Willi B's is the cowboyed-up IKEA of downtown Boise restaurants, with less Swede and a good deal more wood paneling. The designers of this restaurant cram more seating, more bar and more entertainment--not to mention character--into the closet-sized space than any modern European soup kitchen. Walk in and you feel instantly welcomed, like bellying up to the chuck wagon for your midday feed.
There's even a brand on the bar, signed by Gov. Tight Pants himself.
Steve, the jeans and apron-clad restaurant manager, welcomes every guest, points out the daily specials and gives time to find a built-in high-backed wooden booth among the maze of seating.
At Willi B's, you only have to order once. Every meal comes with one or two sides and a bottomless drink, including fresh iced tea and lemonade. And every meal is a deal--a generously sized sandwich or wrap, a bowl of beans that go down like butter, potato salad with a little kick to it, slaw or pasta salad.
The chunky chicken salad wrap ($4.95, with a side and a drink), which you can get on a hoagie if you ask real nice like, is always fresh and full of crunchy veggies, though it can sometimes use a little more salt. The cashew chicken salad ($5.95) has an even better flavor, with nuts and Craisins.
The basic sandwiches (tuna, cheese, turkey, Italian club, ranch chicken) are always complemented by hot specials. I've become a regular for lunch.
But for this review, I returned for dinner, dropping $15.95 for a rib roast, a large fistful of mashed red potatoes and a piece of chocolate cherry cake. The thick rib roast dominated my plate and was finished off a medium pink in the center but still juicy and well done on the edges. It came with a cup of its own juices and some horseradish mayo, which was also good on the mashers. A cheap, happy-hour gin and tonic washed it down.
I also sampled the veggie lasagna ($7.95; Willi B's can present a problem for vegetarians). It was layered with broccoli, squash and zucchini and baked in a soft, hot rectangle: no crispy corners. Both suppers came with big chunks of garlic bread.
With a cozy bar from which you can watch the kitchen, read the paper, guard the digital juke box and monitor sports and news on the multiple flat screens, Willi B's has already attracted a crew of first-name-basis regulars.
Sharing a block with Flying M and Guido's, Willi B's is a welcome new addition to the low-cost comfort-food Mecca that is Fifth and Idaho. You could easily kill a day sitting on a sofa and drinking a chai, grabbing a greasy slice for lunch and downing a PBR and turkey wrap before heading home. Not that I'd ever take such luxury.
--Nathaniel Hoffman thinks chai and PBR could be friends in his universe.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Willi B's.