Food in Boise

The Idaho Potato

As it’s the capital of Idaho, there’s a 90% chance that the first thing you think about food in Boise, is potatoes. While it’s a staple of the state-wide economy, potatoes are a very small part of the diverse and excellent food scene in Boise. The Boise food scene is intimately connected to both its history and the people who live here…and we will get to that, but the potato is important, so a bit about that first.

A little Idaho Food History

The Idaho Potato in one of it’s most captivating forms

Although the valley has been inhabited for thousands of years, the history of Boise really begins in the early 1800’s when it was a stop-over along the Oregon trail. When gold was discovered in the early 1860’s the establishment of Fort Boise came right behind. The settlement grew relatively slowly until the late nineteenth century, when more modern irrigation systems allowed for the cultivation of alfalfa, grains, fruit, and of course, potatoes (though potatoes weren’t important – yet). Crop cultivation was largely consistent for the next several decades while the importance of beef and pea cultivation grew.

In 1929 John Richard Simplot founded the Simplot Company in Delco Idaho. Over the next thirty years things went well for him with the US military being one of the primary customers of their dried potatoes and onions. Along the way a chemist named Ray Dunlap discovered that if you were to partially cook potatoes before freezing them they would keep their consistency and color – this eventually led to the modern frozen potato industry.

In 1967 successful restaurateur, Ray Croc, was looking for a new supplier for the french fries in his McDonald’s restaurants. Croc eventually decided that the Idaho Russet was the right choice for his fries and made a deal with the Simplot Company to be the exclusive year-round supplier of potatoes for his restaurants; the rest is history. The success of McDonald’s went hand in hand with the success of the Simplot company and made both Idaho and its potatoes famous around the world.

Okay, enough about potatoes, let’s talk about food in Boise that is more interesting than starchy tubers! Boise is well known as a Sanctuary City so let’s talk about the importance of immigrant communities on Boise’s diverse food scene.

The Basque Community

Photo from Leku Ona

Let’s begin with the Basque community. Boise has one of the largest Basque communities in the United states. Beginning in the 1800’s the Basque people found excellent opportunities in the treasure valley running boarding houses and herding sheep. During the Spanish civil war and the rise of Franco’s facism, the Basque community left their homeland in droves, many relocating to Boise due to the already established community.

Today the Basque block is located in Boise’s downtown along Grove street between Capital boulevard and Sixth street. There are excellent opportunities to learn about the culture and history of one of the world’s oldest people at the Basque Museum & Cultural center and excellent food nearby at Leku Ona and Bar Guernika are an absolute must for any visitor to the city who is looking for great food in Boise.

African and Middle Eastern Cuisine

The multicultural influence of Boise’s food culture doesn’t stop there though. The city has something for everyone! If you like African and Middle Eastern faire, Boise has excellent Ethiopian & Eritrean food at Kibroms and an array of wonderful middle eastern cuisine from restaurants like Foodland MarketThe Goodness LandIshtar Market and Kebob House.

Asian Food

If you prefer Asian faire the city has award winning Indian and Pakistani dining available from MadhubanBombay Grill, and even Tibetan cuisine from the Momo Cafe!
East asian food in Boise is also widely available in the Treasure Valley. If you’re in the mood for Japanese, be sure to check out Island Sushi & Ramen, Yoi Tomo Sushi & Grill, or Rotary Sushi for the iconic conveyor belt style restaurant. The valley has a wide range of Korean restaurants as well. Try Han’s Chimaek for some eye-watering Korean fried chicken, Magnificent Garden for a truly memorable fancy hot-pot experience or Gangnam for a little something in-between.

Food from Latin America

If you love Latin American cuisine as much as I do, Boise is truly a mecca. We have some of the best street tacos north of the border and we offer excellent tex-mex as well. If authentic latin street food is your bag stop by Carneceria Coalcalmon or Campos market for some mind blowing carnitas and tamales. If you’re more interested in the tex-mex side of things you won’t want to miss Chapalla, El Gaillo Giro, or Fiesta Chicken.

Traditional Americana

Idaho Finger Steak

If you’re more interested in traditional American food in Boise, Idaho’s capital certainly has you covered there too! Have you ever had a finger steak? It’s a Boise original! According to local legend the finger steak

Idaho Finger Steak

was invented by Mylo Bybee at Mylo’s Torch Lounge in the 1950’s (the Torch Lounge still exists today but it’s, uh, not a restaurant these days).

Though it was created by Bybee most folks agree that it was popularized around the mountain states as the Crinkle Steak Dinner at a chain of restaurants called Red Steer. Though they had over 50 locations at one point, the Red Steer is sadly no longer around.

However the finger steak lives on at many of Boise’s iconic drive-in burger joints. Try Hawkin’s Pac Out in Boise’s historic North End for the real deal (they have a really bangin’ mushroom swiss burger too). The Pac Out is far from the only vintage burger experience to be found in boise! No food tour is complete without a stop at the Iconic West Side Drive In, the Viking Drive In, and Fancy Freez (if you go to either, get the Scotch & Soda to drink – it’s great).

A Fancy Night Out

Maybe you’re looking for more of an upscale dining experience? Of course Boise has that too. You can indulge in a truly memorable steak from Chandlers (dress nice!) or Lock Stock & Barrel. Other fine dining experiences can be found in a range from excellent traditional fare at the Cottonwood Grill to the inventive cutting edge cuisine of Fork.


Potter Wines Idaho Winery

Now while not fitting in the “FOOD” category, what is great food without great wine?! Boise Wineries and the Snake River Valley AVA, are quickly gaining popularity, and the Treasure Valley may be the next Napa. Nestled inside Boise is a strip of a town called Garden City. The main drag is Chinden, and along that corridor you will find several AMAZING wineries and tasting rooms. Popular names like Telaya, Coiled Wines, and Split Rail Winery…but we would be doing you a disservice if we didn’t mention the city’s most unique winery: Potter Wines.

Potter Wines started out by making Jalapeno Wine in their garage and selling it at our local farmers markets. You read that right, Jalapeno’s! Now, over 10 years later, they offer award winning reds (keep an eye out for their annual Swanky Devil Syrah â€“ with a new handsome mascot on each rendition), refreshing rose’, and not to miss whites.

But don’t worry, they still have their Jalapeno Wine! Along with a few others in that line-up. Their Jalapeno Wine Lemonade will blow your mind. A little sweet, and a little tangy, and a little kicky – just hang around their booth and watch people sampling it at the market to get an idea of how shockingly refreshing and delicious this lemonade is.

If you come to the Treasure Valley, come hungry! You could eat out at a different restaurant every night for a year and you wouldn’t even scratch the surface. Boise is truly a culinary gem of the Gem state, and the food in Boise is sure to impress!

What’s the BEST food in Boise? That question is too tough for a definitive answer, but we hope our guide to fun places to eat in Boise will help you on your journey to find an answer.