Ono Hawaiian Cafe
Kalua pig. Haupia. SPAM musubi. Mac salad. Rice. Mahi mahi. Kalbi chicken. Pu pu's. Bruddah Iz on the music. But it's not just Hawaiian food that Ono does well. The poke menu bests any version you'll find in an area sushi restaurant, and the coconut lobster rolls are the best thing to happen to seafood since butter. Fridays, they do it island style with pau hana and hula dancing. Sundays, you can gorge yourself on a tropical-themed brunch. And if you're lucky, a friendly Ono rep will stop by your office with a basket of lunch goodies for sale. 2170 Broadway Ave., 208-429-6800.
BEST PLACE TO GET A KIDDIE CONE DESPITE INFLATION
Even though Hawkin's Pac-Out, a North End landmark, raised its ice cream prices this past summer, it's still the best place in town to get a kiddie cone for under a buck. It's got sprinkles. It's just chocolate or vanilla. And as long as you've got a kid on board, they don't ask who the ice cream is really for. Not that we'd abuse that loophole. 2315 N. Bogus Basin Rd., 208-338-9627.
BEST DIPPING SAUCE
Year after year, a couple of BW employees throw down fightin' words over who will win in this category. Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant in Nampa pours an ass-kicking herbed concoction that one editorial staffer goes gaga for. And then, of course, Gino's Ristorante makes (and recently started bottling, we might add) a garlic and crushed red chili pepper infused olive oil dipping sauce. We sampled both this year, with this annual award in mind during each taste-testing quest. It was a close call, truly, but in the end, the dipping sauce that warranted a pleasant tug on the server's sleeve for a second helping was at Gino's. Now that this year's award has been doled out ... let the games begin again. 150 N. Eighth St. Suite #217, 208-331-3771.
BEST DROOL ON THE PASTRY CASE
La Vie En Rose and Pamela's Bakery
It's a tie. We don't often refrain from a solid commitment, especially when it comes to good-looking sweet things, but sometimes a sweet tooth just can't decide. And can you blame it? In Boise, this year's best looking pastry case goes to La Vie En Rose for its elegant European puffs and fluffs. But in Eagle, Pamela's takes the cake. Ha, we just made a funny. 928 W. Main St., 208-331-4045, lavieenrosebakery.com; 360 S. Eagle Rd., Eagle, 208-938-6585, pamelasbakery.com.
BEST PLACE FOR GRILLED CHEESE, CROQUETTAS, LAMB GRINDERS (IN BOTH A SPICY AND WUSSY VERSION), CHEESE PLATE, PAELLA, GRILLED TUNA SANDWICH, GARLIC VINAIGRETTE SALAD DRESSING AND A SHOT OF ESPRESSO WITH JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF FOAM
Sometimes, there's nothing left to say. 202 S. Capitol Blvd., 208-344-2175.
BEST MINI MEAT
Sliders at Pair
If you don't know about the four-bite burgers at Pair, you don't know jack (which, for the record, is pepper jack cheese, green chilis, tomato and horseradish mayo). The corner bar and restaurant at Sixth and Main streets in downtown evokes the spirit of joints many consider de rigeur in much larger cities, and mini burgers are hardly the haute cuisine one would expect to find at such a place. But it works. For the petite of mouth, the sliders amount to about six bites and for the big-mouthed among us, more like two. Get more than a dozen varieties with beef, chicken or veggie patties, topped with everything from cheese and bacon to a fried egg and onion rings. The Plain Jane starts at $2.50 while most of the sliders top out at a paltry $3.50. 601 W. Main St., 208-343-7034, eatdrinkshare.com.
BEST NON-REUBEN REUBEN
Brick Oven Bistro
The Brick Oven Bistro has been an important part of Boise's dining scene since its days housed on the corner of Fifth and Main streets. The Americana fare is always consistent: consistently good with consistent prices even in the light of the soaring cost of everything. One of the best sandwiches on the menu is Brick Oven's version of a Reuben. Served on warm bread of your choice (because not everyone likes rye), the Reuben Hamwich offers thick slabs of slow-roasted ham under a healthy heap of sauerkraut. Add a side of their daily soup—complete with a dollop of chunky mashed potatoes right in the middle—and you've got a homecooked meal without any of the cleanup. 801 Main St., Suite #107, 208-342-3456, brickovenbistro.com.
BEST PIZZA FLAVOR
The Athenian at Lulu's Fine Pizza
Our hearts will always love Guido's for their slices. But we must say Lulu's is giving them a run for their money with the Athenian. We didn't even know that we liked feta cheese until we tried this piece of pizza heaven. Sauteed spinach and garlic, sauteed portobello and button mushrooms, light on the mozzarella, feta cheese, fresca tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil. We want a slice right now. 2594 N. Bogus Basin Rd., 208-387-4992, ilovelulus.com.
BEST SOY LATTE
Flying M Coffeehouse
OK, we know all the drinks at Flying M are top-notch, but seriously, something magical happens when their bold and nutty espresso blends with creamy, slightly sweet soymilk, and the whole thing is dumped over a cup of refreshing ice. It was enough to bring our soymilk-hating A&E editor over to the light. 500 W. Idaho St., 208-345-4320, myspace.com/flyingm.
BEST $4 LUNCH AND DESSERT
Consider Tango's the food version of Two Buck Chuck. Cheap and consistently yet mysteriously mmm, mmm good. Want to know how a business can make ends meet selling nothing but $2 empanadas? By being damn good at what they do. For a total of $4, you'll cover all three food groups: meat, chocolate and fried food. 701 N. Orchard St., 208-322-3090.
BEST THANKSGIVING MEAL ON A BUN
Pot Belly Deli
For the poor Ada County workers stuck way out on Front Street, there are precious few lunch choices. Luckily, the little Pot Belly Deli considers every day Turkey Day with its phat turkey cranberry sandwich. The first time we had one, it was loaded with a good inch and a half of stuffing. Yes, stuffing. Cranberry sauce. Turkey. Bread. Second time it was a bit thinner, but we still gave thanks. 216 Front St., 208-336-2030.
BEST MAKE YOU SWEAT
Chiang Mai Thai Restaurant
Chiang Mai Thai—named after Thailand's northern culinary mecca—threw the old "location, location, location" business rule of thumb right out the window. Up on Emerald in not just any strip mall, but one of the city's least attractive, Chiang Mai Thai does it like they do in the Southeast Asian country: spicy. The entire menu is a giant fireball waiting to latch onto your tastebuds, so take a handkerchief and a healthy thirst for Singha beer because there's no such thing as "mild" here. From the tom yum goong, right down to the curry and the noodles, nothing is safe. 4898 Emerald St., 208-342-4051, chiangmaithairestaurant.com.
BEST FOOD WE'RE EMBARRASSED TO ORDER
El Cheapo at Pollo Rey
The BW staff loves the food at Pollo Rey, but our egos come out a little bruised whenever we order one of our favorite items: El Cheapo. This basic bean and cheese burrito is heftier than it sounds, and it's more than enough to satiate a starving reporter, but there's just something about standing at the counter and announcing that you're ordering the cheapest thing on the menu. Add the word, "small" in front of "El Cheapo," and it's a humbling experience. 222 N. Eighth St., 208-345-0323 and 7709 W. Overland Rd., Suite #120, 208-375-4642.
BEST NOT-QUITE-SO-GUILTY TREAT
Chocolate Covered Banana Chips
Looming deadlines and endless hours in front of a computer can cause even the most health-conscious writer to lose sight of his or her usually high food and exercise standards. Daily intake includes at-our-desk dining and physical activity consists of little more than running back and forth to the copier. So when we find a foodstuff that gives us a little energy and is even slightly good for us, we're all over it like eyeliner on Pete Wentz. WinCo sells chocolate covered banana chips in bulk, and a pound of those addictive little bad boys has helped us through more than one long day. Helpful tip: chill 'em in the fridge for an hour before eating.
BEST BREAKFAST WITH FRIENDS
When it comes to finding something to do with out-of-town friends or in-town friends who lead lives as busy as your own, it's tough to find an activity that meets everyone's schedules. Movies don't allow for conversation; preparing dinner is a lot of work and may leave the chef too drained to enjoy the company; dining out can be an expensive proposition (and lately one without as many choices in downtown Boise); drinks and dancing are great fun but only if you have nothing to do the next morning that can't be done with a hangover. One option for entertaining friends is meeting for breakfast, and one great place to meet is Poulet Rouge. They have an amazing selection of early-morning eats: fluffy omelets stuffed with fresh ingredients, potatoes which we have on good authority are some of the best in town, a myriad of meats and a cinnamon roll french toast dish that's to die for. They never seem to be in a hurry to push patrons out the door after a meal, so it's the perfect place to linger over a couple of mimosas, too. 106 N. Sixth St., 208-388-1100.
BEST AGE TOFU
Zutto's Japanese Restaurant
We've said it before and we'll say it again: Zutto's has the best age tofu. Actually, to be totally honest, we think lots of things about Zutto's are the best, but the one thing we dream about and wish we could eat daily is their age tofu. Little squares of crispy goodness in what can only be described as the best sauce ever (long pause). Sorry, we had to wipe off the drool. 615 W. Main St., 208-388-8873.
Zeppole Baking Company
You think your buns are the best? We think Zeppole's challah rolls make the best buns. See for yourself. Invite your friends over for a burger party. Then get your buns down to Zeppole's. They have two convenient locations, pick one closest to you. Step up to the counter and declare your need for the challah rolls. But be warned that if you go too late in the day, they might be out. The demand for these buns is high. Then take all your buns back home and wow your burger party guests with the best buns they have ever had. Golden, bready, fluffy goodness. They are almost too pretty to eat. But eat you must because once you go challah, you never go back. 217 N. Eighth St., 208-345-2149 and 983 E. Parkcenter Blvd., 208-338-1499.
BEST FOOD DIVORCE
The MilkyWay & BW
First, we proposed to it. Then we married it. We planned to renew our vows this year in a romantic beachside ceremony, but before we could once again publicly display our affection and undying love for The MilkyWay's chocolate bread pudding, she high-tailed it out of town and left us high and dry, a dozen roses in our clasped palms. And so it is for one last time, we fondly remember the good times, covered in whipped cream, every bit of chocolate sucked into our mouths, tongues convulsing after ... whoa, hey, let's keep these things G-rated.
BEST POLLO POBLANO
The "no can openers, no freezers rule" works for this Mission-style taqueria. Burritos as big as your head are great, but what Mesa Taqueria does really well is its thick, chicken and roasted poblano pepper stew. With just a touch of heat on the finish, it's one steamy entree for which you'll gladly endure a good summer sweat. 215 N. Eighth St., 208-336-0987, mesataqueria.com.
BoEx (Bosnian Express)
It's a nightclub/neighborhood bar/grocery store/lunch spot, and it has a hip European name to boot. The BoEx—short for Bosnian Express—is full of surprises, chief of which is the large gyro sandwich prepared in a little corner near the front door that feels like a street stand, only without any of the grime or heat of the street. Sit in the mirrored bar, listen to some Bosnian pop music and dig in. 4846 Emerald St., 208-433-9955.
BEST "WHOA, ALL OF THIS FOR $6.99!"
Their lunch special includes nine pieces of sushi, an inari pocket, miso soup and a cabbage salad topped with roasted pumpkin seeds. We're too full to say more. 280 N. Eighth St., Suite #104, 208-385-0123, superbsushidowntown.com.
BEST BUCKET OF SEAFOOD STEW
There are countless ways to annoy your newsroom co-workers—eating Corn Nuts while they're doing a phone interview, is a prime example. Or letting your AC/DC ringtone blare while you're away from your desk also works. But really, nothing beats the wafting smell of a steaming tub of seafood stew from Leku Ona. The chunks of cod, shrimp, mussels and rich tomato broth blend to form a pungent ocean breeze that mists into the nostrils of all around you. And it smells even better after a couple of weeks in the office fridge. 117 S. Sixth St., 208-345-6665, iparagon.com.
BEST RESTAURANT IN CITY HALL
Sit at Bridge Cafe long enough and one thing is clear: The owners know the name of almost every customer who walks in the door. Tucked into the backside of City Hall (really, that's a lot less intrusive than it sounds), Bridge Cafe is like a home kitchen away from home. A simple sandwich, a cup of coffee, a granola bar, a cup of soup or the day's hot special ... it's like going home for lunch and having someone cook and clean up for you. 123 N. Sixth St., 208-345-5526.
BEST PICNIC SUPPLIES
We here at BW really heart the Basque Market. Granted, it's only a stone's throw from our office, but we'd probably walk five miles in the snow with no shoes on to get our hand on some of their delicious fare. Sandwiches come with a choice of sides like orzo pasta salad or marinated olives, and their homemade vinaigrette dressings are drinkable. The wine selection is nothing short of outstanding with a bottle to fit every budget. We won't even get into the prepared take-home dinners with offerings like croquettas, meat and cheese platters and Basque meatballs because we'll get too hungry. The best part of the experience is that the Basque Market has basically everything you need right on site to put together a gourmet picnic. The difficult part is making it to a picnic site without nibbling on all that delicious food. 608 W. Grove St., 208-0433-1208, thebasquemarket.com.
BEST ORDERING FRIES BY THE POUND
You know you're in trouble when a joint sells fries by the pound. When "small, medium and large" just don't quite convey what it is you're getting yourself into, it's a sign that what you're about to order and consume is something spectacular enough to be sold in bulk. At Hugo's, the hand-cut, battered fries are indeed sold by the pound. They're not wimpy little skinny fries treated with preservatives and fried to order. Oh, no. These spuds each punch in at heavyweight status waiting for some unknowing sucker to be foolish enough to order a full pound. Our advice? Get a half pound and be sure to get a side of spicy ketchup. 2789 Broadway Ave., 208-385-9943.
BEST BREAKFAST BURRITO YOU HAVE TO CARRY IN A BABY STROLLER
Holy crap. This breakfast burrito needs a birth certificate and a name. Might we suggest Maria Eggsina Largetortilla? Or Alberto Saveit Fordinna? Either way, this little fatty requires both hands to pick up. But remember, never shake a burrito. 5220 W. Fairview Ave., 208-658-1185 and 6906 W. State St., 208-853-1494.
BEST WAITSTAFF UNIFORM
The Stagecoach has been a venerable Treasure Valley institution since the 1950s. The slot machines are gone and the lounge is no longer smoke-filled, but there is still one solid reminder of the past to go along with the dark wood paneling and deep booths—the waitresses' uniforms. The black, polyester mini dresses with sleeves and hems lined in white fringe are a throwback to bygone days when Garden City was a home to Boise's vices. While the look is now called "retro," don't for a moment think the waitresses at the Coach don't have enough attitude to own the outfits. This staff doesn't saunter anywhere, they know their stuff and are quick with the comebacks to any cheesy line a customer can throw at them. Should there be some waitress hall of fame, these ladies are shoe-ins, outfits and all. 3132 W. Chinden Blvd., Garden City, 208-342-4161.
BEST WE'D EAT BREAKFAST FOR DINNER IF IT WAS OPEN
Hi, this is your hangover. I know we don't really talk anymore, but I just wanted to say thank you. No, not for that moonshine well liquor you drank 'til the bars closed. And definitely not for those ridiculous pelvic thrusts you did to "Beast of Burden" at the after-party. Seriously, you're too old for that crap. But, no, thanks for that greasy omelet and curly fries this afternoon at Capri. It was exactly what I needed. Now I'm going to stop with all this sentimental nonsense and take a nap. I suggest you do the same. 2520 W. Fairview Ave., 208-342-1442.
BEST SURPRISE ON WHEELS
Boise Weekly editorial staff is willing to do many things in the name of research. We have to admit we had no complaints about putting in a few extra hours when the assignment was testing the food at some of Boise's mobile eateries. But when our A&E editor and our editor stopped at Native Taters, a trailer in a parking lot, they were initially apprehensive. Though the editor has eaten unpronounceable (often unidentifiable) foods on several continents and the A&E editor has a VIP card at McDonald's, purchasing food from a place housed on the asphalt outside a smoke shop was a daring move for both of them. But one spoonful of the homemade baked potato soup—topped with sour cream, bacon, cheese and green onions—followed up by a chewy, melty bite of the beef Ortega sandwich and their fears were immediately assuaged. It's the kind of place that once people get past their own incredulity ("A trailer in the parking lot of a Tobacco Connection? Seriously?"), they're forever grateful for the recommendation. Corner of Protest Road and Boise Avenue.
BEST FROZEN CUSTARD
donnie mac's Trailer Park Cuisine
The donnie mac's Web site claims the only thing on their menu that is consistently the same is the gourmet ice cream, aka frozen custard. Everything else varies in kind and nature, which results in a mix-and-match of culinary surprises. To describe the delicious consistency of the vanilla-flavored frozen custard using words such as thick and rich just wasn't cutting it, so we coined our own term "floofy" to sum it up. The custard only comes in one flavor, vanilla, and tastes a lot like the old-fashioned, homemade ice cream produced with a hand crank but with lots and lots of butter fat and egg yolk added for good measure. The rapid freezing process makes for tiny ice crystals and less air, resulting in more flavor. All scientific descriptions aside, there's a good reason frozen custard has been a dessert option since the early 1900s, and it can be summed up in one word: Yum, or rather, floofy. 1515 W. Grove St., 208-338-7813, donniemacgrub.com.
BEST WE LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS PLACE
Madhuban Indian Cuisine
Oh Madhuban, let us count the ways we love you so. 1. Mango lassis—it's like drinking your dessert. 2. Taj Mahal Beer. 3. Vegetarian samosas that make us drool. 4. Naan bread, little pieces of bread heaven. 5. Palak paneer—spinach and cheese goodness. 6. Chicken tikka masala—doesn't the name just sound amazing? 7. Lunch buffet—can't decide, so there is a little bit of everything on the line. This is ridiculous; we don't have room to count that high. 6930 W. State St., 208-853-8215, madhubanindiancuisine.com.
BEST HIPPIE BREAKFAST
Tully's Fruit and Granola
Because it's within walking distance of Boise Weekly world headquarters, the Tully's in BoDo gets plenty of our patronage. What's nice about having it so close is that we not only get to feed our caffeine jones there, but they've got a terrific selection of edibles including a yogurt and granola cup that's beyond the typical fare. The granola includes tropical coconut shavings and big meaty chunks of pecans. The whole thing is less than two bucks, plenty filling and way more guilt-free than a greasy drive-thru breakfast sandwich. 794 Broad St., 208-343-2953, tullys.com.
BEST GENERAL TSO'S TOFU
We think Oriental Express corners the market on General Tso's tofu. In fact, we think—though we could be wrong—that they might be the only place that has General Tso's tofu on the menu in town. And if they aren't? Everywhere else pretending to make this dish should quit because Oriental Express makes the best. One of us used to eat it three times a week for months on end. It's that good. That certain staff member had to cut back to only once a week because he started exhibiting strange tofu overdose symptoms. 110 N. 11th St., 208-345-8868.
BEST ONION RINGS
Stan's Charbroiled Hot Dogs
Oh, they're good, the onion rings at Stan's Charbroiled Hot Dogs. They could be considered a meal, but go perfectly with charred meat. The secret might be the thick-cut onions dipped into a coveted deep-fry batter that is most likely crunchy even before it hits the oil. Once fried to a golden brown, the onion rings must be eaten right away. Dive in as you search for seating because the whole point is to get them in your belly while they're still hot. 818 S. Vista Ave., 208-342-1199.
BEST USE OF A POT ROAST
Pot Roast Nachos at Tavern at Bowen
Fusion food, by its very nature, has the potential to be amazing. If you love the simplicity of a Japanese dish, but yearn for the spiciness of a Spanish treat, you might love sticky rice and seaweed wrapped around a slice of cod and some piquillo peppers. But even a more mundane meal can be notched up with the addition of something equally plebian but surprising. Right next to crab cakes and a house bruschetta on the appetizer menu, The Tavern at Bown offers a pot roast nacho plate. Instead of cooked baby carrots and new potatoes, this Sunday dinner staple sits atop a bed of red and yellow tortilla chips surrounded by giant slices of jalapeno, two kinds of melty cheese and a healthy dollop of sour cream. The pot roast doesn't pretend to be anything but, and it doesn't hide its identity beneath seasonings meant to give it a Mexican-food flavor. And unlike ground hamburger or little chunks of chicken, the tender juicy cut of beef doesn't topple off the chips. The portion is easily big enough for four, but they'd better be three of your very best friends or maybe three people who owe you a favor. Even if you're a very generous person, once you've taken the first bite, stuffing your face becomes a bigger priority than being a good sharer. 3111 S. Bown Way, 208-345-2277, tavernatbown.com.
BEST WEEK'S WORTH OF CALORIES
Cookie Dough Brownie, Alia's CoffeeHouse
This sugary beast redefines what Cosmo might consider a "splurge." This is no (gasp) whole bag of Smart Pop popcorn or entire pack of Skittles. It's more like an M.R.E. that could sustain an entire Marine battalion for at least a day. And we hear those guys eat a lot. 908 W. Main St., 208-338-1299.
BEST PLACE TO UNLEASH YOUR CHILDREN, DRINK GOOD COFFEE AND SURF THE INTERNET
For African savannah murals, dress-up clothes, an indoor play gym, lots of caffeine, cozy couches, a play kitchen, wi-fi and yummy food, the new Rafiki on State Street is where all the hip mamas are going these days. Kids required. 6202 W. State St., 208-853-2626, rafikiplay.com.
BEST SWIRL CONE
Select from a range of sizes: baby cones, small, medium, large, or take the frozen treat to a whole different level—the extra large chocolate and vanilla swirl cone. Hang on tight with both hands because the XL contains more ice cream than should be eaten in good conscience in one sitting. But, ice cream is a no-brainer, well, unless you count the danger of brain freeze. Many drive-ins offer swirl ice cream cones, but the secret at Fanci Freeze is no air in the bottom. The treat is all ice cream. The swirl is the perfect romantic date cone if one person likes vanilla while the other fancies chocolate and they are both OK with the other mouthing the thing before handing it back. 1402 W. State St., 208-344-8661.
BEST HOMEMADE OYSTER CRACKERS
Red Feather/Bittercreek Alehouse
For some reason oyster crackers and saltines remain classy, even when they show up in a little plastic wrapper at a fine restaurant. But Bittercreek Alehouse and Red Feather Lounge have created a whole new level of class by making their own oyster crackers and completely avoiding the little plastic wrappers. It's just flour and water folks. Get a cookie sheet. Roll your own. We challenge you to try to make these tasty little morsels yourself. The next time you see the simple oyster cracker floating in your clam chowder, pause and take a moment to appreciate the artistry. 246 N. Eighth St., 208-343-3119, redfeatherlounge.com and bittercreekalehouse.com.
BEST TACO TRUCK INSURANCE PLAN
The day the Chilango's truck disappeared from the Capitol Mall was maybe the second most depressing day of the Idaho State Legislative session, second only to the day they voted to keep investing in genocide in the Sudan. We were dismayed to see the truck pictured in the daily paper the next morning, on its side in the middle of the street. To many it was just another stupid wreck, but to us, it was another week without a chile relleno burrito to get us through the afternoon committee meetings. Within a few weeks, a brand-spanking-new Chilango's truck had taken its place. Maybe insurance helped gentrify the truck a bit, but the menu's still the same. Corner of Sixth and Bannock streets.
Mazzah Mediterranean Grill
No lie. Mazzah has the best platters around. Why? You could get a platter every day for a year and not have the same combination twice. OK, we might be exaggerating there as our heads are no good at math or statistics or whatever it is you would use to figure out all the possible combinations of food that Mazzah offers. Don't be overwhelmed; just take a deep breath, count to 10, then step up and order. With nine platters and a dozen side dishes to choose from, you won't leave hungry. We have a hard time deciding, but you can't go wrong with the gyro or the shish kebab, as it has a little bit of everything. Then, there are the sides. So much deliciousness. But not to worry: With the platter, you get two sides. We know, we couldn't contain our excitement the first time we ate there either. But then, we're pretty excitable people. Sides we love include the fatoosh, falafel, mujadarra and the lentil soup. Go with your friends and try a little bit of everything. Oh yeah, did we mention that the platters are quite filling and very reasonably priced? 404 E. Parkcenter Blvd. Suite #250, 208-333-2223 and 1772 W. State St., 208-333-2566, mazzahboise.com.