by Mattie John Bamman | Photo © Mattie John Bamman
When visiting a city for the first time, it’s all about finding a landmark, an easily recognizable building or avenue to help you get around. In Boise, I toyed with the idea of the regal Capitol Building, with its striking green swirled marble interior, but quickly chose 8th Street. Because on 8th Street, you not only find the city’s heart, you also find its stomach.
A concentration of the city’s dining and nightlife, 8th Street runs from the Boise River all the way out toward the Boise Foothills, but most of the action lies between West Bannock Street and West Myrtle Street. In the summer, outdoor patios line the sidewalks, and, in the winter, the glow of warm dining rooms ensures you never have to stay long out in the cold.
If there’s one thing you can say about dining in Boise, it’s that it’s fun. The chefs have a knack for revamping familiar dishes, from fried chicken to meatballs, with something that could be called Idaho cooking wizardry: a sort of mountain love of comfort food and Northwestern love of experimentation. Of course, having the bountiful, fresh, local ingredients of the Snake River Valley doesn’t hurt.
Begin your day with European-style pastries and locally roasted coffee at Zeppole and Dawson Taylor. Opened in 1993, Zeppole bakery uses organic flours and European stone hearth ovens to bake lemon bars, muffins, streusel coffee cake and its signature banana bread. Dawson Taylor, located next door, roasts coffee in-house to make its espressos, lattes and cappuccinos.
After working up a thirst exploring the nearby Capitol Building and wandering the fascinating Basque neighborhood, it’s time to refuel. Visit the Red Feather Lounge & Bittercreek Alehouse. It’s one business with two personalities: brewpub and lounge. Both serve that signature Idaho blend of hearty American fare with a worldly touch, such as street tacos with grilled halloumi and a mean burger topped with burrata, that extra-creamy cousin of fresh mozzarella.
When happy hour rolls around, there’s no better place for wine lovers than the Bodovino wine bar, which offers tastes, glasses and bottles of more than 140 local and global wines, grouped by growing region and available on tap. Where else can you get a well-priced tasting-size pour of a $100 wine?
Finally, when it comes to dinner, 8th Street has some of the best options in the city. Find fresh, upscale flavors for a mid-range price at Juniper Kitchen & Cocktails, where great food comes with a saloon vibe straight out of the good old days. Chef Aaron Wermerskirchen balances a respect for the local ingredients with a guilty-pleasure palate, and you’ll find Duck Confit Empanadas, Bison Meatballs, and fried green olives stuffed with local goat’s milk mozzarella. Juniper also has one of the best lists in Boise for Idaho wines, not to mention cocktails.
At the other end of 8th Street, Fork is another prime dinner option. Instead of regular fondue, try the Tomato Basil Fondue, into which you dip not bread but chunks of grilled cheese. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a Tuesday, do not miss the Cast Iron Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Cheddar Waffle, a flavorful version by any standards. And no matter what day of the week it is, end the night with Fork’s Signature Warm Butter Cake. It’s a dessert to rival all other desserts.
Walking on 8th Street, you’ll find other attractions, too, from the Rediscovered Bookshop to boutiques like the Idaho Candy Company. It’s a great place to begin and end your Boise adventure. The only danger is forgetting about Boise’s other attractions, and that would be a mistake. For more about visiting Boise, access boise.org.