Summer travel season is here and the Boise area is primed to become a destination. Travel to the City of Trees has increased over the past five years — more than 20 percent — as more conventions and vacationers hit town.
Now Boise is named as one of 23 U.S. cities for Cheap Summer Travel by Forbes. (Where would we be without them?)
So, that always begs the question, where to eat?
Whether you’re traveling to Idaho, or live here and are entertaining friends and family, here are 10 ways to get a real taste of Boise.
When you’re eating out in Boise, take your sunglasses. Here, the idea of “dining out” gets taken literally, as nearly every slice of sidewalk at local Downtown restaurants is filled with al fresco tables and chairs.
And in the summer, they’re packed with people.
If you can get one of the outdoor tables on 8thth Street between Bannock and Idaho streets, grab it. Patios line both sides of the popular dining corridor. You’ll find everything from bratwurst and German beer at Prost!, to pizza by the slice at Pie Hole and upscale vegetarian and organic cuisine at Wild Root Cafe.
Other area outdoor hotspots to note:
- Barbacoa Grill, 276 W. Bobwhite Court, in East Boise, where you can enjoy this fine-dining restaurant’s American and Spanish fusion food — try the signature table-side guacamole and a martini in a glass made of ice — with a view of the ParkCenter Pond; and Cottonwood Grille, 913 W. River St., just off Downtown, with its shaded, Greenbelt side patio, waterfall and Basque-inspired Northwest cuisine.
- Want a view of the Boise River to chew on? Joe’s Crab Shack, 2288 N. Garden St., in Boise, has one of the best. It's just upriver from the equally fantastic The Sandbar Patio Bar and Grill, at The Riverside Hotel, 2900 Chinden Blvd., Boise. Both offer a dog-friendly patio and are along the Greenbelt with loads of bicycle parking. The Sandbar also offers live music daily by local and regional musicians and bands.
Boise-made gin? Oh, yeah, and vodka and rum, too. Check out Bardenay Restaurant and Distillery, 610 W. Grove St. Great fact: Bardenay is the first restaurant and distillery combo in the United States. Yes, it’s true. The History Channel did an episode about it. Now you can sample distiller Kevin Settles’ original take on these spirits, and his bar staff’s rendition of classic and neoclassical cocktails. The booze is paired with with an eclectic menu that blends Northwest fresh-style cuisine with Basque, Asian and other culinary flavors.
Open: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays and Mondays, until 10 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays, and until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. It serves a late-night menu Wednesday-Saturday.
Want to explore more craft cocktail spots?
The Modern Hotel and Bar, 1314 W. Grove St., is known regionally for its creative, unusual take on cocktails and food from its James Beard semifinalist chef Nate Whitley's food. The Mode Lounge, at 8th and Idaho streets, offers a dazzling deco decor and eclectic concoctions. The Matador, 215 N. 8th St., pours 100 varieties of tequila and has a wide repertoire of creative mixed drinks. Just around the corner at 705 W. Bannock St. is Saint Lawrence Gridiron, with a Southern feel and a focus on bourbon. If you like gin — and other libations — stop in at Juniper, 211 N. 8th St. Just a few blocks away you’ll find Chandler’s Steakhouse, 981 W. Grove St., with its signature 10 Minute Martini and live jazz nightly.
The Treasure Valley’s local beer scene is really happening.
A good starting point is PreFunk Beer Bar, 1100 W. Front St. This growler-filling station is also a great local hangout and you can sample beers from around the Treasure Valley and the state. It doesn’t serve food, but there usually is a food truck or two nearby its happening patio. Open: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and until 9 p.m. Sundays. 208-331-3865.
Whether you’re visiting or just don’t get Downtown much — croquetas are a must. These deep-fried balls of deliciousness are as Boise as they are Basque. You’ll find them at Bar Gernika, 202 S. Capitol Blvd., named for the Basque city. Bar G, as the locals call it, is a landmark on Boise’s Basque Block, along Grove Street between Capitol Boulevard and 6th Street. Regulars gobble up Basque specialties, such as lamb grinders, solomo (roasted pork loin) and chorizo sandwiches. They also pour regional beers and Spanish wines. (Just say garagardo gehiago mesedez [pronounced Gah-da-GAR-do GAY-ah-go mesh-EH-dess] — “more beer please” in Basque — and you’ll fit right in.)
Fries in the Potato State
Where are you going to try french fries in the potato state? Boise Fry Co., 204 N. Capitol Blvd., and four other locations in the Treasure Valley. This small, locally owned chain serves up a rainbow of great, crispy thin-cut fries, including russet, sweet potato, yam, purple and Yukon gold (depending on availability). These fries go great with BFC’s gourmet burgers — beef, bison, turkey and vegan — and a variety of toppings and house-made condiments. And it’s all locally sourced when possible, and you’ll also find local beer on tap and a selection of regional and local wines.
Open 11 a.m. -9 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, until 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and until 8 p.m. on Sundays. 208-949-7523.
Time for breakfast? Head to Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro, 108 S. Capitol Blvd., for eggs to order, gourmet sausages, crisp home fries and ridiculously good Benedicts and lavish pastries. This place was written up in Bon Appetit magazine as one of the 10 best places for breakfast in the country. There might be a wait, but no worries. Just mosey on down the block to Goldy’s Corner for a cuppa joe and an appetizing pastry and wait for a table.
Open 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 208-345-4100.
Boise is suddenly taco central with three cool taquerias.
- Calle 75 Street Tacos, a former street vendor, opened its hip brick-and-mortar spot at 110 N. 11th St. this spring. It serves a variety of street-style tacos and original salsas and sauces on organic, white and blue corn tortillas made daily in house. Their tacos come in a wild variety from traditional carnitas to octopus, plus a smattering of entrees from chef Tito de la Garza. They pour a full bar, including margaritas and craft cocktails. Open: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and until 9 p.m. Sundays. 208-336-2511.
- The Funky Taco opened in March, on the corner of 8th and Bannock streets. This fast-casual spot has a light and airy space, and a colorful interior mural by Boise artist Cody Rutty, that’s done with flair. It’s turned the corner into a taco hot spot with its unusual mixes of Asian, Indian, Mexican and Americana cuisine, all fused into a taco. Co-owners Justin Archambo and Amy War make their food and the ambiance esthetically pleasing, like they did with their food truck — using a sleek converted Airstream Trailer instead of a traditional boxy food truck. Beer and wine are available. There are occasional concerts featuring local and regional bands. Open: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays to Thursday, and until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 208-991-4106, TheFunkyTaco.com.
- Tin Roof Tacos, 115 S. Broadway Ave., puts more of a Tex-Mex spin on its tacos with barbecue brisket, pulled pork and baja shrimp. They even pour Texas-brewed Shiner Bock beer. This joint was featured by TheDailyMeal.com as Idaho’s contribution to its feature Best Tacos in Every State. This family-owned spot also serves breakfast tacos filled with chorizo, jalapeno sausage or bacon and eggs. Open: 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Online orders taken. 208-336-6461.
Slice of life
Looking for a slice of pie that will rock your world? Check out The Wylder, 501 W. Broad St., a locally owned, upscale pizza joint that really has flair. Executive Chef Jennifer Minichiello puts unusual spins on traditional red and white pizza sauces with a selection of ingredients from traditional to intriguing. If pizza is not your thing, then order the fried chicken or lasagna supper. They also pour a great selection of craft brews, wines and craft cocktails.
Open: 11 a.m-10 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays, until 9 p.m. Sundays and Mondays. 208-209-3837.
Sushi on the side
If you’re staying near the Boise Airport stop in at Willowcreek Grill and Raw Sushi, 2273 S. Vista Ave. The menu is incredibly diverse, from traditional pub fare to Asian fusion. Open: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. 208-343-5544.
Best places to drink wine
- Boise’s Bodovino, at the corner of 8th and Broad streets, offers you as much fun as you can have with a wine glass. This self-serve wine bar literally lets you sip your way 'round the world of wine. You buy a card and then hit dispensing machines stocked with an array of wines from the Treasure Valley, the Northwest, California, Italy, France and beyond. The machines dole out 1-, 3- and 5-ounce pours ranging from $1.25 to more than $15 an ounce. The light-bite menu is a mix of cheeses, breads, nuts, olives and charcuterie, flat bread pizzas, sliders and salads. (It also has a larger sister restaurant at The Village at Meridian, 3630 E. Monarch Sky Lane.) Open: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, until 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and until 9 p.m. Sundays. 208-887-5369.
- Check out Txikiteo, 1401 W. Idaho St., Boise, in the Watercooler Building. This newest addition to the wine and dine scene is created by The Modern Hotel owner Elizabeth Tullis and her team. It serves a mix of international-influenced cuisine. Beer, wine and cider flow in the afternoon and into the evening on its active patio, where you’ll also find occasional music, literary readings and other eclectic entertainment. Open 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays and Mondays.