If you’re seeking self-serve boba, baked items or fried “rocket” chicken, head over to family owned Rocketbelly and prepare for an experience similar to space travel. The shop is practically light-years away from campus in Arlington. But with something as beloved as bubble tea paired with the option of individual customization, this shop is worth a trip.
When you enter, chances are you’ll be enthusiastically greeted by a 10-year-old girl. Her name is Olivia, and her parents own the shop. Around her, the ambience echoes the shop name, as LED lights line the counters and luminescent lamps hang above a set of gray and white couches next to a “Dance Dance Revolution” machine. The menu is projected on television screens that look as if they’re displaying space missions, not a selection of drinks and dishes. With retro, metallic chairs and plain tables, every detail in Rocketbelly is a nod to the space aesthetic. The shop is kid friendly and usually has families at peak times, so it’s not a perfect space for studying or quiet meet ups, but rather a pickup and go.
The main attraction: self-serve boba priced at $5.75 to $6.50. You grab a cup or bottle depending on your size selection and fill it with whatever toppings you like. Boba and jelly options are available in every shade and flavor, including mango, strawberry and lychee. The best part: you get to pour your own ice. There are countless options for tea, such as winter melon, black sesame and taro coconut milk tea, and every drink base is made with organic and non-dairy creamer. Don’t know what to choose? You have the option to grab a sample cup in order to try your teas and toppings beforehand.
My recommendation is the taro coconut milk tea with brown sugar tapioca boba. It’s sweet but not too sweet, and the tea is quite flavorful without the starchy aftertaste of some franchises’ taro milk teas. The tapioca boba is made with a wonderful wildflower honey blend unique to the store. With the power of controlling your topping to tea ratio, you can ensure your drink’s sweetness is to your liking. As for the food, prices range from $4 to $8 for small bites and about $10 to $16 for larger plates. The honey butter fries are one of their most popular items — uniquely sweet and well made — but can be heavy when paired with a sweet drink.
Besides their boba, Rocketbelly’s most famous menu item is the “rocket” chicken, which includes nuggets and tenders that embody classic American flavors through Japanese culinary technique. The batter is airy and light in comparison to most fried chicken, perfectly paired with their tangy Rocket Sauce, a secret recipe.
With self-serve comes the common issue of cleanliness. The self-serve stations were relatively clean, but tables were an issue. They weren’t terribly dirty, but they weren’t wiped down, either. On the bright side, the family running the shop offers incredibly friendly service. Despite the daunting distance – about an hour away from campus – Rocketbelly is worth a visit for both the service and experience.
All in all, Rocketbelly is a boba shop like no other. Its fun concept and high quality tea make it a solid choice. Frequent visits may not be possible, but if anything is worth an hour drive, it is self-serve boba.