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USA Today: Burgeoning Boise, the best-kept secret in the Pacific Northwest

Written by: , USA TODAY

In a city with a row of downtown restaurants that source locally and boast picture-perfect patios, plus three new taco eateries, two acclaimed hotel restaurants and a slew of specialty food shops, there is one place where you might have to wait in line. It serves two things: ice cream and alcohol.

“I don’t think we could’ve possibly imagined how popular of a destination we would be so quickly,” says Kasey Allen, owner of The STIL, which opened in July 2017. “It started off with just ice cream. We wanted to make really good, high-quality – as many local ingredients as we could use – ice cream.”

Then he and business partner Dan Sell, who learned to make ice cream after coming up with the concept while working in the tech industry, added beer and wine to help the business survive the winter.

“Boise’s a beer-and-wine town,” says Allen, who reasoned, “If we’re going to be doing beer, wine and ice cream, we might as well find a way to bring them all together.”

The shop, whose name stands for “the sweetest things in life,” added pairings, tasting flights and alcohol-infused flavors, and the lines continue.

“There is really this movement away from the chains and the bigger staples that are kind of in every town, and people do want to come to the local spots,” Allen says of Boise, where The STIL’s “weirder” flavors are starting to sell more after a year. “People (are) willing to branch out and try more foodie, unique, kind of crazy things.”

John and Julie Cuevas are counting on it. The couple moved from California to open Madre – Boutique Taqueria in the developing Lusk District, where they’ve been serving tacos topped with meatballs, chicken, macaroni and more since April.

“We take the process of tacos the same way we would as a five-star Michelin-rated restaurant,” says John, who was a chef at Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, California, before making the move. “I just think that anything can go in between a tortilla if you do it right.”

And guess what customers like most between their tortillas?

“Idaho potato and chorizo taco has been the most popular,” John says, smiling. “They definitely take care of their own people. They’re blown away by the combination. They’re like, ‘We’ve eaten potatoes our whole life, we didn’t know it could taste this good.’ ”

You can get your fill of Idaho potatoes at another new restaurant from veteran food industry professionals – on pizza. Lizzy and David Rex worked for renowned food groups in Arizona and California before opening The Wylder downtown in October, where David’s time-tested sourdough crusts are topped with Bianco DiNapoli tomato sauce, and local ingredients from Acme Bakeshop and Purple Sage Farms are featured.

“Our goal overall is simple, clean food with well-sourced ingredients,” says Lizzy. “We think that people care about what they eat, and we think the community is craving more. Our personal goal is to open several different concepts over the next few years to feed the growing demand.”

Boise’s original California chef transplant, Richard Langston, is on his fourth local concept, Richard’s at the Inn at 500 Capitol, where he’s grown from 20 seats to 100 throughout more than 20 years here.

“The food scene in Boise in 1992 was quite a bit behind the scene we were used to in Northern California,” says Langston. “In recent years, in addition to myself, there have been four James Beard Award (Best Chef: Northwest) nominations for Idaho chefs. It is beginning to get noticed as a city with serious food culture.”

And there’s so much more than food. Travelers may know the city for its outdoors appeal but will come away charmed by much more. It’s the kind of place with a “free library” by a park bench, a lemonade stand and breweries with bouncy houses outside for kids on weekends.

“People are moving here left and right,” John Cuevas adds. “They’re coming from California, they’re coming from all over the country. It’s on the rise … it’s affordable … the food is dominating.”

Families fill tasting rooms, patios, parks and yards with all ages and dog breeds, and nearly every local business – and building, wall and electrical box – features local art. Recurring festivities include Alive After Five on summer Wednesdays downtown, Thirsty Thursdays on Telaya Wine Co.’s lawn, Paella on the Patio days at The Basque Market, First Thursday in-store events downtown and Mutt Mondays at new cycling-themed dive Handlebar.

With affordable real estate, accessible recreation and a burgeoning food scene, Boise is claiming some of the spotlight from regional neighbors Seattle and Portland, Oregon. Just get there before the crowds.

Browse the photo gallery above for the ultimate food adventure in Boise, from the Capital City Public Market to coffee, chocolate, peanut and doughnuts shops, and sample the city’s breweries and wineries below.


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