Cowbobas looks like it could be that rare spiritual successor to the Columbine. It is a reversion to form -- like Ford making its new Mustangs along the tried, true and beautiful body lines of its original muscle-car progenitors -- but with lots of modern improvements and concessions to the changing times. It serves steaks, sure -- good ones, cooked almost always precisely to order. But the kitchen also does cheese wontons, grilled cheese sandwiches and boba tea, since this is a combination cowboy steakhouse and Vietnamese boba tea shop, with a menu full of jackfruit smoothies and crystal jelly and corn dogs. All of which makes Cowbobas a true product of its age and its neighborhood, cooking for the Vietnamese, the Chinese, the Mexican and the South American communities that have settled around this stretch of Federal, while also operating for the benefit of anyone who remembers what it used to be like to bundle the family up into the Family Truckster on a Friday night and take everyone out for steaks for only twenty or thirty bucks.
I have loved Cowbobas since the minute I first set foot in the place, in November 2006 -- loved it for its strangeness, for its mutt DNA and the fact that it has not only survived on this corner, but thrived here. I like the weird little vacuum-seal covers that come with the drinks, forcing you to stab your straw straight through the face or vitals of some cute cartoon critter before sucking down the boba tea or quote/unquote Vietnamese coffee (actually Vietnamese coffee-flavored beverage, dispensed out of a complicated- looking machine behind the counter). And I have continued to drop by here since that first eye-opening, jaw-dropping visit.
My most recent turn through the dining room was during a rare lull -- a quiet moment that found the staff rather adrift behind the counter and the dining room empty save for me and a teenager who, near as I could tell, appeared to be writing an entire novel, all from the touchpad of his phone. Forgoing the top end of the menu (a gigantic porterhouse for fifteen bucks or so) and the very bottom (a petite sirloin for around nine), I ordered a New York strip, bloody, with rice, Texas toast and a straight iceberg salad. As always, service was friendly, if a bit distracted. And as always, the steak was precisely what I expected: beef, fresh from the grill and tasting primarily of blood and char. There is no subterfuge at Cowbobas, no promise of anything more than a simple meal made of large portions and strange juxtaposition. But as at the Columbine, if you step in knowing what you want and knowing what to expect, odds are you will never be disappointed.