There’s a longstanding saying that “dessert goes in a separate chamber,” a convenient rationalization for finding room for something sweet even after a substantial meal. At Milk Run, an ice cream and boba tea shop adjacent to the popular Vietnamese restaurant Pho Thanh, maybe an actual walk to a separate room next door reinforces that notion just enough to make a frozen treat after a bowl of pho appealing. Phoenix can always use another good ice cream shop, especially one with tropical flavors well matched to its neighbors southeast Asian food.
Milk Run is located in a small retail plaza two blocks east of the 19th Avenue / Camelback light rail station. There’s not a bike rack in sight, but there are some railings in the breezeway next to the shop that may do. The exterior has nothing more than stucco defining it aesthetics. Inside, the look is a bit fresher with some natural wood furnishings and a shopping cart full of board games in the corner. There’s an interior door connecting Pho Thanh with Milk Run, and the two businesses keep similar hours, including Pho Thanh’s practice of closing on Tuesdays.
Although Pho Thanh does offer some traditional Vietnamese desserts, it’s rare to see customers indulging in them. Maybe that’s because maybe it’s because the restaurant’s diverse clientele tends to be a little less adventurous about bean puddings than it is about complex broths, or maybe it’s because the restaurant’s food is so hearty that it leaves little room for anything else. As an alternative, the integration between the two businesses allows for a seamless and straightforward progression from steaming hot noodle soup to frozen dessert.
In the separate chamber known as Milk Run, customers can make choices based on colorful overhead menus, equally vibrant print menus, or just by inspecting the ice cream flavors at the L-shaped counter. The flavors rely heavily on east Asian inspirations with purple taro and Thai tea among the flavors most often on display. Cookie Monster and its mysterious variant “Sullivan” are decadent flavors. For something plainer, there’s usually vanilla, but don’t expect chocolate, except in some of the toppings such as crushed Oreos or Andes chocolate mints.
Beyond ice cream, there’s an emphasis here on liquid dessert in the form of milk teas, tea floats with a scoop of ice cream, smoothies (with dairy), and slushies (without dairy). All are sweet, generously proportioned drinks in flavors as simple as Thai tea and as exotic as durian, the love-it-or-hate-it fruit of southeast Asia. Ingredients available to add include bits of fruit, flavored jellies, and various types of boba. For the undecided, there’s sometimes the option to have two flavors, each in a separate chamber of a dual vessel, with two straws for slurping it all up.
Of course, all those disposable cups, and disposable straws in particular, have their environmental consequences. That makes Milk Run’s reusable miniature milk bottles a good choice for the shop’s most frequent customers. Anyone who is able to fill the store’s circular loyalty card with enough marks to qualify for an occasional free dessert is probably a suitable candidate for one of these clever containers. The 10% discount on all beverages purchased by owners of these glass vessels is an added benefit for making a conscientious choice.
One final option, not listed on the main menu but making an appearance on a hand-written sign next to it, are waffles tinged green with pandan leaves, served plain or with fruit and ice cream toppings. With waffles, tea, smoothies, and ice cream all available right next to Pho Thanh, this sometimes worn out-looking shopping center now seems just a bit more lively with its formerly vacant space used productively. Dessert may indeed go in a separate chamber, and now on West Camelback it can now actually come from a separate chamber.
1702 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix AZ 85015
19th Avenue / Camelback Station