Located in the southwest corner of the Gem State, Boise has seen its population grow by double digits every decade for the past 50 years. In recent years, the City of Trees has seen an influx of Californians as well as people from other western states. And the local food scene has grown as fast (if not faster) than the population.
Idaho license plates may still boast potatoes, but the real treasure is in the various African, Asian, European and Latin American dining options throughout the capital. Much of the diversity in Boise's food scene comes from their willingness to take in refugees from places like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq and Somalia. Many of these refugees have brought their business acumen and cooking skills to their adopted city and are now running their own specialty grocery stores and restaurants.
Here are eight restaurants that prove there's more to Idaho than spuds.
Alyonka Russian Cuisine
Pelmeni (Russian dumplings) from Alyonka — Photo courtesy of Natalie Martin
Boise has one full-service Russian restaurant, but if you prefer quality over quantity, Alyonka is all you need. The idea for this cozy dining spot started when owner and head chef Elena DeYoung worked as the event coordinator for the annual Russian Food Festival. She learned to cook in her native Kazakhstan.
This small, intimate restaurant serves Russian standards like beef stroganoff, blini (Russian crepes), borscht (beet soup) and pelmeni (bite-sized dumplings). For drinks, they have traditional Russian tea options, as well as Baltika, which is the most popular beer in Russia.
Desserts like pavlova, sweet blini and the decadent royal poppy seed ganache cake are as essential to the Alyonka experience as are the appetizers and entrees. If you don't have room for dessert, you can always grab it to go. The desserts and drinks are on display in front of the kitchen entrance. Reservations recommended.
The counter at Baguette Deli — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Boise has a handful of Vietnamese sit-down restaurants to choose from. Baguette Deli is currently doing take-out only, but it's still worth a visit. While Boise's other Vietnamese eateries focus on noodle and rice dishes, Baguette specializes in crispy bread-based foot-long sandwiches. Most options are Vietnamese, but they also do teriyaki along with several French- and Italian-inspired options. There's always a line, and the experience feels more like fast-paced New York than laid-back Boise.
If you're looking for a sit-down experience with full service, Pho 208 & Vegan has the most varied Vietnamese menu in Boise. Like Baguette, they have an array of drink options. But they also have several vegan items, which is not something Vietnamese food is known for. For a more contemporary urban vibe, check out Pho Le.
Das Alpenhaus Delikatessen
Deli counter at Das Alpenhaus — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Das Alpenhaus brings the flavors of the Alps to southwestern Idaho. This German deli, which opened in 2016, is co-owner Jamie's nod to his time in Thüringen, as well as his experience growing up in a German family. Like most "only one of its kind" eateries in Boise, Alpenhaus is a small import grocery store with a food counter and small seating area.
You can build your own sandwich from scratch or order from the menu, which is on display above the counter along with the daily specials. On weekends, you can expect a festive atmosphere, especially during the summer, when patrons can sit outside and play drinking games to the sounds of volksmusik (German folk music).
The drinks are as much a part of the Alpenhaus experience as the food. They have a wine and beer garden in the back of the store with hundreds of different options. The menu changes every month.
Here's why you need to discover the beauty of Boise
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Food Land Market
Arabic-style shawarma at Food Land Market — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Food Land is one of Boise's woman- and refugee-owned eateries. The owner, Hana, is a Baghdad native who taught history before fleeing with her family to Jordan and eventually settling in Boise. After six years in the freight transport business with two of her brothers, she opened her dream store at the intersection of Emerald and Orchard. Food Land is modeled after the market that her parents owned during her childhood in Iraq.
It's best to experience Food Land in three phases. First, walk through the grocery store section (which takes up most of the space) to the food counter in the back. As soon as you enter, you'll notice the smell of Turkish coffee. By the time you reach the food counter, the coffee smell will give way to the scent of fresh bread, which is baked on-site daily by Hana's son.
The food menu is displayed above the counter, and their Arabic-style shawarma is the most popular item. Thin bread from their clay oven is filled with pickles, onions, french fries and a gyro-style lamb/beef mix. It's then cut into seven pieces and topped off with sumac and chopped parsley. It's best eaten with their garlic sauce, which comes on the side.
Take your shawarma to the seating area in the front and order coffee or tea from Hana, who prepares all of the drinks. After your meal, be sure to spend some time browsing the five aisles for imported Middle Eastern groceries. They're open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. All meat is halal.
Lamb stew and croquetas from Bar Gernika in Boise's Basque Block — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Boise has the highest concentration of Basque people in North America. Downtown, there's even a Basque Block, with a museum, a small grocery store and a few dining options. Bar Gernika serves Basque tapas, sandwiches and stews out of a small corner pub. They also have an extensive beer selection. In the summer, Gernika has outdoor dining, where you can enjoy people-watching in one of Boise's busiest pedestrian areas.
To top off your Boise Basque culinary experience, head across the street to The Basque Market. They sell chorizos, cheeses, Iberico hams and hundreds of wines, as well as more quirky items like foie gras potato chips. You can grab lunch here five days a week. The Basque Market has tapas/pintxos three for $5, as well as a small food and wine menu.
Kibrom's Ethiopian & Eritrean Food
Veggie & meat mesob gebeta from Kibrom's — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
This casual dining spot has its roots in Ethiopia's Shimelba refugee camp. Like many of Boise's refugee-owned restaurants, Kibrom's started at the now-defunct International Market. The vibe is super casual, and everything from the East African music videos on the TV screen to the artwork that line the walls lets you know exactly what type of cuisine you are there to enjoy. While beyaynetu combo plates over injera bread are the stars of the menu, you should also leave room for samosas and their East African take on spaghetti. A good portion of the menu is vegan and vegetarian-friendly.
Even if you've never had Ethiopian food, you should not feel intimidated here. There's a glossary at the bottom of the menu, which explains everything. Spicier dishes are clearly marked, and gluten-free injera is available on request. Although they provide silverware, Ethiopian food is eaten with your hands.
Enjoy Korean BBQ in a cup at Cupbop — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Of the handful of Korean options in Boise, Cupbop is the most unique. Their "Korean BBQ in a cup" concept (also known as "bops") offers a fun and affordable way to enjoy fried chicken, BBQ beef or pot stickers. The bops are all under $12 and have a combination of rice, noodles, cabbage mix and your choice of protein. There are a couple of vegetarian options as well. You can set the spice level from 1 to 10.
Sunshine Spice Bakery & Café
Sisters opened and run Sunshine Spice Bakery & Cafe — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
This popular breakfast and lunch spot is Boise's first Afghan bakery. It was started in December 2019 by four sisters who moved to the United States to get the education denied to them by the Taliban. They combined their love for baking, food photography, jewelry design and visual arts to give patrons a delicious and aesthetically pleasing experience. You can see each sisters' talents on full display throughout Sunshine Spice.
The name "sunshine spice" is a nod to Afghan saffron, which is omnipresent in most of the food and drinks served in the café. All four of the Shams sisters insist that Afghanistan produces the world's finest saffron. Try the saffron pudding if you need some convincing.
Sunshine also has Afghan dumplings, which are different from those of neighboring Uzbekistan. Their version are just a tad bigger than bite-sized, and they're filled with minced beef and onion. As presentation is a key part of the Sunshine Spice experience, they are topped with chopped cilantro over dueling layers of orange tomato sauce and their white sauce, which is a mix of sour cream and garlic.