Kibrom Milash and Tirhas Hailu, owners of Kibrom’s, offer hearty Ethiopian and Eritrean dishes such as doro wot and tibs in a spicy red or mild white sauce. There are also a number of vegetarian dishes, such as shiro made with ground chickpeas or tikal gomen alicha made with potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, and onions. Order a combination of entrees to share.
Idaho’s City of Trees (Boise was originally called Les Bois, or “wooded” in French) was once considered a hidden treasure for its low cost of living and easy access to mountains, rivers, and forests. Then, in recent years, visitors and new residents discovered the state’s capital and largest city, making Idaho one of the fastest-growing states in the nation.
Longtime locals may complain about busier traffic, crowded hiking trails, and high home prices, but the influx of newcomers has also brought diversity and excitement to the area’s restaurants. Within a few downtown blocks (which are extra walkable since the city permanently closed North Eighth Street to car traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic), you’ll find Basque chorizo, Southern barbecue, locally sourced produce, creative tacos, lamb grinders, handmade pasta, and booze-infused craft ice cream. Stroll a little farther and you’ll find meals from Ethiopia, Cuba, Afghanistan, and Burma. Or cruise to a drive-in for the pure comfort of fresh-grilled hamburgers, finger steaks, and fries.
Scott Ki is a former editor and writer for Edible Idaho and an ex-reporter for Boise State Public Radio and the Idaho Business Review. His work also has been carried by the Idaho Press, Idaho Statesman, NPR, and the AP.
Kibrom’s Ethiopean & Eritrean Food
Adelfa’s Comida Cubana
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. He serves traditional dishes such as ropa vieja, carne con papas, and paella, along with rice, black beans, and plantains. Be sure to try the juicy and citrusy lechon. You can find him at the Boise Farmers Market, local breweries, and food truck parks.
Alyonka Russian Cuisine
If you’ve ever attended Boise’s annual Russian Food Festival, you’ve likely tasted Elena DeYoung’s culinary creations. She now offers them year-round at her restaurant, Alyonka Russian Cuisine. Elena grew up in Kazakhstan and her team hails from Armenia and Ukraine, providing a broad range of fresh takes on traditional fare such as cabbage rolls, beef stroganoff, piroshkis, and blinis in a modern space. She also serves vegetarian borscht and shuba with smoked salmon (instead of the typical herring) layered with shredded potatoes, carrots, and beets — a dish you’re unlikely to taste elsewhere in Boise.
Restaurateur Art Robinson started selling Puerto Rican cuisine at local breweries from a modest food cart. A few years later, he opened a multistory restaurant complete with rooftop patio in Garden City. His limited cart menu of pastelillos, carne frita, and arroz con pollo with rice and beans, plantains, and yucca is now augmented by more flavors from the Caribbean like pernil and shrimp in garlic sauce. Robinson has pledged to donate 5 percent of his annual profits to a Puerto Rican nonprofit helping rebuild the island after the decimation wrought by Hurricane Maria.
Sunshine Spice Bakery & Cafe
The four Shams sisters banded together to open Sunshine Spice to provide the people of Boise a taste of the flavors of Afghanistan, where they were born. Khatera Shams, the baker and chef, was recently named a James Beard semifinalist for her sweet and savory creations, from pistachio opera cake, to pilowy steamed mantoo stuffed with spiced ground beef and topped with garlic sour cream, to avocado toast served on Afghan bread. Sunshine Spice is a nickname for saffron, which appears in many of their offerings. They hope to soon augment their intimate, art-filled space on busy Fairview Avenue with a second location in the heart of downtown.
Modern Hotel and Bar
A pioneer in Boise’s dining scene, the Modern — located in a tastefully updated former Travelodge in Boise’s Linen District — became a catalyst for creative mixologists and a platform for James Beard-nominated chef Nate Whitley and others. During the pandemic, owner Elizabeth Tullis made the tough decision to shut down the popular restaurant, but the dining room reopened in 2021, now led by husband-and-wife team chef Kelly Grindstaff and bar manager Ariel Vazquez. A recent menu featured crispy octopus, locally raised curried beef brisket, and Idaho trout. Tullis also owns Txikiteo down the street, which offers Basque-style sandwiches, salads, and pintxos.
Wild Root Café
Wild Root is a local favorite for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Located on Boise’s restaurant row, the restaurant creates colorful salads, bowls, keto options, and a variety of plant-based recipes, all best enjoyed on the patio in good weather. Restaurateur Dan Watts also operates barbecue joint Saint Lawrence Gridiron around the corner and Suite 104, a speakeasy-inspired cocktail bar next door.
This downtown Boise restaurant claims to sell more than 10 tons of bacon a year. Owned and operated by father and son John and Gibson Berryhill, the Southern-inspired menu features omelets, biscuit sandwiches, and a sampling of the restaurant’s five bacon flavors in shot form. The menu has earned more than a few TV spots, with indulgences such as mac and cheese with tomatoes, mushrooms, and — you guessed it — bacon.
Saint Lawrence Gridiron
Located just steps from the state Capitol and around the corner from Boise’s restaurant row, Saint Lawrence Gridiron is a place you’ll smell before you see it. This onetime food truck turned brick-and-mortar delivers bold Southern flavors, thanks to a giant smoker on the front patio where all of the meat-smoking magic happens. You’ll regret not ordering the brisket platter, although the pulled-pork sandwich, shrimp and grits, and side of succotash are all solid choices.
Diablo & Sons Saloon
With a vibe that mixes modern slick with motifs of an Old West bordello, Diablo and Sons is an ode to open-flame cooking complete with a state-of-the-art Argentine-style grill and crank wheel to char locally sourced meats and produce. Order a grilled entree, like a tomahawk pork chop, or a trio of tacos and wash it down with a creative cocktail or one of dozens of craft beer choices.
Family-friendly Bittercreek Alehouse offers one of the largest beer lists in town, so the menu leans heavily on beer-friendly foods – poutine, polenta fries, beer-cheese pretzels, and juicy house-ground burgers. Try the Huntsman cheeseburger with bacon and cheddar or a locally sourced spicy lamb burger with feta and jalapenos while you gaze at the photos of local farmers and food purveyors that grace the walls.
This bustling osteria in the old Boise City National Bank building serves locally inspired Italian dishes and delicate house-made pastas. Sit at the U-shaped bar to witness all the action while sipping a classic or seasonal cocktail. Start your meal with antipasti, perhaps burrata with apricot-cherry mostarda or calamari fritti. Then choose from an array of pastas such as black ravioli stuffed with butter-poached shrimp or tagliatelle with a classic Bolognese sauce. Or go big with braised short ribs or roasted Cornish game hen.
James Beard Award-nominated chef Kris Komori and his team at Kin focus on seasonally and locally sourced fare cooked with precision and flair. Their tasting menu changes frequently, offering a multicourse dinner (with or without wine pairing) at a communal table. If you’re not ready to take the leap into a full dinner, grab a seat at the bar and order a craft cocktail to go along with a house-made frankfurter or Idaho sturgeon sandwich. In the summer there are refreshing cold noodles, while the colder months may warrant a hot bowl of ramen or posole. They also offer a series of outdoor dinners featuring entertainment from local arts and music groups.
When people visit friends or family in Boise, they end up at Fork. A sister restaurant to Alavita, also located in the Boise City National Bank building, Fork’s menu is wide-ranging and offers locally sourced fare sure to please everyone. Fork checks all the boxes: tacos, asparagus fries, burgers, buttermilk fried chicken and waffles, and a weekend special of slow-roasted prime rib.
Boise Fry Company
Even though Idaho grows and makes more than potatoes, people throughout the world associate the state with the ubiquitous tuber. Boise Fry Company’s motto, “burgers on the side,” says it all; the chain places the potato front and center. With a handful of locations in the Boise area, BFC serves fries made from four potato varietals, sweet potato, yam, and Brussels sprouts in cuts such as curly, homestyle, and shoestring. Burger options include beef, bison, mushroom, turkey, or vegan.
Little Pearl Oyster Bar
Slurp a half-dozen oysters from both coasts while thinking about what to order at this cozy space in downtown’s restaurant row. The menu covers all the seafood classics — shrimp cocktail, lobster roll, seafood chowder, cioppino, fish and chips — along with curry-tinged moules frites and a Kobe beef burger. Restaurateurs Cal and Ashley Elliot are veterans of the New York City dining scene and returned to Boise, where he grew up, a few years ago. They recently opened the Little Pearl Bar next door to serve craft cocktails and are working on a boutique hotel, restaurant, and bar on Main Street too.
Bochi Bochi Japanese Eats
After nearly a decade, former Genki Takoyaki cart owners Rhett Atagi and Christy Beavers upgraded to a whimsically decorated full-size food trailer to serve up their Japanese street food. Bochi Bochi goes for big comforting flavors: karaage fried chicken, yaki udon with beef and fried egg, or Spam musubi. Fear not, they haven’t abandoned their takoyaki or chashu pork dumplings, or other savory delights such as okonomiyaki and kimchi tater tots. Follow them on Instagram or Facebook as they serve their Japanese soul food around Boise.
Ansots Basque Chorizos
Dan, Tamara, and Ellie of the Ansotegui family offer traditional and contemporary Basque fare in the Old Boise Pioneer Building on Main Street. No stranger to Basque cuisine and culture, James Beard Award semifinalist Dan Ansotegui started Bar Gernika and the Basque Market in the 1990s. (Although he’s no longer associated with those establishments, they’re still popular anchors of the Basque Block just down the street.) Ansots offers a variety of sausages in appetizers and sandwiches (bocadillos), including the flavorful motzak chorizo with roasted garlic, as well as meatballs, croquetas, and roasted pepper pork belly with chorizero (Basque pepper) rub. They also cater and sell croquetas, chorizo, bacon, and other meats by the pound.
Epi’s Basque Restaurant
For more than two decades, Epi’s has been bringing traditional Basque dishes to the residents of the Treasure Valley. Inspired by the life and recipes of Maria Epifania Lamiquis-Inchausti, the Meridian restaurant has passed from the eponymous matriarch’s granddaughters to her great-grandson. (The family is also related to the Ansoteguis of Ansots). The kitchen turns out excellent croquetas, lamb stew with green peppers and pimentos, meatballs in a Basque-style tomato sauce, and baby squid in a briny, jet-black broth. No visit is complete without gateau Basque for dessert.
An acronym for Sweetest Things in Life, the name of this popular ice cream shop accurately represents its role as one of the sweetest places in Boise. During scorching high-desert summers (or any season really), a custom ice cream flavor like churro, raspberry, goat cheese, or walnut hits the spot at any of the mini-chain’s locations. Dairy-free and vegan options are available, 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 a beer or wine float. Feeling indecisive? There are ice cream flights that can be paired with a beer or wine flight as well.
BoEx Boise Sandwiches
Owners Dusanka and Ermin Kurtigac opened this cafe and tiny grocery store after arriving in town in the aftermath of the dissolution of Yugoslavia and war in the Balkans. They serve an array of hearty, straightforward sandwiches on house-made bread and you can’t go wrong with their beef goulash. Pick up a bottle of Eastern European wine, a jar of ajvar red pepper spread, and tins of pate from the grocery aisles before settling your bill.
With more than two decades of experience in Boise, James Beard Award semifinalist chef Richard Langston and his wife and business manager Melinda are veterans of the local dining scene. Located at the Inn at 500 Capitol, their restaurant specializes in Italian-ish Northwestern fare, like house-made fusilli with calamari and pickled peppers, and cannelloni stuffed with sausage and spinach. With a well-regarded wine list, Richard’s holds periodic wine dinners, and because it’s part of the Inn, overnight guests can order room service from the restaurant.
Specializing in craft pizza and cocktails, the Wylder in downtown Boise maintains a 50-plus-year-old sourdough starter for their pizza dough. 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 nightly supper options like fried chicken and lasagna from a secret family recipe. In addition to the Wylder, Lizzy and David Rex use the same sourdough starter for English muffins at their Certified Kitchen + Bakery in the city’s North End, while at the Roosevelt Market in the East End, they offer coffee, salads, and sandwiches in an updated historic neighborhood store.
Madre Boutique Taqueria
Situated near the campus of Boise State University, this sleek taqueria layers tortillas with options like Idaho spud and chorizo, or braised short rib with kimchi and peanut sauce. Beyond tacos (and craft beer to wash them down), there are also chips with house-made salsa and guacamole, and a chicken tinga salad with beans, assorted veggies, corn, pickled onions, and cilantro vinaigrette. Pescatarians can opt for a blackened salmon taco or sandwich, while vegetarians can choose a burrito filled with squash, avocado, black beans, and soy chili.
Nahm Thai & Burmese Cuisine
Opened in 2022, Nahm Thai & Burmese Cuisine quickly became popular with Boise diners. It isn’t the only place in town to get your Thai fix, but the Burmese side of the menu is something special for the area. Go for the refreshing, tangy, and crunchy fermented tea leaf salad with tomatoes, nuts, seeds, and citrus, or opt for shan noodles with sweet pork and tomato sauce in a light broth with broccoli and bean sprouts.
Amina’s African Sambusas
Amina Mohamud and her family started selling vegetables at local farmers marketsbefore moving on to selling sambusas about a decade ago. Mohamud’s son, Chubangu Mnongerwa, took over the business in 2018 and, in addition to the family’s stand at the Saturday market, he operates this modest restaurant. The East African eatery serves up deep-fried sambusas stuffed with beef, onions, and potatoes, alongside large portions of spicy, flavorful goat, chicken, and beef stews on rice, fufu (Amina’s version is similar to grits), or pasta, in addition to other dishes. You won’t leave hungry.