In 2006, this city went crazy when The Cheesecake Factory opened in Boise Towne Square. We know, this wouldn’t seem to indicate that the best Boise restaurants are all that great of a destination for foodies, but they are. Local restaurateurs were keen on buying and working with local ingredients long before eating local was a movement. Like the hotels here, the best Boise restaurants aren’t formal affairs. Several ask that you make reservations, but we’re not aware of a single one where you can’t call and get a table for that night (not counting Valentine’s Day and holiday eves). There are a handful of fine dining establishments complete with white linen tablecloths, but where Boise really excels is in the casual food arena. One of our favorite meals in town is pizza at a restaurant in a strip mall.
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Even before the Oxford English Dictionary chose “locavore” as its 2007 Word of the Year, Boise foodies flocked to this sleek, sexy space opened in 2002, where an entire page of the menu is needed to list the local purveyors used. At another restaurant, a glowing blue wine cellar and metal spiral staircase might be there to serve as a distraction from sub-par food. But at Red Feather, the design needs to be a little audacious to compete with the food. This is a restaurant where the macaroni and cheese is a blend of three local cheeses—Ballard Family Farm’s white cheddar, pepper cheddar and Danish pearl—and where a lamb burger (grass-fed and local, natch) is topped with Ballard feta, crispy onion and jalapeño. Although Red Feather is known as a top Boise restaurant for dinner, it does one of the best weekend brunches in town (8:30AM-2:30PM Saturday and Sunday).
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Few places are as polarizing as Donnie Mac’s. We can’t think of any others in Boise. People either love or hate Donnie Mac’s. Or rather Love or Hate—with capital letters. Surprisingly, it’s not the kitschy trailer-park theme that turns the haters off. Even the most vitriolic reviewers on the websites don’t begrudge the entertainment value of having a rusted out, jacked-up 1941 Chevy Deluxe Sedan for a booth. And no one can find fault in a $1 cold bottle of PBR. So what’s the problem? The service here is a total crapshoot. Yes, your mac and cheese topped with a cut-up hot dog, or Ding Dong sundae, could arrive in a timely and friendly manner. Or it could come skidding across the linoleum-topped table without so much as a “sorry it took so long,” an hour after you’ve gnawed your pinky off. Maybe people wouldn’t be so divided if the service was consistently bad. After all, Ed Debevic's in Chicago has achieved fame and fortune by treating its customers badly all the time.
If there was ever a restaurant to teach you not to judge a book by its cover, PizzalChik (PIZZ-al-chick), is it. Occupying two storefronts in a strip mall sandwiched between a power substation and one of Boise’s busiest intersections, PizzalChik—the name is a jumble of syllables representing the restaurant’s main menu items, pizza, salad and chicken—is one of the best Boise restaurants, but without the waiter, prices or tablecloths. Walk in, walk up to the counter, place your order, take a seat and wait for someone to bring you your food. All the food here, from the elk sausage to the secret seasoning rubbed beneath the chicken’s skin, to the pickled beets, is made on the premises. Chef/owner Brad Breakell even has a little smoker for salmon behind the restaurant (for his Great Salmon Caper pie). The only oven is a 6,000-pound stone hearth. Breakell cooks even the “afterthought du jour” (dessert) in it.
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Stuff the sensibility of Alice Waters and the convenience of McDonald’s inside an avocado and you’ve got Jenny’s Lunch Line. Designed with the downtown office set in mind (hours are Monday— Friday, 11AM-3PM), Jenny’s is the freshest, healthiest, cheeriest (how can a place with green walls not be cheery?) lunch spot in downtown. Non-workers are equally welcome. Everyone can sit down or take Jenny’s food to go. The menu is simple, but not Spartan. On any given day she’ll have nearly half-a-dozen soup options and even more sandwiches to choose from. None of Jenny’s sandwiches are crazy combos; she just does staples really well with the freshest ingredients, which helps make her restaurant one of the best places to eat in Boise. Plenty of customers skip the sammies and salads entirely, though, and make a meal out of her sides—warm baked sweet potato, arugula pesto pasta salad, crunchy broccoli slaw with toasted almonds, quinoa salad with black beans, fresh lime, cilantro and tomato.
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