A small opening between two matte white walls leads into a small blue kitchen. The sizzling of the grill overlaps with the chatter of customers. Silver metal chairs and tables are scattered sparingly around the room and large leather couches are pushed against the turquoise walls. An arrangement of pineapples lays atop a counter next to the cash register. Hanging on the wall above is a small chalkboard menu, advertising $1 boba and tacos in neon chalk letters.
This small blue kitchen is home to one of Palo Alto’s most inexpensive and delectable eateries: Valencia Asian Market, a new fusion restaurant that mixes Taiwanese and Mexican cuisines located at 3487 El Camino Real in Palo Alto .
On our visit we found delicious fusion tacos, an assortment of pearl milk tea flavors and an amazing restaurant community
According to the owner Zen Bunchien, he opened Valencia Asian Market with the intention of doing something positive for the community and his son, a student at Gunn High School. Following the numerous student deaths in Palo Alto schools, the community has heightened its attention towards mental health and academic stress. Bunchien felt that is was necessary after these events to provide a place for teens to feel safe and included.
“I wanted to have a place for young high school students to come and chill and create a culture,” Bunchien said.
It was with this goal in mind that Valencia Asian Market was born, a place where Bunchien’s son and his friends could learn work experience and create a safe place within the Palo Alto community.
Bunchien feels as though college is not the only way to succeed in life and the hyper-competitive atmosphere in Silicon Valley inspired him to show the youth in Palo Alto an alternative to the path that they have been encouraged to follow.
“You don’t need a fancy education, we are not looking to be rich but we are looking to train,” Bunchien said. “I want my son to create something greater than what I developed for him.”
Since boba is all the hype right now, Bunchien hired his son along with some of his friends and gave them the title of “Bobologists.” The students run the restaurant — they make drinks, serve them and manage the cash register. The restaurant also has a research and development team that meets at night to develop new fusion flavors for their boba and food to add to the constantly changing menu.
“We are just seeing what works and what we can put as specials,” Bunchien said. “We have some very high-functioning kids that want to show their talent.”
One of the most popular items at Valencia Asian Market is the $1 boba. The market offers a plethora of flavors and toppings, without an extra charge for toppings like many other shops that sell boba. Flavors include strawberry, honeydew, passion fruit, lychee, taro, peach and apple. For toppings there is honey boba, popping boba, rainbow jelly, mango star jelly, coconut jelly and lychee.
The flavors of the boba were very strong and each stayed true to its fruit. The high customizability make the drinks unique and allows customers to try new exciting things delete flavors each time.
First, we ordered a strawberry milk tea with honey boba. The strawberry flavor was extremely strong and a bit sour. However, the boba was staisfyingly chewy with the perfect amount of sweetness. Next we tried the peach milk tea with honey boba as well. This was our least favorite flavor as the peach had a strange artificial taste.
Our favorite by far was the mango green tea with honey boba. The tea had the perfect sweetness and the mango flavor added a fun kick to the drink.
Another popular item is the one dollar $1 taco. Choices in meat included traditional Mexican options like chicken, asada and carnitas,and less traditional options such as Chinese BBQ.
The chicken tacos ($1) arrived fresh from the grill, drizzled with sour cream and green salsa.
The meat was crisp on the edges and cooked to perfection, while the hot sauce was the perfect degree of spice and flavor.
One of our favorite items was the veggie burrito ($6). It had beans, rice, guacamole (no extra charge) and salsa, as well as sour cream and cheese, which we omitted. The decadent filling was surrounded by a crisp, grilled tortilla that went perfectly with the boba.
The menu also includes some healthier options, such as a customizable salad ($6.99), allowing for the choice of a veggie, a protein and a dressing. Another option is a piadina, an Italian flatbread with a range of sweet and savory fillings.
Bunchien’s future plans include expanding the menu at Valencia as well as hosting events for teens such as open mic nights. These plans further the effort to create a safe and inviting atmosphere within his restaurant, which he believes is incredibly vital for the Palo Alto community.