Caci’s focus on southern Italian and Sicilian dishes set it apart from the many other Italian spots around town. Lunchtime means salads and paninis. Tender, chewy pizzas — like the Caci with garlic sauce, mozzarella, spiced honey, and duck confit — are available at lunch and dinner. There are heartier options come nighttime, too, like arancini, pappardelle with short rib bolognese, and wood-roasted game hen caponata served in a lemon-garlic sauce. Indoor, outdoor, delivery.
By Scott Wink and Scott Ki, Eater.com
These restaurants have evolved to meet the challenges of COVID-19, from a Cuban food pop-up in El Barrio Norte to weekend sushi platters
Boise was originally called Les Bois, or “wooded” in French, and Idaho’s City of Trees Boise was once considered a hidden treasure for its low cost of living and access to Idaho’s iconic mountains, rivers, and forests. Then visitors and new residents discovered the state’s capital and largest city, helping propel Idaho to become the fastest growing state in the nation. Long-time locals may complain about increased traffic and rising home prices, but the influx of newcomers has also brought diversity and excitement to the region’s restaurants. Coupled with a thriving Basque community, immigrants bearing culinary traditions from all over the world, and James Beard Award-nominated chefs, Boise is coming into its own as a culinary capital in the Intermountain West.
he downtown area is compact and walkable, offering local craft beer, award-winning Idaho wines, and restaurants that run the gamut. In a few blocks you’ll find handmade Basque chorizo, Southern-style barbecue, locally-sourced tasting menus, creative tacos, lamb grinders, handmade pasta, and craft ice cream infused with booze. Stroll a little further and you’ll find meals from Ethiopia, Cuba, Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East. Or take a drive to a down-home drive-in for the pure comfort of fresh-grilled hamburgers, finger steaks, and fries.
Update, November 2020: It’s a popular notion that Idahoans are resilient. This maxim was put to the test when Boise restaurateurs were forced to close their doors in the spring due to COVID-19. Some had to lay off staff, while others decided to close shop permanently. According to the Idaho Department of Labor, initial unemployment claims in food preparation and service-related occupations — the hardest hit of all categories — totaled nearly 23,000 between mid-March and mid-October.
Those who hung on displayed their resilience. They expanded outdoor seating, offered delivery and takeout, redesigned indoor seating, or revamped business models. Bars brokered agreements with the city and local health officials to reopen with masks, distancing, and other safety requirements. Restaurants along downtown’s N. 8th Street expanded seating onto the sidewalk as the City of Boise closed the thoroughfare to car traffic.
Beyond individual pivots, many businesses joined together to form FARE Idaho, which advocates for Idaho’s independent restaurants, farms, food and beverage producers, and retailers. The group has pushed for the RESTAURANTS Act in Congress, which would financially support hard-hit independent restaurants, and started the Dine & Drink Safe Pledge Campaign, which guides customers to food and beverage businesses seriously prioritizing staff and customer health.
The following is a list of Boise food establishments — pop-ups, pivots, and enduring staples of the restaurant scene — that have evolved to meet the challenges of COVID-19.
Note: Due to the pandemic and the winter season, restaurant hours and level of service may vary. Outdoor dining and takeout options are highlighted on each map point. A number of Boise restaurants have resumed dine-in service, though their inclusion here should not be taken as endorsement for dining in. Studies indicate a lower exposure risk outdoors, but the level of risk involved with patio dining is contingent on strict social distancing and safety guidelines. For updated information on coronavirus cases in your area, please visit the City of Boise website or official state resources.
Kibrom’s Ethiopean & Eritrean Food
Kibrom Milash and Tirhas Hailu, owners of Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurant Kibrom’s, are the epitome of resilience. They escaped persecution in Eritrea and arrived in Boise in 2013, bounced back from a fire that destroyed their first space in 2015, survived months of customer-discouraging road construction in front of their restaurant, and endured a racist incident in 2017 (overcoming these obstacles, in part, thanks to locals who turned out to support the restaurant). Today, Kibrom’s offers classic Ethiopian dishes served with injera bread — such as doro wot (chicken simmered in berbere sauce) and tibs (sauteed lamb and onions) — as well as a number of vegetarian dishes such as lentils (shiro) and alicha, a dish made with potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, and onions. Order a combination of entrees to share, not only the most economical option but also an easy way to taste everything. Indoor dining and delivery.
Adelfa’s Comida Cubana
Before the pandemic, Adelfa’s was a fixture at local breweries during the week and the Boise Farmers Market on Saturdays. Owner Noel Argote-Herrera named his Cuban food cart after his mother, who cooked with him when he was growing up in Havana, Miami, and Los Angeles. Although he still offers his island fare at local breweries, his weekends opened up when the Boise Farmers Market switched from in-person shopping to pickup and delivery only, but the chef pivoted quickly. Argote-Herrera set up a pop-up food stand alongside his house in the North End (aka El Barrio Norte), on the south side of W. Bella Street between N. 14th Street and N. 15th Street. You’ll find him there on Saturdays or Sundays, and sometimes on Thursdays and Fridays (check his social media for updates and contact info), serving traditional Cuban dishes such as ropa vieja, carné con papás, and paella, along with rice, beans, and plantains. Be sure to try the juicy and citrusy lechon, or slow-cooked pork. There are no tables or seats, so take your spoils home or to the picnic tables at Camel’s Back Park a few blocks away.
Hyde Park Wine Shop
Owner-operators Scott and Caitlin McCoy opened Camel’s Crossing in Boise’s North End as a wine bar in 2017, featuring a dozen wines by the glass, about a hundred different bottles, and shareable small and large plates. It expanded into a full-fledged restaurant soon afterwards. When COVID-19 hit, they closed Camel’s Crossing and offered pop-ups in the parking lot next door, where they served duck confit quesadillas, black garlic burgers, and sandwiches with fillings like smoked lamb or pork. When they reopened the restaurant in June, they decided the next month to remodel, retool the space, and return to their more casual roots with the Hyde Park Wine Shop. Now, instead of gold laminate tables and chairs, display shelves of wine fill the front room. The menu, although simpler, offers familiar items such as the quesadillas and black garlic burger, as well as a carrot steak as an entree. Octopus, a staple at Camel’s Crossing since it first opened, appears pressure-cooked in jicama “shell” tacos and in a Spanish caesar salad. Outdoor dining and takeout by phone.
Cross-Culinary Kits & Classes
For the past several years, the Idaho Office for Refugees has organized a Restaurant Week in which refugees teamed up with local chefs to cook cuisine from their countries of origin. This year, due to the pandemic, IOR moved the program online, offering monthly cooking kits paired with online classes taught by refugees and immigrants who now call Boise home. Until February, Treasure Valley residents can order a kit of dry ingredients and produce (perishable meat not included) from local farms, ethnic markets, and Global Gardens (a community garden and CSA program that supports refugees who grow produce). Kit in hand, students participate in a live, interactive Zoom webinar with a local chef, who not only teaches viewers about cooking the dish, but also the history and culture associated with it. Recent classes have featured chef Palina Louangketh on how to make Laotian egg rolls, and Syrian kefta and Arabic salad with chef Shadi Ismail. Kits cost $25 each, serve four people, and are available for pick-up or delivery.
Wild Plum Luncheonette
In August 2020, Wild Plum owners Tara Morgan and Alex Cardoza added on to their catering options by opening Plum Luncheonette. The new lunch spot occupies their event space, the former Sweeney’s Dutch Oven Cafe on N. Orchard Street. Order online for pick-up or delivery, or sit on the front patio, which has since been winterized with insulation, floor heaters, ventilation at each table, and retractable curtains. Your choices include a range of cold and hot sandwiches, including those made with their own pastrami, classic cheeseburgers, Prague meatloaf (made with pork), a Cubano, or a muffaletta. For those who don’t eat meat, they also offer a vegan tempeh BLT, loaded beet hummus, and an assortment of sides. Be warned — there are no fries or tots here, but each sandwich comes with a choice of locally-sourced brussels sprouts, fried peanuts, and grapes; warm beans and morel mushrooms; roasted beets with pecorino and hazelnuts; or lemony herb potato salad, among others. These options should be enough to satisfy even the staunchest deep-fried food lover. For groups of six to eight people, the restaurant is also offering family-style dinner service in separate, heated greenhouses.
Lemon Tree Co.
Owner Jasson Parra is behind the creative sandwich combos, which include the mushroom and artichoke “cheesesteak,” sausage and pear, and ham, yam, and jam. Try some fresh lemonade, which comes in rotating flavors like strawberry-basil or prickly pear, enjoyed on their own or as a bubbly-spiked “lemosa.” Outdoor dining and takeout.
Wild Root Café
Wild Root Café is a local favorite for a healthy-skewing breakfast and lunch. Located on Boise’s restaurant row, the crew here create colorful dishes meant to nourish and satisfy, including a variety of plant-based preparations and an avocado banh mi that can be customized with tofu, chicken, or Sriracha-candied pork belly. In good weather, patio seating is the move. Indoor dining and takeout.
With all-day brunch, primo bloody marys, and five different kinds of bacon, what’s not to love? This Boise dining destination sells over eight tons of bacon each year. The menu features breakfast dishes like omelets, biscuit sandwiches, and bacon shots — a sampling of its five bacon flavors. The lunch menu has earned this place more than a few TV spots, with indulgences like cheesy bacon lasagna, and mac and cheese with tomatoes, mushrooms, and, you guessed it, bacon. Indoor, outdoor, takeout.
Saint Lawrence Gridiron
Located just steps away from the Capitol Building, Saint Lawrence Grid Iron is a place you’ll smell before you see it. This one-time food truck turned brick-and-mortar delivers bold Southern flavors — a rarity in the Pacific Northwest. A giant smoker on the front patio is where all of the meat-smoking magic happens. You’ll regret not ordering the brisket platter, though the pulled-pork sandwich, smoked chicken wings, shrimp and grits, and cornbread panzanella salad are all solid choices. Indoor, outdoor, delivery.
Diablo & Sons Saloon
With a vibe that mixes modern slick with motifs of the Old West, Diablo and Sons is an ode to open-flame cooking. Combine one of its large taco platters (Kurobuta pork, perhaps) with some pickled veggies, tamales, and a couple of a la carte tacos for a shareable spread, or grab a cocktail and a few tacos on their extended patio. Indoor, outdoor, delivery.
Bittercreek Alehouse offers one of the largest beer lists in town. The menu leans heavy on beer-friendly foods, like several variations of poutine, a smoked Idaho trout board, and a juicy house-ground burger. Beer-loving parents rejoice: Little diners are brought a retro tin lunchbox filled with activities to keep them busy while you sip. Indoor and outdoor dining.
This cozy osteria in the old Boise City National Bank Building serves locally inspired Italian dishes and delicate house-made pastas. Start with a signature cocktails, then move onto the burrata with apricot-cherry mostarda or braised Alaskan octopus. Black ravioli stuffed with butter-poached shrimp and fontina make for an indulgent main course follow-up. Blankets available for outdoor diners on the heated patio. Indoor dining and delivery.
Earlier this year, James Beard Award-nominated chef Kris Komori and the former State and Lemp crew were gearing up to fully open their new restaurant Kin after a couple years of remodeling and revamping. Then the global pandemic hit. Komori and Kin co-owner Remi McManus made the tough decision to keep their indoor dining room closed and pursue other options. During the summer and fall, Kin offered Pikinic, a series of outdoor dinners featuring entertainment from local arts and music groups. They also created Kin at Home, a three to four course meal, complete with cocktail mixers and wine, meant to be reheated and finished at home with detailed instructions provided via video. While the Pikinic season closed at the end of October, Kin at Home continues with a few tweaks: Indian-style tiffin containers to reduce package waste and free cocktails to encourage pick-up orders instead of delivery. With Thanksgiving and December holidays coming up, McManus says Kin at Home will put spins on nostalgic favorites. He also promises that as people get used to the cold, Kin may offer spontaneous pop-ups on their patio with street food or a featured dish like udon noodles.
If you’ve ever visited friends or family in Boise, chances are they’ve taken you to Fork. Situated in the old Boise City National Bank Building, Fork is all about supporting local farmers, ranchers, and other small-scale food purveyors, and it’s a favorite destination for lunch, dinner, and brunch. Everything’s a sure bet, but especially the asparagus fries, any of the crunchy salads, and the warm butter cake for dessert. At brunch, don’t skip out on the DIY bloody mary bar or the gooey butterscotch cinnamon rolls. Blankets and heaters are available for diners enjoying the patio through the cold. Indoor dining and delivery.
Boise Fry Company
Yeah, potatoes, Idaho — it’s a thing. No one does them better than Boise Fry Company. Each day a large chalkboard displays the potato varietals and cuts available (think Yukon gold curly or homestyle purple), and an extensive bar of house-made sauces, like blueberry ketchup, are available for your dipping pleasure. Burger options include patties of beef, bison, or turkey; there’s a vegan option, too. Indoor, outdoor, takeout.
Ansots Basque Chorizos
Since opening Ansots to the public in September 2020, the Ansotegui family — Dan, Tamara, and Ellie — have offered traditional and contemporary Basque fare in the Old Boise Pioneer Building on Main Street. No stranger to Basque cuisine and culture, Dan started Bar Gernika and The Basque Market in the 1990s. (He’s also a master of the button accordion and other traditional Basque instruments.) Although he’s no longer associated with those establishments, they’re still popular anchors of the Basque Block just down the street from Ansots. If you’ve dined at the Modern Hotel and Bar’s tapas offshoot, Txikiteo, you may have had Dan’s chorizo. At Ansots, the Ansoteguis offer three types of sausages in appetizers and sandwiches, including the flavorful motzak chorizo with rosemary and garlic, as well as meatballs, croquetas, and roasted pepper pork belly with chorizero (a Basque pepper) rub. Eat inside or on the outdoor patio, or order for takeout. They also cater and sell croquetas, chorizo, bacon, and marinated pork loin (solomo) by the pound for cooking at home.
Epi’s Basque Restaurant
For more than two decades, Epi’s has been bringing traditional Basque dishes from grandma Epi’s kitchen to the residents of the Treasure Valley. The traditional Basque recipes include grilled seafood and meats adorned with red and green sauces in a nod to the colors of the Basque flag. Go for the croquetas, the lamb stew with green peppers and pimentos, meatballs in a Basque-style tomato sauce, or the baby squid in a briny, jet-black broth. No visit is complete without gateau Basque for dessert. Indoor, outdoor, delivery.
Located inside the Grove Hotel, Trillium is a true Boise gem, complete with chic decor and New American menu. The kitchen’s commitment to local ingredients is unwavering; You’ll find them starring in dishes like the smoked trout poutine, bison meatloaf, and huckleberry short ribs. Trillium is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and features an evening happy hour with discounts on Idaho beers, wine, and appetizers. Indoor, delivery.
The name is an acronym for Sweetest Things in Life, and this popular ice cream shop is no doubt one of the sweetest places in Boise. Custom ice creams include dairy-free and vegan options, as well as booze-infused flavors, all of which can be enjoyed either on their own or as part of a custom ice cream sandwich, an affogato, or beer or wine float. Feeling indecisive? There are ice cream tasting flights that can be paired with a beer or wine flight as well. Outdoor dining and takeout.
Boise Farmers Market
2019 was a banner year for the Boise Farmers Market. The nonprofit successfully moved to a new location, which afforded more space for vendors like Acme Bakeshop, Fairweather Fish Co., Matthews Family Farms, and Warped & Wonderful. COVID-19 forced organizers to rethink the in-person shopping model for the 2020 season. They moved yet again for November and December, this time a few blocks over to Payette Brewing’s warehouse, to offer cover for volunteers and vendors as they continue to pick, pack, and provide farm fresh goods to customers. The operation offers online ordering, a drive-thru and pick-up system, and local delivery.
City of Good
Boise, ID 83702
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, food and beverage leaders teamed up with other businesses and civic organizations to create City of Good. A play on Boise’s nickname, the City of Trees, the nonprofit aims to feed those in need while putting people back to work. Local purveyors such as ÀLAVITA, the Boise Co-op, The BrickYard, Diablo & Sons, and Red Feather Lounge prepare meals for the group’s Box of Good Program. The meals are sold at the Boise Farmers Market and online, allowing City of Good to pay service workers a living wage, feed those who have been affected by the pandemic, and help “build a local, living economy and a resilient community for the people who live and work here.” Recent box lunch offerings include a grilled chicken and rice bowl with squash and green chile from Fork, beef and farro soup and kale salad with squash and corn from Kin, and a charred avocado and grain salad from The Wylder. Proceeds have also funded a Weekend Fuel Kit Program, which has provided more than 10,000 meals to students struggling with food insecurity in the Boise School District.
Chef Richard Langston is a veteran of the Boise dining scene — he’s been cooking here for more than 25 years. His eponymous restaurant specializes in Italian-ish Northwestern fare, like bison meatballs, grilled octopus with pork belly, and stuffed cannelloni. The wine list is famous, and pastry chef Rebecca McManus churns out some of the sweetest endings in town, like a walnut chocolate torte with gelato from scratch. Indoor, outdoor, takeout.
The Wylder is a relative newcomer to the Boise food scene, but the pizza parlor still feels like family. Maybe it’s the 52-year-old sourdough starter, or the family-secret lasagna recipe, or the deserts lovingly baked each day. Local favorites include the Honey Badger (a white pizza with Italian sausage, ricotta, caramelized onions, and spicy honey), the Bronco (a red pie with salumi, pickled Fresno chiles, and burrata), and the nightly supper options such as lasagna or fried chicken. Indoor, outdoor, delivery.
Madre Boutique Taqueria
Where there are hungry college students, there are tacos. Located near the Boise State University campus, this spiffy taqueria slings a la carte varieties like the Idaho spud, and chorizo and the braised short rib with kimchi and fried peanuts. Beyond tacos, there are also the usual chips, guacamole, and a chicken tinga salad with beans, corn, pickled onions, and cilantro vinaigrette that will not disappoint. Order online.
At Petite 4, a casual French bistro on the Bench, James Beard Award-nominated chef Sarah Kelly and her husband David, or “DK,” have pivoted to a broad range of takeout meals and pop-ups since COVID-19 hit. From Thursdays to Saturdays, the restaurant offers Dinner 4 Two, set meals with diverse creations like meatloaf, clam chowder, duck confit, and add-ons (dishes are also available a la carte). On Thursdays, you can also order a hot lunch such as beef stroganoff, tuna casserole, or a revival of a sandwich from Bleubird (the couple’s popular downtown sandwich shop that closed in 2018). On certain Saturday mornings, stop by to pick up coffee, doughnuts, or pastries. And on Sundays, the Kellys offer a family chicken dinner for four with sides such as kale salad, raclette potatoes, and dessert. Add-on options for the family dinner can include salmon rillette, pickles, chorizo and manchego croquetas, and cheese and compote. Kelly announced holiday menus starting around Thanksgiving, and pick-up options will run until the end of the year, followed by a break for the couple to reassess.
Barbacoa is a fitting name for this restaurant, whose kitchen is centered around an open-fire grill. Bold flavors get their influence from Spain, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. The happy hour crew flocks for cocktail specials, and appetizers like table-side guacamole and assorted ceviches. At dinner, it’s about sizzling cuts of beef, lamb, and charred kebabs and ribs. Indoor, outdoor, delivery.
Normally, the Genki Takoyaki food cart serves up its namesake Japanese dumplings, with octopus or chashu pork, as well as specialties such as ramen, karaage fried chicken, okonomiyaki, and kimchi tater tots at locations all around Boise. With COVID-19 putting indoor events and pop-up dinners on hold, food cart owners Rhett Atagi and Christy Beavers found another way to share a key part of their Japanese culinary repertoire: Sushi Saturday platters. The meals, which feed two or more people, are available for pick up at Reel Foods Fish Market. Marcus Bonilla, owner of Reel Foods on the Bench, supplies the location and seafood, such as bluefin tuna from San Diego, Ōra King salmon from New Zealand, dungeness crab, uni, and ankimo (monkfish liver). Atagi says they’ll continue to offer Sushi Saturdays as the colder months settle in, while “their food cart will be hibernating.”