It's 7 pm on a Sunday night, and the crush of people lined up at Zero Degrees is barely contained inside the door. Every seat at this chic boba shop in the corner space of a plaza on Southeast 82nd Street is accounted for, with those who've already ordered standing with receipts in hand as Cardi B and Migos blare overhead.
Zero Degrees is packed, no thanks to the traditional channels of Portland hype. As far as I can tell, this is the first time Zero Degrees has been mentioned in mainstream local media—an indictment of the city's newsrooms, and not this creative California-based chain which serves dessert drinks, like a horchata-and-matcha blend called a matchata, a strawberry lychee slushie and the house speciality, the mangonada.
That craveable mangonada—a mildly sweet mango slushy with big chunks of squishy fresh fruit that's accented with Mexican Tajín seasoning powder—is reason enough to brave the line.
Zero Degrees comes from the San Gabriel Valley, a network of suburbs east of Los Angeles that became the nation's first suburban Chinese enclave. The San Gabriel Valley, often identified by its 626 area code, is a hotbed of Asian culture and known for popularizing boba, which quickly became a worldwide trend.
A Los Angeles Times writer who wrote a feature on the culture of the 626, which now draws young Asian Americans from around the country, described it as such: "They've developed a world view based on the odd melding of things Chinese and American and the habits of a young Asian generation obsessed with boba tea, break dancing and Instagram photos of food."
At Zero Degrees, that takes the form of drinks like a bright-purple milkshake made with colored yams popular in the Philippines called ube (pronounced eww-beh and not like rube—which I revealed myself to be when ordering). The shake is topped with a super 'grammable skewer featuring a toasted marshmallow and a sour candy rainbow.
In addition to the drinks, there's a small snack menu that includes popcorn chicken and a cheesy corn casserole based on elotes, which comes regular or topped with the dust of Flamin' Hot Cheetos—a dish that's become a trend at Los Angeles' Korean and Mexican shops alike. We had the Flamin' Hot corn and found it pleasantly rich and spicy, though disappointingly served lukewarm in its tin pan.
Though it falls under the broad genre of boba shop, boba is old news. Zero Degrees has moved into trendier dessert beverages like an horchata frappé and a strawberry mojito with fresh fruit, mint leaves and chia seeds. They range in price between $4 and $6.50 depending on size and recipe, and tend to be mildly sweet with lots of fresh fruit and less cream than the stuff you get at Starbucks. Zero Degrees drinks often incorporate a little Mexican flair, like a tamarind straw or a dose of chamoy, a thick sauce made of pickled fruit.
To make your drink extra-super 'grammable, and take home a souvenir, Zero Degrees offers milk and mason jars as an upgrade option for $1.50 or $2.50 respectively.
What's beautiful about Zero Degrees is what's beautiful about America: Angelenos making Taiwanese boba, shakes made of purple Filipino yams and Flamin' Hot Cheetos elotes. No wonder there's always a line.
GO: Zero Degrees, 8220 SE Harrison St., 503-772-1500, zerodegreescompany.com. 11 am-10 pm daily.