-pub (though alcohol-free) vibe makes studying pointless. The studying/eating space continues to lose square feet to its ever-expanding manga library, where a $2 entrance fee buys you hours of robot-sex fun. In one corner, there's a small clothing boutique; a cell phone provider takes the other side. Strewn around are Japanese tabloids and magazines. Along the walls hang original artwork and posted Polaroids of the regulars. Bumpin' hip-hop is the soundtrack of choice, although the periodic giggles of J-pop will eventually drive you outside to join the Japanese exchange students in chain-smoking the night away.
It's a college-student dive, so don't expect nuanced, healthy food; the platters are strictly for the all-nighters—carb-heavy stuff from a time before Atkins. Most popular is takoyaki, bite-sized fried-octopus balls served eight to an order, the rubbery tentacles wrapped inside a crispy skin with buttery mashed potatoes—this is what chicken McNuggets should aspire to. The grilled eel hints at teriyaki sauce that seeped deep inside its spindly texture; you're better off ordering teriyaki chicken elsewhere, unfortunately. But the beef patty, a breaded oval of mushy herbed cow, could energize a thousand LSAT-prep nights. All dishes come with white rice—plump and clumpy for easy chopstick snatching, speckled with sesame seeds to give it a flavor that transcends mere staple food—and a salad that's better left for placing on the chair of your most mortal enemy.
Buzzing atmosphere and greasy grub aside, Graffitea truly excels where you'd expect. Teas are liquid defibrillators; the smoothies and snow bubble drinks are remarkably flavorful, from nutty almond and zesty lychee to hearty mango and strawberry. Though students won't get much homework done at Graffitea, they can relax knowing the smoothies will mitigate the summer school to come.
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GRAFFITEA, 3030 S. BRISTOL ST., COSTA MESA, (714) 436-5798.