Boise was originally called Les Bois, or “wooded” in French, and Idaho’s City of Trees was once considered a hidden treasure for its low cost of living and easy access to the region’s iconic mountains, rivers, and forests. Then visitors and new residents discovered the state’s capital and largest city, which helped propel Idaho to its current status as one of the fastest growing states in the nation. Longtime locals may complain about the busier traffic and rising home prices, but the influx of newcomers has also brought diversity and excitement to the area’s restaurants. With a thriving Basque community, new 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.
The 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 menus, creative tacos, lamb grinders, handmade pasta, and booze-infused craft ice cream. Stroll a little farther and you’ll find meals from Ethiopia, Cuba, India, Vietnam, and the Middle East. Or cruise to a down-home drive-in for the pure comfort of fresh-grilled hamburgers, finger steaks, and fries.
Update, June 2021: The City of Boise allowed restaurants and bars to expand outdoor seating into the sidewalk due to the pandemic. Along downtown’s N. 8th Street, the city went further and closed the thoroughfare to car traffic so pedestrians can walk on the street. These policies are expected to last into 2022, hopefully helping restaurateurs and bar owners not only recover economically but also recapture some of the excitement that characterized Boise’s pre-pandemic dining scene.
Note: The inclusion of restaurants offering dine-in service should not be taken as an endorsement for dining inside. Studies indicate a lower exposure risk to COVID-19 outdoors, but the level of risk is contingent on social distancing and other safety guidelines. Check with each restaurant for up-to-date information on dining offerings. For updated information on coronavirus cases in your area, please visit Idaho Central District Health.
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 other media outlets, such as the Idaho Press, Idaho Statesman, NPR, and the AP.