My 15-year-old daughter is taking the pandemic even more seriously than I do, and I’ve had exactly one sit-down on-site restaurant meal since this all began, and that was on a patio, wherein the two of us, my daughter’s friend, and her dad were the only customers. And said patio was in Brenham to boot.

But she does like to get out and when she does there is little she loves more than head to Chinatown for smoothies, boba tea, or coffee drinks — like her father before her, her fifteenth year on the planet found her succumbing to the charms of serious caffeine.

And in balancing her fears of COVID-19 with her love of modern-day teahouses, we’ve discovered the International District’s Magic Cup Cafe on Bellaire between Boone and Kirkwood. Founded five years ago by My Lynn Nguyen in the Dallas suburb of Richardson, this is the first of what Nguyen hopes will become many franchised locations of a bubble tea empire — see their website for details.

This location is housed in one of those buildings known as a “pad site”: it’s in a small building close to Bellaire in the parking lot of the strip mall housing Cho Thanh Binh supermarket and the very popular Pho Dien, allowing for a convenient and rapidly moving drive-thru trade that happens to be staffed by polite and friendly employees.

When we go to places like Magic Cup — with its huge menu of bubble teas, smoothies, coffee drinks, and Vietnamese and other Asian snacks — and encounter little or no waiting in the drive-thru line, my daughter and I become more and more puzzled everytime we see a Starbucks with a line wrapping around the building or extending into the street.

Oh well — that just means less waiting for the two of us at Magic Cup Cafe. In just three visits I have already become addicted to their hibiscus-pineapple-lychee tea, and my daughter is a huge fan of their strawberry-mango smoothies and Thai teas with boba.

And we’ve just begun to explore the menu that not only features the Asian-influenced beverages you’d expect (including Vietnamese coffees) but also what Nguyen calls “Cha signatures”: Tex-Mex variations on Asian tea drinks, such as spicy smoothies (pineapple, mango, strawberry, watermelon, and guava) with chili powder, chamoy, and tamarind candy straws.  All the ingredients are all-natural, and drinks run the gamut from tried-and-true stand-bys to exoticness such as Nuoc Mat (wintermelon artichoke iced tea with agar jelly, chia seeds, and grass jelly) and Fruit Tea Madness (strawberry mango lychee iced tea with mango, strawberry, and rainbow jelly).

And there is a food menu including, kimchi fries, voodoo chicken, basil calamari, fried fish tofu, and vegetarian egg rolls, and a bevy of banh mi to choose from, so you can get a light meal at the same time you are getting your caffeine and / or vitamin infusion. Magic Cup also offers outdoor seating amid lush greenery for those who want to skip the drive-thru and minimize indoor time simultaneously.

With places like Magic Cup around, small wonder that there is not a single Starbucks in Chinatown.

Magic Cup Cafe
11724 Bellaire Blvd