The Best Food and Drink in Idaho for 2019
December 20, 2018
Idaho's food scene is about so much more than potatoes
The Best Food and Drink in Idaho
You might not realize it, but Idaho is one of the culinary gems of the Pacific Northwest. Although the state is mainly known for its potatoes and even has an entire museum dedicated to the spud, Idaho has a lot more to offer than just starch. From Boise to Idaho Falls you can check out all of the best restaurants and bars that made it in our second-annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
The state with a bed and breakfast shaped like a giant beagle boasts a farmers market with fresh fruits, vegetables, and homemade goods that covers over half a dozen blocks; Sugar Rush Cupcakery, serving ome of the best cupcakes in the region; and of course some of the best French fries not just in the area, but in America.
Whether you’re an Idaho native or just passing through, be sure to read up on all the best places to grab a bite or a drink. Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve been able to make definitive slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find our Idaho slideshow ahead.
Best Airport Restaurant: Parrilla Grill (Boise Airport)
You may not expect to enjoy delicious Mexican cuisine in Idaho, but at Boise Airport, you can do just that. Order fresh and grilled marinated meats and vegetables accompanied by delicious salsas, sauces, and dressings made in-house and served in steamed tortillas.
Best All-You-Can-Eat Deal: China Grand Buffet (Boise)
Going strong for more than 10 years, this beloved Boise institution serves all the Chinese and Japanese classics, more than 200 items in total. Along with just about every Chinese-American dish you can dream of, the restaurant also recently added a hibachi grill as well as a full-service sushi bar, which would easily be worth the price of admission alone: Eight bucks for lunch, and $11.25 for dinner.
Best Bar: Pengilly’s Saloon, (Boise)
Although it was actually opened in 1976, Pengilly’s Saloon has an early-twentieth-century theme that features pool tables, mounted animal heads, vintage wallpaper, and pool tables. Found in the Old Boise Historic District, its 114-year-old hardwood Brunswick bar serves all kinds of drinks. Tabs are rung up on a turn-of-the-century National Cash Register, adding to the old-school vibe. On most nights, there is no cover charge for the live music.
Best Beer: Lost Continent Double IPA, Grand Teton Brewing (Victor)
If you want hops on hops on hops, you need to try the Lost Continent by Grand Teton Brewing. With Columbus, Centennial, Simcoe and tons of Bravo hops, this beer has a strong foundation of dank tangerine and grapefruit flavors. The result is a double IPA that is somewhere between an American and British brew, making this beer’s name quite appropriate.
Best Brunch: Fork (Boise)
“Loyal to local” is the motto at this hip farm-to-table Boise hotspot run by the husband-and-wife duo of Cameron and Amanda Lumsden. Much of the ingredients are sourced from local Boise and Northwest farmers, ranchers, bakers, producers, and cheese makers, and the end result is an brunch menu that highlights fresh ingredients from local farmers markets. Start with a trip to the Bloody Mary bar, and follow that up with a house-baked cinnamon roll, Dungeness crab scramble, braised short rib hash, local corn-crusted trout with poached eggs and polenta, daily tacos on local tortillas, a wide variety of locally-sourced salads, Double R Ranch Prime ribeye sandwich, a Cuban sandwich, and a custom-ground burger. Save room for the butter cake!
Best Burger: Bittercreek Ale House (Boise)
This bar and restaurant has been going strong for 22 years, and has attracted legions of regulars thanks to a huge selection of craft beers and insanely delicious burgers. Just about every item on its wide-ranging menu is made with high-quality, locally-sourced ingredients, and that pertains to the burgers as well, which are made with 100 percent grass-fed, house-ground chuck and brisket and served on locally baked potato buns. You can have yours topped with cheese or bacon (or both), or you can opt for the popular Huntsman burger, topped with English Cheddar, Stilton, pickles, lettuce, onions, bacon, and special sauce.
Best Chinese Restaurant: Wok-Inn Noodle House (Boise)
The owner of Wok-Inn, named Chan, has been manning the wok at this Boise institution since the day it opened in 1983. Today he’s 74 years old and is at the helm of the best Chinese restaurant in the state. The menu here is smaller than what you’ll find at most Chinese restaurants, with a smattering of spot-on interpretations of classic dishes, including made-to-order egg rolls, chow mein, fried rice, fried chicken with ginger and garlic, Mongolian chicken, and a couple of Thai-inspired curries.
Best Chocolate Shop: Weiser Classic Candy (Weiser)
Weiser Classic Candy/Yelp
Best Coffee Shop: Big City Coffee & Café (Boise)
Big City Coffee is known for their in-house baked goods, such as their Cherry Pie Scone and Pumpkin Chai Muffin. Of course, their coffee is fantastic as well; try the Bit O' Honey Latte or their iced orange coffee. The eclectic interior gives it a super cozy, local feel that makes the whole experience even more enjoyable.
Best Cupcakes: Sugar Rush Cupcakery (Boise)
After a decade of serving some of the best wedding cakes in the region, Family Ties bakery birthed Sugar Rush Cupcakery in order to bring all the deliciousness of the big cakes to a more manageable portion size. Plus, it added some truly outstanding flavors! Whether you go with a safe bet such as peanut butter banana, s’mores, or rocky road or a wild variety such as spiced chai latte, pink Champagne, or even tomato soup, you’re sure to get a satisfying sugar rush. Many of their cupcakes are made without vegetable oil as well, which is perfect for customers with soy allergies.
Best Dive Bar: Little Dutch Garden (Boise)
Little Dutch Garden in Boise is a true local’s bar. It’s small, cash only, and doesn’t have a liquor license. But if you come here for a cold beer, a game of pool, and the company of some kindly Idahoans, you’ll feel right at home.
Best Doughnuts: Guru Donuts (Boise)
Gourmet doughnut shop Guru Donuts opened when the co-owners spotted a gap in the Idaho market. Although they were far from being expert bakers at the time, a kind neighbor taught them the tricks of doughnut-making, and ever since, they have been making homemade doughnuts using local flour, and creating fancy flavors such as pumpkin, root beer, and “hipsterberry.”
Best Food Truck: The Kilted Kod (Boise)
Fish and chips is a simple dish consisting of only fried fish and french fries, but this means there’s no sauce, topping, or bun to cover up any misstep. The Kilted Kod has perfected this dish, which is why Yelp reviewers are absolutely raving about the perfectly crisp pieces of fried cod and shoestring fries. The batter is a bit spicy, and the whole platter is served with house-made tartar sauce and a few glugs of malt vinegar.
Best French Fries: Boise Fry Company, Boise (multiple locations)
It comes as no surprise that an Idaho fry shop would make some of the best fries in the country (Idahoans do love their potatoes, after all). The fries at the Boise Fry Company come with lots of options — first is the potato itself, organic and from M&M Heath Farms in Buhl, Idaho (the current selection is Russet, purple, gold, sweet, Laura, or yam, but they change seasonally); next is the preparation (shoestring, regular, home-style, curly, or the famous po-balls, similar to a tater tot). They’re hand-cut, then twice-fried in GMO-free sunflower oil, and you can choose from a wide variety of homemade seasonings, “spritzers,” and sauces.
Best Fried Chicken: Fork (Boise)
This “loyal to local” downtown Boise restaurant is turning local Idaho meat and produce into some of the finest food in town. Owners Cameron and Amanda Lumsden have attracted a loyal following with their Idaho rainbow trout with grilled local kale, Northwest short ribs braised in locally-made ale, and Double R Ranch prime rib, but Tuesdays are the days to go, when the cast-iron buttermilk fried chicken and cheddar waffle are on the menu. Drizzled with balsamic-infused maple syrup and local honey-orange butter, it’s a true masterpiece, but be there early: It’s only available while supplies last.
Best Hot Dog: Franko’s Dog House (Post Falls)
Opened last year as a retirement project for the husband and wife duo of Bruce and Kathy Pagano, Franko’s has quickly become a must-visit for locals. Pagano steams all-beef dogs (and occasionally specialty wild game sausages from a nearby butcher) and serves them up Chicago style; with pesto, mozzarella, pepperoncini, and tomato; with chili, cheese, and onion; and in more than a dozen other varieties. Make sure you try the huckleberry milkshake.
Best Grocery Store: Natural Grocers
Natural Grocers is a retail chain focused on natural and organic groceries, supplements, and household products. Ultimately, the prices are lower than those at Whole Foods and the selection is better than at other options in Boise. As one review put it, “Enjoy shopping there: clean, well lit, great selection and very well priced compared to Whole Foods and even the Co-op.”
Most Expensive Restaurant: Chandler’s, Boise
This swanky steakhouse spares no expense in its sourcing, and it expects its diners to spare no expense either. Pricey appetizers include a $95 seafood platter, $37 foie gras, and $37 sautéed abalone. Steaks start at $34 for a six-ounce filet and climb to $75 for a Snake River Farms Kobe filet. You can also splurge on a $72 lobster tail with Parmesan risotto or $95 for wild Baja California abalone meunière with mushroom risotto.
The Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: Ice Cream Potato, Westside Drive-in (Boise)
You'll find this deceptively delicious dessert at most fairs and outdoor events in Boise, but it's the Ice Cream Potato at one of the best drive-in restaurants in America that's famous. As much as Idaho loves its potatoes, this one isn't real — it's actually vanilla ice cream in a baked potato shape that's been coated with cocoa powder. The "sliced" part is filled up with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and chocolate syrup. You can also get "butter" (yellow frosting) and chives (green sprinkles) on top.
Best Pancakes: Smitty’s Pancake & Steak House (Idaho Falls)
As can be expected from the name, this low-key Idaho Falls eatery, family-run since 1971, does two things really well: steaks and pancakes. Top sirloin, ribeye, and chicken fried steak are dinner favorites, but come breakfast it’s all about the pancakes, which are available in a wide variety of styles: buttermilk (with strawberries, blueberries, bananas, or chocolate chips); potato; buckwheat; Southern pecan (with a special eggy batter); German; Baby Dutchman with lemon wedges and powdered sugar; Swedish roll-ups with lingonberries; and even gluten-free. We suggest you go with the classic, though: old-fashioned sourdough pancakes, made with a 100 year-old recipe passed down from the founder’s grandmother.
Best Restaurant for Breakfast: Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro (Boise)
Serving Boise’s best breakfasts since 1999, Goldy’s packs them in starting at 6:30 on weekdays and at 7:30 on the weekends. Owners Randy and Wanda Martinat source the best fresh ingredients they can find and use them to create breakfast-time favorites like Andalusian Eggs (two poached eggs over marinara sauce, baked with ham, chorizo, asparagus, and peppers); a frittata filled with spaghetti, Parmesan, romano, Asiago, and mozzarella topped with spinach nutmeg sauce; a variety of Benedicts and vegetables topped with their famous hollandaise; cinnamon-raisin-walnut bread French toast; house-made malted waffles; biscuits and gravy; and create-your-own-breakfast combos with a wide variety of meats, potato preparations, and bread. Eating here isn’t just a breakfast; it’s an adventure.
Best Pasta Dish: Rigatoni, Alavita (Boise)
This cozy downtown Boise spot has breathed new life into the city’s tired Italian scene thanks to its commitment to using fresh local ingredients, house-cured meats, and making all of its fresh pastas in-house. And if you try one of their pastas, make sure it’s the rigatoni, which is tossed with rich shredded Barolo-braised Northwest short ribs and topped with arugula and pecorino. It’s a great way to get through a long Idaho winter.
Best Pizza: Guido’s Original New York Style Pizza (Boise)
Thanks to Guido’s, there’s a legit New York-style pizzeria in Boise, turning out some spectacular pies. Like all New York slice shops, this one is straight ahead and no-frills. You can get your pizza by the slice or in an 18- or 20-inch pie, and top it with a wide variety of meats and vegetables. Sausage rolls, Stromboli, and fresh baked garlic bread are also on the menu.
Best Soup: A Street Soup Market (Idaho Falls)
A Street Soup Market chef and owner Bryan Lloyd only uses the freshest ingredients in his soups, which he prepares fresh daily (breads are also baked in house, and all meats are house-roasted as well). The menu changes every day (check Facebook to learn what’s available), but they’re always interesting, and always delicious. Don’t miss the tomato basil, cream potato bacon, chicken coconut curry, and lemon chicken asparagus.
Best Steakhouse: Chandlers (Boise)
The upscale and classy Chandlers features a stylish martini bar, live jazz nightly, and four varieties of beef: USDA Prime from Chairman’s Reserve, natural and organic grass-fed beef from Oregon’s Painted Hills, American Kobe from Snake River Farms, and Japanese Wagyu. The 8-ounce center cut American Kobe might just be the single best steak you’ll find in the state, especially when paired with housemade béarnaise and a side of crazy good mashed potatoes. Chandler’s also happens to have one of the state’s best seafood selections – you just might forget it’s landlocked.
Best Taco: Tin Roof Tacos (Boise)
When two Texas sisters realized that they couldn’t find a good street taco in Boise, they put their heads together and Tin Roof was the result. Full of Texas charm (you’ll find plenty of expats here downing Shiner Bocks and watching the Texas A&M game), Tin Roof serves a variety of creative tacos on tortillas made to order on their own tortilla machine. Sure, some aren’t exactly authentically Mexican (like a fried chicken taco with coleslaw and jalapeño ranch); but ones like the Tin Roof (shredded achiote-rubbed pork, pineapple, cilantro, and onion), brisket (slow-roasted beef with queso fresco, cilantro, and onion), and fish (grilled or fried, and topped with chipotle crema, red cabbage, and cilantro) are definitely raising the culinary bar in Boise.
Absolute Best Thing to Eat: Finger Steaks, Westside Drive-In (Boise)
Finger steaks are a uniquely Idaho creation, similar to chicken fingers but made with beef instead. It may sound strange, but when done well, it’s tender, crispy, and delicious, and the most legendary place to order this regional specialty is at Boise’s West Side Drive-in. To make this treat, lean beef shoulder strips are dunked in a batter made with plenty of garlic, pepper, and beef bouillon (and a little yellow food coloring) and fried for just 30 seconds so as not to overcook them. The kicker? They’re dunked in cocktail sauce! For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.