Tapioca Express in Union Square, Richmond

Brrrr … do you feel that today, in particular, had gotten another notch colder? I had my jacket on in the office the whole day. There is a thermostat near where my desk in the office but I think it’s fake. It does nothing no matter what button I press.

He he he … I remember reading articles recently that people install fake thermostat so that people don’t complain and keep calling maintenance to adjust the temperature. Those fake thermostat gives people a false sense of control; a kind of a placebo. In fact it does nothing. I was looking at it this morning and was thinking this thing might be a fake. You think.

The article also mentions that the door close button on elevators is another example. Have you come across that before? The close button doesn’t work and yet people press it. It also gives people a false sense of control when they get impatient waiting for the door to close. Placebo effect?

So I went and try to google placebo effect and guess what I found … this entry on Wikipedia about placebo button. Interesting, eh?

Sorry I was off topic. Let me get back on track.


We are not Bubble Tea people. It’s not that we don’t like it but we always have this perception that BBT places are young people hangouts, not a place for mums and dads.

And don’t ask me why people use the acronym BBT for Bubble Tea and not BT. People had been using BBT for so long that not many people even think that it should have been BT.

But we went to a BBT place anyway. Despite the cold weather and all. We would have loved to go to a hot pot restaurant but we were not hungry and for hot pot you need to be super hungry to have your money worth. So it was the BBT place because they have light snacks and food items.

We went to the Tapioca Express. This is located in the Union Square a few doors away from Liu’s Taiwanese Restaurant and Richmond Sushi. He he he … you should look at that post on Richmond Sushi. It was post #5 on chowtimes.com and it was the first post about eating out. My boys were cuter then and they could sing soprano parts then.


This is quite a big place. As we walked in, we came to a large waiting area where there are several big boards on the wall showing their menu. Most of it is for beverage of course. They do have a small selection of food items too. I remember someone telling me that their Fried Pepper Chicken is pretty good in this restaurant.

Tapioca Express is something like a fast food setup. You order and pay for your food at the counter. We had been here twice before and they have a serious expression. We expected something like how-are-you-doing … or … how-can-I-help-you … or … maybe just a simple “hi”. Instead (both times), they just looked at me and wait for me to say what I wanted. Serious-faced.


After you place the order, they will give you the device above. It is a wireless electronic device which will lights up and plays a tune when your food is ready for collection. Like this:

[vimeo 15907684 w=601 h=451]

I see this quite a bit in the US but I have not come across this in Vancouver myself before. I am sure there are but I have not seen this. In the US, I see a lot of popular chain restaurants (like Cheesecake Factory) use this.

I am saying this because I found out that the Tapioca Express is actually owned by a US company. It is part of the chain with the HQ in Los Angeles. They have only two outlets in Canada, both located in Metro Vancouver — one in Richmond and another on Fraser in Vancouver.


You may click above to enlarge the menu. Most of their drinks is of the $3.50 range. Yeah … every conceivable combinations you can think of, they got it.

The food section (the 3rd and 4th image above) consists of a small selection of snacks, noodles, fried rice, soup, mini hot pot, rice and the section we are coming here for … the Deep Fried section. The Deep Fried items are about $4.50 each.


What we liked most was this one above. It is the Crispy Chicken Skin ($4).

We were asked if we wanted it spicy or not spicy. Of course we went for spicy. Actually spicy … just means that they sprinkle chilli powder on it. You want more spicy? They sprinkle more chilli powder.


This is great as it is so crispy and crunchy. Yeah, I know it is not exactly the healthiest of fried food but you gotta try it to know what I mean.


Our boys doesn’t like these kind of beverage a lot. They just didn’t want it. So Suanne and I got them instead.

It was interesting why they gave everyone the cups upside down. It’s more stable on the tray, I guess.

Suanne had the Pudding Milk Tea for $3.55 while Benny had the Coconut Jelly Pudding for $3.30. Suanne wanted the hot version of the Pudding Milk Tea which costs 25cents extra but were told it’s not available. Do you know why a hot version would cost more?


I like my coconut jelly pudding. It was not too sweet. I like slurping the jelly pudding up the big fat straw.

This sort of drinks together with the more popular pearl/bubble tea is very popular within the Asian community. This is like the Coca-Cola for Asians. I do find that non-Asians does not understand this drink. You see, there was once I had my project team who came over to Vancouver for meetings. They were from all over the US and from London. On one of the days, I bought them some Bubble Tea as a beverage for lunch. Half of them declined to drink it and the other half hardly finished the drink.

Yeah, I guess sucking up black balls up the big fat straws is too exotic for them. Good thing we had a stash of Coke left over from the previous lunches.


What else right? How many times have you seen fried rice on chowtimes? It must be at least a few hundred of posts already.

I don’t even want to tell you who ordered this. It’s academic.

The Fried Rice with BBQ, Egg and Vegetable was $6.50. Surprisingly it looks good and smells good too. It has lots of vegetables in it which includes carrot, corn, green bean, peas and green onions. Mummy Suanne was expecting that Nanzaro would pick the green stuff apart and give it to her.

That did not happen. Nanzaro finished them all. Strange.


Going off topic. I wanted to tell you I had been using this iPhone app for a while to help me translate some of the Chinese words. There are many such apps on iPhone. The one I happen to use is called KTdict C-E. This is not a very good app … but it is FREE.

It does the job except that you have to know the correct sequence of strokes. For the most part, I know how the sequence is because the characters follows a certain flow. Yeah, you perhaps need to know basic Chinese to use this.

You know what would be great? I hope there is an iPhone app that allows you to take a picture of the Chinese words with the built in camera and then have the software analyse the characters and does the translation. That would be awesome and I would install it on my iPhone if there is one.

Is there such an iPhone app? Would be great if it also does Japanese, Korean, Indian, Tibetan, Arabic …

OK back to food.


We also ordered the Noodle with Pepper Crispy Chicken in Soup combo which is $6.50. The Pepper Crispy Chicken was the one item we wanted to try. You can order the Crispy Fried Chicken without the noodle if you want which is $5.


Like the Deep Fried Chicken Skin, you can have it spicy or not … and it just means they sprinkle on the chilli powder.

The chicken was tender and not too crispy outside. It was good but then almost all such dishes are good. It was not exactly the best I ever had. Just OK. Just good. Just so-so.


The noodle in soup is just plain yellow noodle with suey choy in soup. Nothing spectacular.

Total damage was $26.71 before tips.

I talk a lot don’t I? LOL!

Tapioca Express on Urbanspoon

Business Hour:
Sunday to Thursday: 10am to 12am
Friday and Saturday: 10am to 1:30am

This Post Has 0 Comments

  1. Elaine

    LMAO Tapioca’s crispy chicken/popcorn chicken is my favourite in Vancouver!

    BBT is probably an acronym used by Chinese people. My guess is that BT is an acronym for lunatic sometimes hahahaha…

    1. Buddha Girl

      Me too! Tapioca’s popcorn chicken is perhaps the closest to what you get on Taiwan streets…with the that Tapioca don’t have as much basil as they give you in Taiwan…other than that, it’s quite classic…

      1. Elaine

        Next time I am going to try to request for more basil! Yummm now I am craving for it!

        1. Buddha Girl

          Hehehe! I love basil!!! When we make it at home, we add tons of basil…mmmmm…

  2. Henry

    Hi Ben,

    There’s an application called “Pleco 2.2 for the iPhone” you might want to take a gander at. It’s not free. I’ve been tempted to get an iTouch or wait a year or so for the Android version.

    BTW, those crsipy chicken skins look so yummy! It’s too bad I’m not in Vancouver.


    1. fmed

      I have both Pleco and KTDict for the iPhone, but as Ben mentions – you need to know the basic rules first (ie sequence of stroke creation, etc.). I wasn’t patient enough so I stopped using them both.

      I also recommend James McCawley’s book – “The Eater’s Guide to Chinese Characters”. Here he goes through the history and evolution of food related characters. And in the back is a great glossary broken down by radicals in number of strokes in left-half and right-half. It takes a bit of effort, but you do eventually start to recognize key character combinations.

      Another resource that is somewhat useful is the Beijing Government’s official Chinese Food translation guide that was created for the Beijing Olympics. Here is a copy of it (since the original seems to have disappeared off the internet):

      1. Elaine

        You guys sure are dedicated Q_Q I am glad I know Chinese!

      2. Ben

        Hi fmed: Y went to the Chinese food translation guide site. The official translation sounded boring unlike the poetic names of some dishes. It is like translating a hamburger as “beef with buns” 🙂 Ben

        1. fmed

          I know! The Beijing government isn’t a fun-loving bunch. (But at least you know what you are getting.)

    2. Ben

      Hi Henry: Downloaded and purchase Pleco 2.2. It is awesome and everything I was looking for. Thanks

  3. Crispy Lechon

    I’ve seen that calling device used in the Keg Steveston (No. 5 Rd and Steveston). The range was actually quite far. We went to eat there and was told the wait was about 45 mins to 1 hr. So we decided to go to Save-on-Foods to pick up some groceries. After about 30 minutes the device beeped. We had to high-tail it back to the restaurant. The distance was about a street block long.

    1. Buddha Girl

      YUPS!!! Hahaha! Back in my casino days, we used that for our poker players…

      1. souggy

        Quite frankly, I like those devices. Save the public embarrassment of not responding to your number, plus I don’t have to keep an eye on the server to retrieve my order.

  4. mike

    that device is fairly common in dowtown vancouver they use it at earls and catus club to let people know when their tables are ready

    1. Ben

      Hi Mike: Shows that I had not been downtown much these days. 🙁 Ben

  5. Nong

    Hi Ben, are the crispy chicken skins kind of like pork skins? I’ve never had chicken skins, but they look soooo good in your pictures. I’ll have to give them a try if I ever find a place nearby that serves them. 🙂 Awe, since you mentioned the cold weather I have to admit that I’m already missing it. LOL. I’m in the midwest USA and we had 69 degrees yesterday, 62 degrees today. Hoping for some coat, gloves, and hat weather soon. 😀

    1. Elaine

      Any Japanese izakaya would probably have them, except it looks a bit differnet from the typical ones I see…

    2. Ben

      Hi Nong: He he he … I love your Facebook update today. Way to go! Anyway … the chicken skins are much thinner than pork skins, like 1/3 thinner. Ben

  6. buddha boy

    I had the same thoughts on the idea of an app for taking pics of letters. I am surprised no one has come up with one. This would be great for travellers.

    Interested in discussing this further?


    1. fmed

      The next version of Pleco for iPhone will have “live” Chinese OCR (according to the developers).

      1. Ben

        Hi Buddha Boy and fmed: Well, well, well … I went to Pleco’s website and guess what … Pleco 2.2 with OCR had just been launched YESTERDAY! OMG … it DOES work! It’s $15 though but worth the money. Thanks a lot! Ben

  7. Chubbypanda

    Ah… Good ol’ TapEx. They’re pretty common down here in Southern California. The reason they serve the tea upside down is so that the mixed ingredients (pearls, jellies, etc.) don’t settle to the bottom of the cup. You’re supposed to flip the cup over right before consuming. That way everything is mixed evenly. Otherwise, all the heavier items work their way to the bottom after a few minutes.

    I tried the Union Square location the last time I was up in BC (September) and wasn’t too impressed. The food is mediocre compared to the TapEx’s down here, which seems really odd considering Richmond is my Mecca for authentic Asian eats. The fried items you got were probably the best on their menu, and are what I usually get.

    Here’s a tip for TapEx neophytes – Don’t order any of the fried items hotter than “Medium”. They just add more chili powder, which drowns out the taste of the food. Instead, ask for extra basil. They fry it with the chicken and it adds that extra special kick of awesome.

    1. Ben

      Wow, you guys in SoCal even have a cute name for it. TapEx sounds cool.

      1. Chubbypanda

        We Americans are always in too much of a hurry. We truncate/concatenate everything. =D

        1. Eat. Travel. Eat!

          The Southern California ones are also more focused on drinks as well, the sitting area is small. Most Tapioca Expresses are small in my area at least, probably half of the one you wrote about? Fried food is definitely popular though! As with pretty much all of these boba places in my opinion.

        2. Ginger

          Drinks and food at Southern California ones are cheaper though. Granted most of the stores in Socal are small, it’s designed to take out anyway. The one in Richmond getting dirty and dusty. It’s not exactly a place you want to sit and chill anyway.

          Also Canadian food vendors sometimes like to offer you similar price like their competitors but when you get the actually products, you find that the portion is ridiculous small.

          Just look at Tim Horton, their medium cup is size “tall” in Starbucks. So if you actually want a drink as big as Starbucks’s “Grande” from Tim Horton, it will cost you about the same as Starbucks. It’s a very lame trick. They like to cheapskate you by giving you skimpy portion.

          I liked the Tapioca Express in Socal but I think the one in Richmond BC is just lame.

          1. Ginger

            Tim Horton has that McDonald fast food vibe. For Tim Horton to charge drinks about the same as Starbucks is really pathetic. Not to mention they always run out of stuff or the staffers are unfamiliar with the menu, it’s badly managed.

        3. grayelf

          Hey Chubbyp! Thanks for the rationale on the upside down BBT. I’m going to start doing that whenever I get one as I am invariably driving somewhere with my drink (no good BBT places within walking distance of my house).

          Also thanks for using one of my favourite words in your post: concatenate. Made my night 🙂

  8. Buddha Girl

    The Tapioca Express here are not own by the same company as the U.S., a local Taiwanese guy franchised it…you can often see him at either one of the two locations…very nice guy, very soft-spoken…I often seen him cleaning the tables at the Richmond location.

  9. Lissa

    Re: Pleco 2.2 with OCR

    I just d/l the free version. How do I update & buy Pleco 2.2? I presume this is the version where it can read characters from the iphone camera?

    1. Ben

      Hi Lissa: Pleco 2.2 is free. Download and install that first (you had done that already). Once you had downloaded, click on the “fan” icon on the bottom right … and then select Add-Ons. There are a bunch of addons. The demo version of these addons are free. The one you want is called the Optical Character Recognizer. The demo version of the Optical Character Recognizer can only read the Chinese words (just to show it can read the words) … the paid version ($15) does the translation too. Let me know if you have any question.

  10. Lissa

    Thanks Ben. I haven’t update my 3Gs to OS4 yet so I can’t buy it 🙂 Hmm.. should I update OS to get the Pleco now or wait till OS 4.2 and then wait for Pleco 2.2.1? Decisions.. decisions..

  11. Ginger

    Tapioca Express in Richmond has mediocre food and very bad service. Last time I went there, the staff at the cashier was very mean. I never went back.

    Food is so so. It’s not good enough for you to keep going back regardless the service is bad or not.

    There are so many bubble tea stores in Richmond. I don’t have to go to Tapioca Express to buy abuse and bad attitude.

  12. Kevin

    Probably the best place for yan su ji (crispy pepper fried chicken) in Vancouver. The most similar to ones you will get in Taiwan from street stalls.

    Also Tapioca Express is the only BBT place I know that carries the small pearls. 🙂

    1. Buddha Girl

      I’m with you…it’s the most similar to what you get on the streets on Taiwan…

Leave a Reply