Move over, pho--a new beef noodle soup is in town. This one is Indonesian in origin, and it's darn good.
Gula is a new(-ish) bubble (or boba) tea/coffee place right behind U Village, up the little slope from the parking garage (go left/north out of the garage if you are driving). So, if you are willing to walk one "block" from Crate and Barrel, potentially you don't have to suffer from the Overpriced Fake Asian Food Syndrome at Zao Noodle Bar. At the intersection of 30th Ave NE & NE Blakeley St, it's pretty much across the street from the mall, next to Table Top Shop.
The location was formerly occupied by Black Cat Cafe and later Bangkok Bistro. The somewhat Euro-ish decor hasn't changed, and they decorated the place with posters of some Hollywood blockbuster movies and neon signs. It has cafe chairs and tables spread out w/ lots of room, a couple of comfy leather chairs, and some counter seats.
Their strength is in the drinks and the food, although the food selection is limited since it's just a cafe. This is a self-service cafe, but if you place a food order, they usually bring it out for you. The food quality is great for the price. The fact that it's small contributes to its strength in that the food tastes like you are eating at someone's home in Indonesia.
The drink selection is extensive, including various flavored tea, fruit mix tea, fruit yogurt tea, milk tea, shakes, and real fruit smoothies; each category includes 10-15 varieties. My favorites are hot Honey Lemon Tea and cold Longan Tea--Honey Lemon is so lemony with lots of real lemons, and Longan Tea has actual chunks of longan! Sosro Indo Tea is also recommended; it's an Indonesian sweet black tea drink w/ a savory fragrance.
In your drink you can choose to add boba (tapioca) or different jellies (e.g. coffee flavored), much like other bubble tea places. Their tapioca pearls are big, plump, and chew-worthy, resulting in their humongous straws.
The distinction here is that you don't see those powder mixes some cheaper bubble tea places use. They use real stuff (though I can't personally vouch for the things involving milk since I can't have dairy). They even have Durian shake (for the uninitiated: durian http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durian is a stinky Southeast Asian fruit that is said to be so good it's addictive), made from fresh durian. Not that I'd drink it personally, but it's impressive. Asian pear shake is also delicious and unusual.
Due to my dietary restrictions I was shying away from their food menu until today, except for Ketan, which is a sinful sweet black rice dessert served warm with coconut milk. Ketan is to die for.
Then they came up with a new menu item, Beef Noodle Soup, which I was able to try. It has HUGE chunks of fall-apart-tender meat (not for calorie-conscious--fatty parts included--think pulled pork, except it's beef) and delicious soup, which included tomatoes and carrots. Think of the best slow-cooked beef soup you've made by just plain patience (or a crock pot). It's now my favorite winter comfort food - for a mere $6.40. This soup compelled me to write this review because I want other people to try it, spread the good thing.
For food allergy reasons I haven't tried them, but they also have Gyoza (homemade pot stickers), Bakmi (chicken and mushroom noodle soup w/ veggies and tea-boiled egg), Kari (Indonesian version of curry), and aforementioned Ketan. The meals cost $6-$7.
Of course they have wi-fi, and even have a public laptop you can use to quickly check your emails. They also have a coffee/espresso menu and a handful of homemade baked goods (their lemon bar looks really good at only $1.50).
Sure, Zoka has good coffee, but if you want to study in peace with more elbow room, want to have a cushion under your butt, or taste a bit of Indonesia, head to Gula. The folks there are always really genuine and friendly--definitely not monotonous like Starbucks. We go there 2-3 times a week for good bubble teas and now the Beef Noodle Soup, despite the fact we live on top of Zoka. And to play Battle Ship.
P.S. You can see a photo here: http://seattle.wifimug.org/index.cgi?GulaCafe