September 26, 2007
Best Pastry Case
"Pick me!" screamed the chocolate eclair. "No, it is me you want to devour," said the carrot cake. "You know you want me," chided the lemon bar. "You always do." "Shut up," said the calm and collected Co-op shopper to the pastry receptacle. Don't despair, just have a truffle. The treasure trove of delicacies is placed to expertly match up with the espresso bar, ensuring that sweets even out the shakes from caffeine overload. Inquire deep within and pull something sweet out of the best selection of sugary confections that exist (mostly harmoniously) together in one place.
888 W. Fort St., 208-472-4500
Craving to chew on ice and being pregnant go hand-in-hand, or so we are told. And if a (very) pregnant lady tells you that Fanci Freez has the best ice in town for when the craving hits, don't argue. Perfect texture, not to cube-y and not too fine. Kind of melty but not watery. Sounds like an ice connoisseur's dream come true.
1402 W. State St., 208-344-8661
Best New Dining Team Whose Names Together Sound Like a Singing Puppet Kids' Show But We Say "We Don't Even Care" Because The Duo Is Doing Such Delicious Things by Supporting Local Food Producers and Delivering It To The Plates Of Boise Diners
Krick and Bopp
First, the recent pairing of Dave Krick (Red Feather, Reef, Bittercreek and Front Door) and Andrae Bopp (Andrae's) as Flavor, Inc. is one kick-ass culinary duo akin to matching up a succulent filet mignon with a deep glass of Barolo. Second, these guys are the undeniable champions of putting local on the menu. Idaho-grown meat, dairy, herbs and produce feature heavily on Krick/Bopp menus, which means a meal in one of their five restaurants supports local restaurateurs, local producers and local bellies.
Best Car Seat in Town
Donnie Mac's Trailer Park Cuisine
You know you've reached an adult point in your life when you're eating in the back seat of a car rather than making out with your brace-faced crush on a Saturday night. We are definitely at the point in our lives when we'd rather be eating in the back seat of a car—especially if the experience entails the mystery fry sauce at Donnie Mac's followed up by the frozen custard. Few tables in town stand out in their own restaurants—much less overall throughout town (table 13 in the former Manhattan Grill's turret and The MilkyWay's blue booth make the short list)—but Donnie Mac's may just be the most creative, kitschy and kid-friendly table in town.
1515 W. Grove St., 208-338-7813
Best Finger Steaks
This Chinden Boulevard hangout is always packed at lunchtime. And for good reason. The menu is simple, it has lots of heart-stopping menu items, and you won't ever leave unsatisfied. Case in point: the notorious finger steaks that will get your motor running and keep you going until quitting time. Nothing here is done quickly, nor is it done with any fancy flair. Maybe that's why so many people make a habit of these bite-size nuggets of fried steak. Or maybe, just maybe, it's because they're so damn good.
12249 W. Chinden Blvd., 208-375-1310
Best place to get a French combo meal
Le Cafe de Paris
We used to search for delicious brunch. Now we head straight to Le Cafe de Paris, where we can sit back with a cup of coffee, the BW and choose from a number of delectable dishes we can hardly pronounce: crepe aux fruits; crepe jambon, oeuf, fromage; tourte au poulet; tartiflette and so many more. Maybe we can't pronounce all names, but we know they're good. You're not supposed to talk with your mouth full, anyway.
204 N. Capitol Blvd., 208-336-0889
Best Age Tofu
Zutto Japanese Restaurant
Just call us Goldilocks and Zutto Baby Bear. When we're on the make for some age tofu, some places serve it in chunks with too much girth for our dainty masticators. And then there are the places where it's just not cooked right, or where the sauce is too salty. But not at Zutto. The age sushi is not too big and not too small, not too crunchy, but not too soft; the sauce is not too salty but not too sweet. Everything about it is just right.
615 W. Main St., 208-388-8873
Best Stereotype Affirmation
Gas Station Sushi
Oh, what a bright idea we had: Let's try store-bought sushi from all over town, and do a review of all the different sushi options in local refrigerated cases. Because of a damning determination to be thorough, this meant we were going to have to sample sushi from a gas station. Yep, a gas station. Just like you might not have expected much from Britney Spears at the MTV Music Awards this year, you might also expect that sushi purchased from the same guy who sells motor oil and those tree-shaped car fresheners is not going to be high class. And you'd be right. Brother, would you ever be right. In fact, brother, if you really cared about us, you might have warned us that gas station sushi is not for the faint of heart. Come to think of it, our hearts were just a little bit fainter after trying—and failing—to ingest gas station sushi. We failed because nobody managed to get past the first bite.
Best Lacy, Buttery, Fried Pastry
The Cinnamon Twig at Zeppole
We find that a well-timed sweet can go a long way in avoiding a meltdown in the BW editorial pit. We've recently discovered Zeppole's cinnamon twig sates our cravings and (sometimes) staves off the crazies. We want to mention the name's a bit of a misnomer. They are cinnamony, but they're no twigs. They're as big as a small loaf of bread. It nearly puts us into a sucrose coma, but the taste of the crunchy, buttery outside combined with the soft, chewy inside makes this sugary treat irresistible.
Best Banana Split
Choose your own flavor adventure or go with the traditional chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. It doesn't matter because the toppings are all the same: bananas, pineapple sauce, strawberry sauce, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, nuts, cherries and the keys to a new BMW. OK, we made that last part up.
1502 N. 13th St., 208-367-0020
Best Candy Company
Idaho Candy Company
Three words: Owyhee Idaho Spud. Started by T.O. Smith in 1901 out of his garage, Idaho Candy Company is the oldest independent candy manufacturer in the state. It's also the oldest business still in its original location in the 1909 factory on Eighth Street.
Best Wild Boar
Do yourself a favor and don't Google the term "wild boar" before you show up at Gino's Grill to order it. What you'll find are pictures of an animal that looks like a cross between the lovable Babe (although much darker, more ominous) and a woolly mammoth. Gino's version is much more pleasant to look at. Smoked in its own special braising sauce and served with gnocchi, we discovered this hunk of hog at dinner after last year's Best of Boise party, and we've been waiting to write about it all year. The shank hits the table bone-in, and it's an intimidating piece of flesh weighing in between 10 and 12 ounces.
150 N. 8th St., 208-331-0475
Best Dinner with a Variety of Tastes
Mazzah's platters are overwhelming. The plates are loaded with so much food—an entree with rice and two sides—for so little cash. Our favorites are the fattoush salad, the mujadarrah and the super yummy lentil soup.
1772 W. State St., 208-333-2566
Best We Can't Decide What's Best
Willowcreek Grill is a good place to be both inside the restaurant or outside on the shaded patio. Some of the servers have been with the place since its inception and for many good reasons. Skilled with witty banter and unparalleled on the delivery, the service is snappy and fantastic. Meet with friends at a four-top, saddle up to the bar with co-workers after a long day, or snuggle with a loved one in a back booth. Home redecorators can get a few tips from the swanky lavatories all tiled up in calming earth tones. Adding to the "we-can't-decide-what's-best" factor is the fact that they plan to slap a sushi joint right alongside the main restaurant. Northwest fare and Asian cuisine will come from the same great kitchen. (Coming in October: Raw Sushi.)
2273 S. Vista Ave., 208-343-5544
Best Grilled Cheese Appetizer
Panzanella at Red Feather
We're not talking sandwiches here. We're talking cheese that's been grilled. Yeah, just put that in your sautee pan and think about it for a minute. Red Feather Lounge's Panzanella appetizer could also double as "Best Squeaky Cheese App." Red Feather takes Cypriot halloumi cheese from Gooding's Ballard Family Dairy and Cheese and stacks it on crostini with tomatoes, kalamata olives and new basil. The thing is, halloumi cheese's melting point is so high, that a skilled chef can throw a slice on the grill, heat it up and add a nice smoky charred flavor to the subtle cheese. Pair it with some heirlooms, fresh herbs and the pungent flavor of kalamatas, and what you have is Boise's best grilled-cheese app.
246 N. 8th St., 208-343-3119
Best Massaman Curry
Pat's Thai Kitchen
Staffer Rachael Daigle spent many months buried in the bottom of a bowl of massaman curry in the jungles outside Chiang Mai, Thailand. In order to get back to BW from the depths of Southeast Asia, she had to eat until every last peanut, potato and slice of meat was safely in her belly. Now back in the saddle in B-town, her body has grown so dependent on regular injections of "Muslim curry" that she's regularly in danger of going into detox—a nasty state that often results in foaming at the mouth and lapses into Thai jibberish. She's tested the massaman waters of each and every Thai house in town, searching for the most delicious cure to her addiction. Pat's is where it is.
577 E. Park Blvd., 208-345-0026
Best "Just Because We Love it So Much" Indian Food
Madhuban Indian Cuisine
Back when Boise was a lesser city on the gastronomic scale than it currently is (while we're slow in becoming more diverse, it was worse, we assure you), Madhuban was about the only choice when it came to Indian cuisine. Now, even with a handful of competitors, Madhuban still manages to tug on the stomach strings of BW's loyalty when we have the time to exit our downtown bat cave and make the trip down to State Street and Gary Lane. And we really don't have a good reason for it, other than to say that it's just the schiznit. Super fabulous naan, tasty mango lassies, delish veggie options and more spice than we're cool enough for (most of us are only good for a level two of five). Oops, excuse us while we wipe the drool from the keyboard.
6930 W. State St., 208-853-8215
Best Bull's Eye
Happy Fish Sushi and Martini Bar
Bust it down to its underwear (or innerwear might be more appropriate), and you have a spicy tuna roll. Check out the $13.50 price tag, and you just might gag on your maki—except that the Bull's Eye is bull-sized, being futo-style and all (that's fat with an "f"). Before that sucker is cut, it's like the anaconda of maki compared to the wimpy spicy tunas at other sushi houses. Plus, there's the fried goodness that gives it a little extra crunch. Here's how it's done: spicy tuna wrapped in nori then tempura fried then wrapped again in nori with avocado and daikon. Wanna impress your date? Get a whole slice in your mouth.
855 Broad St., 208-343-4810
Best Chefs to Re-Team Up For the Greater Good of Boise's Restaurant Scene
Chefs Richard Langston and Steve Rhodes
It's not the first time these two have scrambled to the top of Boise's ever-heaving restaurant hill together. For those who've been around the foodie block for a while, you'll remember that Langston and Rhodes were the cooking forces behind Amore and the original Richard's Across the Street. And if you didn't know they were at it again at Cafe Vicino, it's high time you got your palate priorities straight, got your people together and got a reservation. The menu is Mediterranean influenced, but from all along the Med so that French, Spanish and Italian all vie for elbow room on the ever-rotating menu. Now go wine and dine.
808 W. Fort St., 208-472-1463
The Basque Market
Sometimes it takes us a little while to catch on to things, but once we do, we're like a puppy with a new chew toy. That's how we feel about the sandwiches at the Basque Market. We're quite fond of the turkey, manchego cheese and piquillo pepper aioli on fresh bread. Each sandwich comes with a side, which might be Basque potato salad, lamb stew or marinated green olives, depending on what's available that day. The sandwiches have become so regular on our lunch menus, Tony and Tara always say, "Hello, Boise Weekly" when we call in an order. Now, that's service (or just caller ID).
608 W. Grove St., 208-433-1208
Best Place to be Pleasantly Surprised
Bad Boy Burgers on Vista
In the world of burger joints, bad is bad, and good is delicious if not so nutritious. When going for the fried, Bad Boy is a sure thing. The menu consists of many different comforts with nothing above the $6 range. The voice on the other end of the drive-thru speaker rarely fails to ask if you want sauce with this or that. For the finicky, ingesting vegetables becomes a bit easier to swallow because they are breaded, fried and come with a side of ranch sauce. The gyro is the thing Greek culinary myths are made of, wrapped in thick, soft pita with nicely sliced and seasoned meat, cucumber garlic sauce, tomatoes, onions and lettuce. It's a great alternative to the trusty standard burgers for taste and price. Yum.
815 S. Vista Ave., 208-331-1580
Best $82 Sandwich
Eagle Rib Shack
Von Esson hotels in the United Kingdom currently sell the world's most expensive sandwich—their platinum club sandwich weighing in at more than a pound with a price tag of about $200. Eagle Rib Shack's monster price tag (their most expensive sandwich, for the record, is $117.30) heaps on 6 pounds of meat and feeds a small clan of carnivores (around 16 people).
The personal sizes are much more affordable, requiring between $8 and $12, and come with sides. Get your 6-pound sandwich in pulled pork, sliced pork, ham, beef brisket, tri-tip roast, burnt ends, beef ends, pork ends, turkey breast or shredded chicken. (P.S. their ribs rock, too.)
360 E. State St., Eagle, 208-938-5460
Best Comfort Food Fix
The half 'n' half at Brick Oven Bistro
Every time we go to Brick Oven Bistro, we stare up at all the delicious things on the menu and waver between choices. And every time we order the same thing ... half mashed potatoes and half stuffing. With corn dressing. Yum. We can't help ourselves; it's our dream come true. Two of our favorite foods side by side.
801 W. Main St. #107, 208-342-3456
Best Leisurely Lunch
Sometimes Tuesday afternoon are particularly prickly times at the BW offices, what with getting the paper to press and all (sheesh, and it just never ends, we have to do it every Tuesday, like it or not). That means that on some Wednesdays, a long, lingering lunch is just what we need to recharge the creativity batteries, and really, if we can't take a beach-side vacation, few things are more pleasant than a glass of wine, a rich cheese plate and a view of the Boise River from the shaded patio of the Cottonwood Grille. But hey, it's not all about the patio summers. A cozy fireside table and a gourmet lunch take off the chill and feed your inner foodie.
913 W. River St. #913, 208-333-9800
Best Restaurant FUBAR
Louie's vs. OSF
There are just so many places to go with this one. First, there are all the unconfirmed rumors: that the owners of Louie's once owned the Lithograph Building (where Old Spaghetti Factory now draws inexplicably large crowds for mediocre plates of pasta), then sold it to a friend who brought in OSF as a tenant. And that when Louie's closed its doors this summer, it was because the building had been purchased (possibly by OSF). Apparently, that deal has fallen through. So where does that leave what we do know for sure? That Boise is ga-ga for pasta and goes with the big guy rather than the local one. (Insert finger wagging here.)
Best Suburban Restaurant
Thanks to those crazy Klopeks in 1989's The Burbs (come on, how can you forget slightly deranged Tom Hanks discovering that his neighbors were psychopaths?), the suburbs scare some of us city dwellers. Boise's suburbs do, however, have some seriously redeeming qualities like ... lawns, green ones, lots of them and ... um, less traffic (well, that is if you're not commuting to the city for work) ... and ... well, so maybe Eagle's just damn lucky to have SixOneSix. We're giving it the honors of best suburban restaurant because you smarty-pants foodies have already declared it Best Restaurant. And we would just like to take this opportunity to thank the academy ... wait, wrong speech ... to thank you, dear readers, for having such excellent taste in restaurants.
1065 E. Winding Creek Dr., Eagle, 208-938-3010
Fusion Asian Grill
Never have three little letters given us English speakers such trouble in ordering. Sure, it looks like "fo" (as in "fo sho"). But you'll also hear it pronounced "fuh." In fact, there are entire message boards devoted to the linguistic breakdown of pho. Whaddeva. Just eat it, that's what we say. And if you want the goods, get to Fusion Asian Grill. Served all proper Vietnamese-like—a giant steaming bowl of delicate broth swimming with rice noodles, meat (your preference), cilantro and onions with a side plate heaping with garnishes of sprouts, lime and herbs—Fusion Asian's pho would exist in at least the fourth circle of heaven had Dante classified the celestial in the same manner as he dissected the underworld.
3161 E. Fairview Ave., 208-855-5930
Best $2 Treat
Empanadas at Tango's
An empanada is a little puff of heaven stuffed with meat, veggies, cheese or a little dulce de leche. One BW staffer spent four months last winter lazing around Argentina, stuffing herself on Malbec and empanadas and was all too pleased to return to the BW offices to find that her co-workers had discovered Tango's, a recently opened empanada house run by Argentine transplants. Unless you've had a smattering of Spanish, you won't know how to pronounce some of what's on the menu (forget about trying to guess by what each empanada is stuffed with; you'll want to cheat and look at the menu for that). The moleh with chicken and a sweet peanut chili sauce is our news editor's favorite. The gaucho is what you'll most often see in Argentina, with ground beef, boiled egg, olives and onions. Vegetarians have plenty of options beyond the simple queso, including the Peruvian-named Cuzco with corn, tomatoes, onions and peppers. Don't stuff yourself too full on the savory stuff, however, because we absolutely require that if you pay Tango's a visit, you order at least one dessert empanada. Dulce de leche is about as Argentine as it gets when it comes to the culinary arts (other than mate, of course), and Tango's has a dessert empanada filled with the hot, creamy caramel sauce. Todos los empanadas son frito ... que rico!
701 N. Orchard Ave., 208-322-3090
Best New BoDo Addition
Chef Lou's at 8th Street
So maybe it's technically not BoDo, but who can keep all that business straight, anyway? We here at the old BW are just happy to finally have Chef Lou in our 'hood because what with all the burritos we eat from KB's (the fine burrito rollin' staff at the corner shop know what we're going to order as soon as we show up on their caller ID), we're gonna turn into burritos any day now. We digress. Once in a blue moon, we play a game of "How many staffers can we fit into one car?" and make the short trip to West Side Drive-in for fries and shakes, but now we can lick the goodness of Chef Lou's food from our fingers right here in good old downtown B-town. He's serving up all his favorites for breakfast and lunch, and soon enough, dinner will make its debut.
409 S. 8th St., 208-331-2080
Best Restaurant that Makes You Feel Like Family
There's really nothing better than being greeted at the door of a restaurant like you're a dear old friend returning after a long absence. OK, so it's a little startling at first, especially the first time you go to that restaurant. You stand there at the door wondering, "Do I know this person?" "Should I know this person?" "I must know this person." "How do I know this person?" "Oh my God, I can't believe I don't remember this person."
But once you get over your initial panic at the thought of having committed a social faux pas, you can't help but get wrapped up in the everybody's-family-here atmosphere at Meridian's only Basque restaurant, Epi's. Located in a small converted house, the dining room and kitchen take up the majority of the first floor, so seating is still cozy. Who cares? Before you know it, you're on first-name terms with your server, and possibly the chef, not to mention your fellow diners at nearby tables. And there's always the added bonus that the food is insanely good, and there's no shortage of it. Just like Mom would make if Mom made Basque food.
1115 N. Main St., Meridian, 208-884-0142
Best Diet Menu
Jim's Coffee Shop
Listen up, all you South Beach-Atkins-Weight Watchers-Jenny Craig-eternally dieting and hungry people. Jim's Coffee Shop has the diet menu to beat all diet menus. With seven days of multi-course, specially tailored meals to suit your low-carb, no-food diet needs, Jim's takes the cake and its calories. Wednesday's meal: shredded eggshell skin, one-half dozen poppy seeds, and bees' knees and mosquito knuckles sauteed in vinegar. Sunday splurge: pickled hummingbird tongue, prime ribs of tadpole, aroma of empty custard pie plate and tossed paprika and cloverleaf salad. Or you could just check out the real food menu, which has classics like PB&J, tots, egg salad and B'n'G, as well as fancy T-bone steaks and fried chicken. (Plus, Jim's opens at 7 a.m.)
812 W. Fort St. 208-343-0154
Best Old Lady Treats
Mmmmm, German apple coffee cake so heavy your arms get tired carrying it to the car. Mmmmm, Danish dripping in icing and roughly as large as your head. Mmmmm, fruit tarts, glazed donuts, shortbread cookies and Bavarian cream-filled everything. Just because they're old-fashioned doesn't mean they're not good. Damn good, in fact.
We fully admit that at least one or more BW staff members have stood drooling over the long clear display cases at Pastry Perfection, dazed looks in our eyes as we tried to comprehend the array of sugar- and butter-laden treats before us. And we also admit that we've reached sugar overload just munching on the samples of cake (the size you would be served in a restaurant) put out on the counter. There is no use resisting the pull of desserts grandma would have made. Face it, resistance truly is futile.
5855 N. Glenwood Ave., Garden City, 208-376-3700
Best Locally Made Garlic-Infused Olive Oil
Food is most definitely the way to BW's hearts. And it's a good thing, too, what with all that food writing we have to do. (Come on, we couldn't very well write about food without having a nibble ourselves, could we? We consider it quality control.) And for the sake of research, we've been test-driving a few bottles of garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil made by Tom Stevens. Do we like it? We love it. Unlike other inferior garlic olive oils, this one actually has the flavor of garlic. On sale Saturdays at the Capital City Public Market.
Best Smothered Burrito
New York Burrito
Some of the greatest food on Earth is smothered. How else can one explain the love we mortals have for country gravy? Or our need to cover everything from pizza to lettuce in ranch dressing? Sauce even covers burnt edges for the not-so-great cook. At NYB, however, the smothering isn't to cover not-so-great food. It's to satisfy your saucy desires and add a little spicy kick to your lunch.
1754 W. State St., 208-424-1950
Best Overwhelming Decor
Prior to Barbacoa's opening, Reef held the title here without much competition. The tropics, however, have been usurped by an environment that is two parts art and antique collection, one part local artist and a whole lot of gaudy. Barbacoa's mission is to more or less wage aesthetic war on each of your senses. In so far as the decor is concerned: mission accomplished with a leather ceiling, water feature and hanging shipwreck. The most striking piece of atmosphere, however, is Boise Art Glass Filip Vogelpohl's dining room ceiling centerpiece.
276 Bobwhite Ct., 208-338-5000
Best Blend of Two Favorite Food Things
The Fried Sushi Rolls at Sono Bana
We have a soft spot in our hearts for fried foods. We also love—as is apparent by the number of sushi restaurants in our land-locked valley—sushi. It used to be, there was a time when we had to choose between the two. At Sono Bana, we no longer have to. They offer a selection of fried sushi rolls. Now, we know what you're saying. "Fried sushi? Isn't that just wrong?" No, no it's not. It's so very right. Sono Bana takes already delicious rolls, dips them in tempura batter and fries them to a gorgeous, golden-brown. The flavor profiles are perfect and the texture is a mouth-watering combo of soft, chewy and crispy.
303 N. Orchard St., 208-323-8822
Best Seinfeld Deli Case
In the world of Seinfeld, the black and white cookie teaches racial harmony, and the sale of only the muffin top (minus its constrained stump), is a million-dollar idea. Tully's in Boise sells both of the infamous pastries. Watch out for the soup nazi come winter.
794 Broad St., 208-343-2953
The Original Pancake House
The name really says it all here. Original, as in first, as in had it right in the first place.
For those who don't know what a pancake is, according to the Original Pancake House Web site, pancakes "are the very old beginnings of bread and pastry. Generally, a pancake is any kind of batter, fried or baked in a skillet, on a griddle, or on any hot surface. The peoples of all nationalities have made pancakes from time immemorial."
We sound a little like Forest Gump's friend Bubba when we expound on the glories of the pancake: buttermilk pancakes, buckwheat pancakes, potato pancakes, sourdough pancakes, Swedish pancakes, blueberry pancakes, bacon (that's right, bacon) pancakes, banana pancakes, Hawaiian pancakes, Georgia pecan pancakes, coconut pancakes, apple pancakes, Dutch Baby pancakes (aka German pancakes) ... Mmmmm.
177 E. Eagle River St., Eagle, 208-938-5530