Considering Boise's population and relatively homogenous demographic, we City of Trees dwellers have an impressive selection of diverse ethnic eateries. On Eighth Street alone one can hem and haw between Mediterranean and Japanese, Mexican and Korean. And if none of those choices tickle your fancy, just take a short jaunt to Capital Boulevard where European fare from Le Café de Paris and Bar Gernika pleases the palates of plenty a hungry crowd. However, not everyone is a gutsy gastronome willing to put his taste buds in the hands of just any food. For the have-nots of any of Boise's cultural culinary hot spots, here's a quick how to.
Despite the Treasure Valley's northern latitude you'll find some very authentic south of the border cuisine. In Boise, Andrade's is the place to find the most authentic menu. If you're in Boise's neighboring communities--or if you're up for taking a drive out to Nampa or Caldwell for dinner--you'll find gems of authenticity. El Rinconcito in Nampa and Tacos Michoacan in Caldwell both deliver the real deal. For a pretty darn good cheap and quick fix, Chilango's taco truck parked late nights at Sixth and Grove is the authentic version of Taco Bell.
Mastering chopsticks is essential if you're traveling in Asia, though a fork and knife are generally provided for the chopstick klutzy in Boise's restaurants. When dining with chopsticks, several rules of etiquette should always be followed: hold them near the top end with the bottom stick stationary, always lay chopsticks flat with the points facing left, never leave chopsticks in a bowl of rice, never pass food from your chopstick to another diner's and leave the food spearing to deserted islanders.
Chinese food, like Mexican, is generally available in two forms: Americanized and authentic. Labeling all food from China with the generic Chinese label ignores the different regions--and contrasting cuisines--of China. Shanghai, Hunan, Szechuan and Mandarin are the styles of cooking most often found in Boise. Every neighborhood has a Chinese restaurant, but the verdict is still out on the most authentic joint in town.
Usually the words "raw fish" accompany any reference to Japanese food, and while that connotation is negative for many people who prefer their critters cooked, it's not a complete characterization of what to expect when dining at Japanese restaurants. Sushi, teriyaki and tempura are the most recognized Japanese dishes in our neck of the woods. Teriyaki is marinated and grilled meats and vegetables served in a slightly spicy sauce. Tempura is meat, seafood, poultry and vegetables dipped and fried in an egg batter. Any first-timer to Japanese cuisine will find themselves in familiar territory with a teriyaki or tempura dish.
Sushi requires a little more courage the first few times. In Japan sushi bars are like the pubs of England; they are social gathering places as well as watering holes and eateries. Deciphering the terms on a sushi menu are key to understanding what will be arriving at your table. Sashimi is slices of uncooked seafood served with wasabi (Japanese horseradish) and pickled ginger. Nigiri is slices of seafood atop bite-sized balls of rice. Maki is any combination of seafood and vegetables wrapped in rice and nori (seaweed). Bean curd pockets (that are sweet and usually stuffed with rice) are called inarizushi and can be a good way to ease your way into the experience. You'll find the more traditional dishes--rolls such as dragon, rainbow, spicy tuna, California--at every sushi place in town. Fujiyama offers a variety of sushi and sashimi as well as tempura and katsu for those who prefer their food cooked but may be willing to try a roll here and there. For sushi with a more personalized touch, Shige has the most creative and unique offerings. When you're there, be sure to check out the specialty board on the wall near the sushi bar where favorites like the Island Girl and the Volcano are listed.
If you can't decide between Japanese and Chinese, stop in to Panda Garden on Overland. The chef serves sushi, tempura, tepanyaki and moo shu, chow fun, chow mein and lo mein. If there is a dish you have a hankering for but don't see it on the menu, just ask and they'll deliver. Hot and sour soup fans will find Panda Garden's version the best in town.
Covering the span of Southeast Asia, both Thai and Vietnamese fare is popular in Boise. Mai Thai downtown has become a hot spot in the last year with traditional offerings as well as unique newer dishes. The Fish on Fire--a dish of fried halibut smothered in pa nang (a curry glaze of coconut milk) and served on fire thanks to a shot of Bacardi 151--is a recommendation of at least one Mai Thai employee. Menus at Siam Café and Chiang Mai lean toward more traditional dishes than Mai Thai, and if it's a traditional dish you're after Pad Thai--a dish of rice noodles with any combination of meats, vegetables, sauces and spices--is the best place to start.
Though Vietnamese restaurants are few and far between in Boise, Vietnamese Restaurant, Saigon Grill and Dong Khanh are excellent examples of authentic cuisine. Their menus list choices in English and Vietnamese if you're interested in a linguistic lesson while you while away time waiting for your food.
By an immense stroke of luck, Boise's only Korean restaurant, Korea House, also happens to be an authentic and educational food experience. From the complimentary sides of kimchee and lotus root to the tableside food prep, to the palette-cleansing drink that follows each meal, the little touches turn a meal at the House into a cultural immersion--but it doesn't hurt that the entrees (in particular the bi bim bop and chap chae) are delicious as well.
Curries have made Indian cuisine well loved worldwide. Made with masala (stir-fried onions, garlic, ginger and tomatoes), seasonings and any combination of vegetables, meat, fish and poultry, curry is an essential of the Indian cuisine experience. In Boise Madhuban is the place to delve into Indian food. When deciphering the menu, first timers will want to remember that a tandoor is a clay oven in which bread and meats are baked, and a dish such as tandoori chicken is a good introductory choice. Indian food is especially accommodating to the non-carnivorous, and Madhuban has a huge selection of vegetarian dishes.
A fairly generic term for variety of geographic locales, both Aladdin Egyptian Restaurant and Cazba fall into this category. Both offer many of the same popular dishes including hummus (a spread for flat bread made of mashed chickpeas seasoned with garlic and lemon), baba ghanouj (a spread for flat bread made with mashed eggplant seasoned with garlic), falafel (spicy fried vegetable nuggets usually served in a pita), and kebabs (marinated meats that are skewered then grilled). Despite similarities, each restaurant caters to the subtle differences of flavor and preparation of their respective regions.