By Matt Wood
Acai bowls are the hottest thing in Ocean Beach since bikram yoga. Any coffee shop worth its beans from Niagara to Voltaire has some form of the smoothie-on-steroids. But unlike Padres losing seasons and Mumford & Sons songs, not all bowls are the same.
At the concoction’s core is the storied acai berry, a so-called superfood rich in antioxidants and amino acids which, long story short, is good for you. It’s layered between everything under the health-food spectrum from granola to coconut to bee pollen – which is different from honey how? – and topped with fresh fruit.
To save you the time and trouble of hitting every one of the myriad acai-erias in the hood, we’re here to break down the best of the bowls. Let’s start on Newport and work our way north.
OB Smoothie Bar and Subs
5001 Newport Ave.
The sign touting the acai bowls atop this tiny Newport Avenue storefront reads: “Champions are made, not born. Eat well.” Inspiring words for some rather pedestrian bowls.
You’re paying more for the location here, but that doesn’t seem to stop the constant crew of acai aficionados from lining up outside the place. If you see someone walking down Newport with a big ol’ bowl of acai, they probably got it from here. They offer bowls mixed with either soy milk or apple juice, which is a nice option, although both tend to be a bit watered down. The granola is either lesser quality or a bit stale, but the fruit variety tastes quite fresh.
A couple caveats: They only take cash and the place doesn’t seem to have any set hours, so there’s a chance you might be out of luck if you hit them up too early.
What you should get: Can’t complain about the size (massive) for the price ($7.50), but there are, IMO, definitely better bowls to be had. You might be better off getting one of their namesake smoothies instead.
Your Mama’s Mug
4967 Newport Ave.
They only have one bowl, and at $7.85, it’s nothing too special. It is served in a plastic container that is not big enough for the contents. The acai mix thaws quickly, leading to a soupy mess that can easily spill over and stain a perfectly good pair of board shorts.
What you should get: Skip the bowls here and instead grab a fresh made bagel sandwich or croissant while enjoying the homey ambiance of the quaint coffee shop. The tables in the arcade (which also houses Seth’s Chop Shop tattoo parlor) and the sidewalk on Newport are a nice touch.
The Lazy Hummingbird
4876 Santa Monica Ave.
The ‘Bird has the absolute gold standard for acai bowls in the neighborhood. That’s why you have a good chance to see lines out the door on weekends at this comfy and quirky coffee shop that shares a building with the OB Business Center. The ingredients are fresh, with almonds, coconut on top and a layer of hemp granola on the bottom of the bowl offering a nice touch.
They offer only one bowl ($7.25), although you can get a smaller size with less fruit for six bucks. But why skimp when you’re getting the best of the best?
What you should get: The regular-sized bowl for sure, but be sure to make some time to eat it there. Part of the charm is the mish-mash of serving bowls and constant conversation among the regulars. Wifi is also available, and you can always send a fax or get a document notarized at the OBBC just steps away.
4984 Voltaire St.
Bowls are pretty standard at this drive-thru coffee shop that offers up pastries and bagels, but they take it a step further by offering pitaya (dragon fruit) bowls. They are a tarter version of the traditional acai flavor. The one gripe with the bowls here is the blatantly frozen fruit toppings. Sure, most of the berries at other places were frozen at one time or another, but at least thaw them out to give the aura of freshness. Still, it’s only five bucks, and you could do much worse.
What you should get: Change it up a bit with the Ocean Beach, a pitaya bowl topped with the usual suspects (granola, coconut, banana and strawberry) while also adding mango and hon — er, bee pollen.
4864 Voltaire St.
One of two drive-through options on Voltaire (this one is on Cable), the Port gets the nod because of its variety. Choose from a half-dozen different bowls that are more or less the same, but still add some spice to the options, especially with cool names like The Chronic. Starting at $4.40, the prices are much more affordable, which is a good thing, because how much acai do you really need?
You can also go bigger by adding cherry juice, blackberries, peaches and even sprinkles of dark chocolate (The Drifter).
What you should get: The 420 Bowl is their staple dish and will do you well, especially coming in under five bucks. And there’s nothing wrong about sitting in your car and getting served by Tracy and the other women in the trailer.
What a little slice of Aloha heaven it is to sit and relax with one of their three acai options on the front patio of this tucked-away gem on Voltaire. The ambiance of the craftsman-style house which was turned into a Hawaiian coffee shop is priceless. Pets are welcome. Ukeleles are optional but encouraged.
What you should get: The Maui Bowl, with fresh pineapples is the best option here, although it’ll cost you nearly 10 bucks for a large. Might as well take your time and enjoy it. A lazy breakfast here will remind you once again why OB is the most enjoyable neighborhood around.
4161 Voltaire St.
While not technically in OB, we’ll include them because it’s just a quick walk down Voltaire and because the neighborhood locals swear by their bowls. The presentation is beautiful, with fresh fruit cut up in neat rows atop the layers of granola, acai and apple juice, served in a ceramic container. Plus the place serves booze, leading to quite the dilemma.
What you should get: Decisions, decisions. The acai bowls ($8) are quite good and well worth the trip. But the Bloody Mason (a Bloody Mary made with rice liquor and a garnish of veggies and bacon slice, served in a mason jar) and Bloody Beer (made with Ballast Point Pale Ale) are not to be missed.
Unfortunately, they don’t make a great combination with the bowl. If you’re only getting one drink, order it first and gulp it down, then use the acai bowl as a bit of a dessert. For those who have higher day drinking aspirations, get the bowl first, then order a Bloody or three and take it from there.
NOTE: the following links give a good background on acai, while also linking to Oprah and Dr. Oz, who have been in the middle of the acai controversy: