Food pilgrims, those obsessively nerdy eaters who travel for star-chef meals and Instagram-sensation dishes, have a surprising new stop in the Northwest: Boise, Idaho. The burgeoning capital city is having a culinary renaissance spurred by creative young chefs, artisans, brewers, and even winemakers. With a population of just over 218,000, Boise feels like a mini Seattle or Portland, Oregon, minus the culinary pretension. You’ll find all of the essentials of a great food city: third-wave coffee roasters, gourmet donut shops, craft cocktail bars, food trucks, tasting-menu restaurants, spots dedicated to perfecting a single dish; plus plenty of green space to hike, bike, and paddle up an appetite for your next meal.
In 2016, former New Yorker Angela Taylor launched Indulge Boise Food Tours. a series of walks that showcase Boise’s coolest food spots while weaving in bits of the city’s culture, architecture, and history. The three-hour tour covers 1.5 miles of downtown, but come hungry. Ten-plus snack stops might include popular brunch spot Bacon. and Waffle Me Up. which makes liège waffles with croissant-like interiors and unexpected toppings such as basil, strawberry, and bacon. A perk of joining a tour is that you bypass lines at always-busy places like Guru Donuts. Inspired by Portland, Oregon’s quirky bakeshop, Voodoo Doughnut, Guru owners Angel and Kevin Moran let their imaginations run wild on a traditional 1940s recipe, concocting made-from-scratch flavors like the Girl Scout, a riff on the coconut-and-caramel Samoa cookie, and Hipsterberry, a vegan glaze donut with blueberries, blackberries, and organic lavender. A pintxos tasting at The Basque Marketplace is a delicious education in the city’s large Basque immigrant community that settled here in the early 20th century. Every Wednesday and Friday the marketplace prepares an 85-pound pan of seafood-and-chorizo-studded paella (they go vegetarian the first Friday of each month) and serves it on the patio for $8.99 a plate. A detour past the graffiti-decorated Freak Allery Gallery. billed as the largest outdoor mural gallery in the Northwest, leads to some of the city’s best Asian food at Mai Thai. where chef Justin Scheihing creates off-the-menu items exclusively for the tour. And no trip to Boise would be complete without sampling the iconic Idaho spud. At Boise Fry Co.. seven types of potatoes, from Sweet to Russet, come in five different cuts with garnishes like truffle salt and banana ketchup.
Eighth Street’s Top Tables
Eighth Street has become Boise’s restaurant row. Recently opened Wild Root Café Market has an earthy vibe that suits its vegetarian-focused menu. Juniper. with its brick walls and pendant lights, is the local favorite for indulgent brunch dishes like chicken in a biscuit and lamb hash. Local craft brews and elevated pub food with an artisanal twist are the specialty at Bittercreek Alehouse. and its neighboring sister restaurant, Red Feather Lounge. has excellent classic cocktails and gussied up Idaho staples like smoked trout and beef tenderloin. Fork updates comfort foods with local ingredients. Don’t miss the tomato basil fondue with cheddar-and-garlic grilled cheese and local-ale braised short ribs.
The Saturday Night Supper Club at State Lemp underscores Boise’s food cred. Any night is spectacular, but the 9:00 p.m. Saturday seating has a late-night dinner party vibe and at just $65 for five-courses, including wine, must be the best pre-fixe deal in the Northwest. The odd location at State and Lemp streets, just west of downtown, somehow works perfectly for the boundary-pushing restaurant. Kris Komori, a two-time James Beard nominee for Best Chef in the Northwest, crafts dishes that are both artful and delicious, like cherry blossom–cured halibut with radishes, ume-pickled buds, tofu, and Szechuan peppercorns.
Urban Wine Tasting
Idaho is better known for its potatoes than its grapes, but the state’s wine scene is heating up, with over 50 wineries and 1,300 acres of vineyards. Tasting rooms line the Greenbelt, a 25-mile riverfront path, making it possible to do an urban wine crawl on foot or by bike. Leslie Preston, the winemaker and owner of Coiled Wines. cut her teeth at Stags’ Leap in Napa Valley before returning home to craft Syrah and Riesling with grapes from Idaho’s Snake River Valley. A downtown wine bar with small plates from Juniper should open later this year. Similarly, Melanie Krause went to work for Washington’s renowned Chateau Ste. Michelle before returning home to Boise to launch Cinder Wines. Her spacious, two-year-old tasting room feels like a hip living room with comfy armchairs and an upstairs art gallery. Live music and cheese pairings accompany tastings. Jed Glavin, the renegade winemaker behind Split Rail Wines. is known for his focus on Rhone varietals. The tasting room, set in an old auto shop, serves wines on tap, in cans, and in growlers. On the other end of the spectrum is Earl Sullivan. The owner and winemaker behind Telaya embraces an Old World–style approach, aging his wines in French oak barrels. Last February, he moved Telaya’s tasting room to spacious new riverfront digs so you can sip his Viognier while watching kayakers paddle the river.
Some would argue that Boise’s craft beer scene ignited the city’s culinary craze. An urban beer crawl should definitely include a stop at Payette Brewing Co. ’s new $4.5 million Pioneer Street brewery, which boasts 20 rotating taps, as well as Crooked Fence Brewing, Slanted Rock Brewering Company, Highlands Hollow Brew House, 10 Barrel Brewing, and Boise Brewing. The newest one-stop shop for tastings is a trio of tasting rooms on Capitol Boulevard including Longdrop Cider Co.. White Dog Brewing Co.. and The Gas Lantern Drinking Company, all serviced by Smoke Thyme, a 40-foot-long, 8-foot-wide urban kitchen.
Work Up an Appetite
The Boise Foothills rise above the capital and offer 180 miles of trails to hike, run, and bike. Three rivers converge near here—the Payette, the Snake, and the Boise, which runs straight through town. Not only can you tackle rapids by kayak, but Boise River Park provides a year-round wave to surf.
The Inn at 500 excels at hospitality. The lobby doubles as an art gallery and stocks complimentary Idaho beers, wine, and snacks, and the staff are happy to share their favorite running routes and hikes. The hotel’s restaurant, Richard’s, is a Boise institution. The Modern. a seedy motel-turned-stylish boutique hotel, has one of the buzziest bar scenes in town. Each of the 39 rooms comes uniquely appointed with mid-century modern furnishings, and guests can use complimentary bikes to cruise around town.