By Lauren Saria
Photography by Mark Lipczynski
For more than 20 years, Tempe residents knew a long storefront on the north side of Apache Boulevard just east of Terrace Road as the original location of Pita Jungle, a popular local chain of Mediterranean restaurants. A group of international grad students who met while studying engineering at nearby Arizona State University opened their first restaurant there in 1994, though it’s since relocated.
But history has a way of repeating itself.
These days, diners will still find a colorful, student-friendly restaurant at the almost iconic spot. But instead of serving hummus and falafel, diners can now get fresh-steeped oolong tea and basil popcorn chicken. Mango Rabbit, a casual dessert and tea shop, is run by Peggy Huang, also a former ASU student. And like her predecessors in the space, she also studied engineering.
Originally from Taiwan, Huang has been living in Arizona for 17 years. She remembers taking her three kids, who wanted to try the desserts she grew up eating, to boba shops around the Valley.
“When Arizona had a few boba shops open, we went to try [them], but it wasn’t very authentic,” Huang says. “So I wanted to bring that experience to Arizona.”
The result is Mango Rabbit, which serves a long menu of Asian and Asian-inspired drinks, desserts and snacks. Huang opened the yellow and blue-themed shop about a year ago.
Stand out items include the restaurant’s milk tea, which guests can customize with toppings including boba, coconut jelly and cheese foam, a delicate sweet-salty froth. Other drink options range from herbal teas and smoothies, to coffee and slushies.
Many of Mango Rabbit’s offerings are as much about flavor as their visual impact. Huang says part of the reason guests love the shop’s signature bubble waffles is for their over-the-top Instagram appeal. The namesake Mango Rabbit dessert, for example, includes two scoops of ice cream, chocolate cookies, two Pocky sticks, a crown of berries, whipped cream and edible gold flakes.
But Huang hopes to bring her customers, many of whom are college students, more than just a fun experience. “My mission is to bring good quality food and also to bridge the culture,” she says.
And as an engineer by trade, Huang says she’s got a keen eye for quality. “I’m very proud of what I deliver to customers,” she says. “If they want to try authentic Asian desserts, come over here. They don’t have to buy a plane ticket or get a visa.”
1250 E. Apache Blvd. #112 Tempe, AZ 85281