Boise may not be a typical vacation destination, and most may not know much about the city except that it’s the capital of Idaho, or that the football field has blue turf. However, there’s a lot more to Boise than you may realize. unbeknownst to visitors, Boise boasts a growing brewery scene, as well as a nearby wine country and growing urban wine trail. While the city is still small by comparison, Boise is quickly growing and developing a unique culture while maintaining its small town roots. If, by chance, you find yourself visiting the “City of Trees”, below are some of the best places to eat and drink in my hometown, Boise:
Alavita: (807 W Idaho St.)
Serving delicious “locally inspired Italian,” Alavita is one of my new favorite restaurants. Fresh, homemade pasta meet local, seasonal ingredients to inspire a new twist on Italian fare. The local and seasonal inspired cocktails are just as creative as the cuisine (try the Fireside chat). My favorite menu item is the Burrata cheese appetizer and the Cavatelli.
Fork: (199 N. 8th St.)
Fork is the “big brother concept” to Alavita. Not only do both restaurants share the same owners/founders, they also share the same “loyal to local” ideals and dedication to high-quality dishes and ingredients. Fork boasts creative, farm to table (or, farm to fork) style dishes as well as craft cocktails and local wines and beers. Try the grilled cheese and tomato soup fondue appetizer!
Barbacoa Grill (276 Bobwhite Ct.)
Serving Spanish-American fare and specialty cocktails in a swanky, stylish atmosphere, Barbacoa is a restaurant done right. Beautiful pieces of art from local artists enhance the ambiance, while the Parkcenter Pond serves as a beautiful backdrop for patio or roof-top dining/drinks. Every once and a while you may catch the pictures in the bar moving. The large portrait on the bar ceiling is actually on rollers, and displays a “nice” version during the day, then rolls to the “naughty” version for weekend nights. Cocktails are served in ice glasses and the bar drink menu is an iPad. My favorite thing about Barbacoa? The table side guacamole.
Mai Thai (750 W Idaho St.)
Whether you’re looking for a great happy hour (2-for-1 drinks!) upscale lunch buffet, or delicious dinner, Mai Thai boasts all of the above. The modern decor, stylish ambiance (mood lighting, waterfall, etc), and extensive menu makes Mai Thai a favorite among locals and visitors. Lunch can get a bit crowded, but the service is always exceptional. Mai Thai is also home to my favorite cocktails in Boise, the Siam Sunray.
Pengilly’s Saloon (513 W. Main St.)
When it comes to Boise’s bar scene, Pengilly’s Saloon is definitely a diamond in the rough. Boasting a century-old Brunswick bar, turn of the century cash register, and vintage decor, Pengilly’s is as Boise as can be. Exceptional service meets excellent live music, making Pengilly’s a favorite among locals and visitors. The bar even got national recognition when it was named among Esquires “Best Bars in America” in 2011.
Bodovino (404 S. 8th St.)
Located in Boise’s BoDo (aka boise downtown) blocks, Bodovino is a wine-lovers wonderland. The wine bar features 144 wines on tap through Wine Emotion machines (the largest collection of Wine Emotion machines in the US), as well as tapas and charcuterie / cheese plates. Visitors load money onto a card, then (like an adult arcade) use the card to select a wine from the machines and choose between 1oz, 3oz, or 5 oz pour. The wines are grouped into old world, regional / domestic, new world, and seasonal.
Capitol Cellars (110 S. 5th St.)
Hidden beneath Boise’s Belgravia building, the subterranean cellar lends itself to a certain charm, enhanced by the dimly lit, intimate ambiance. A political theme is present among the decor, and menus which further adds character to the small dining space. Capitol Cellars has an expansive wine selection, with a focus on Idaho and Northwest wines. They also serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and their limited menu focuses on high-quality, local food.
Red Feather Lounge (246 N. 8th St.)
Located next door to Bittercreek Ale House, Red Feather Lounge boasts one of the most expansive cocktail lists in Boise. Red Feather serves seasonal American cuisine and classic cocktails with a modern twist. They also serve brunch on Saturday and Sunday. If you stop by for cocktail, try the Mary’s Fizz.
Just 40 minutes from downtown Boise, Bogus Basin is a great year-round recreation area, and one of Idaho’s best kept secrets. Located in Boise’s backyard, Bogus Basin is beloved by locals. The ski area offers a variety of terrains for every experience level. During the summer, the comprehensive trail system is alive with hikers and mountain bikers.
Grab a bike, a dog, a running partner or a raft and head to the Boise Greenbelt along the Boise river. The 25 mile-long Greenbelt connects downtown to several Boise neighborhoods / parks and is a beautiful trail for outdoor recreation and wildlife viewing.
Fun Fact: Boise has the largest Basque population outside of Spain. Visitors can check out the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, or enjoy some basque food and drinks at one of the several surrounding Basque restaurants / bars. Every summer a basque festival is held in Boise’s Basque blocks, and once every five years is Jaialdi (aka “big festival”). The boise Jaialdi is the largest international Basque gathering outside Spain.
Boise also plays host to numerous highly anticipated events throughout the year. Below are some of my favorites:
– Treefort Music Festival (March)
– Snake River Stampede (Mid July) and/or the Caldwell Night Rodeo (Mid August)
– Art in the Park (Early September)
– Alive after 5 (Every Wednesday, June – August)
– Hyde Park Street Fair (September)