These restaurants have evolved to meet the challenges of COVID-19, from a Cuban food pop-up in El Barrio Norte to weekend sushi platters
Boise was originally called Les Bois, or “wooded” in French, and Idaho’s City of Trees Boise was once considered a hidden treasure for its low cost of living and access to Idaho’s iconic mountains, rivers, and forests. Then visitors and new residents discovered the state’s capital and largest city, helping propel Idaho to become the fastest growing state in the nation. Long-time locals may complain about increased traffic and rising home prices, but the influx of newcomers has also brought diversity and excitement to the region’s restaurants. Coupled with a thriving Basque community, immigrants bearing culinary traditions from all over the world, and James Beard Award-nominated chefs, Boise is coming into its own as a culinary capital in the Intermountain West.
The downtown area is compact and walkable, offering local craft beer, award-winning Idaho wines, and restaurants that run the gamut. In a few blocks you’ll find handmade Basque chorizo, Southern-style barbecue, locally-sourced tasting menus, creative tacos, lamb grinders, handmade pasta, and craft ice cream infused with booze. Stroll a little further and you’ll find meals from Ethiopia, Cuba, Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East. Or take a drive to a down-home drive-in for the pure comfort of fresh-grilled hamburgers, finger steaks, and fries.
Update, November 2020: It’s a popular notion that Idahoans are resilient. This maxim was put to the test when Boise restaurateurs were forced to close their doors in the spring due to COVID-19. Some had to lay off staff, while others decided to close shop permanently. According to the Idaho Department of Labor, initial unemployment claims in food preparation and service-related occupations — the hardest hit of all categories — totaled nearly 23,000 between mid-March and mid-October.
Those who hung on displayed their resilience. They expanded outdoor seating, offered delivery and takeout, redesigned indoor seating, or revamped business models. Bars brokered agreements with the city and local health officials to reopen with masks, distancing, and other safety requirements. Restaurants along downtown’s N. 8th Street expanded seating onto the sidewalk as the City of Boise closed the thoroughfare to car traffic.
Beyond individual pivots, many businesses joined together to form FARE Idaho, which advocates for Idaho’s independent restaurants, farms, food and beverage producers, and retailers. The group has pushed for the RESTAURANTS Act in Congress, which would financially support hard-hit independent restaurants, and started the Dine & Drink Safe Pledge Campaign, which guides customers to food and beverage businesses seriously prioritizing staff and customer health.
The following is a list of Boise food establishments — pop-ups, pivots, and enduring staples of the restaurant scene — that have evolved to meet the challenges of COVID-19.
Note: Due to the pandemic and the winter season, restaurant hours and level of service may vary. Outdoor dining and takeout options are highlighted on each map point. A number of Boise restaurants have resumed dine-in service, though their inclusion here should not be taken as endorsement for dining in. Studies indicate a lower exposure risk outdoors, but the level of risk involved with patio dining is contingent on strict social distancing and safety guidelines. For updated information on coronavirus cases in your area, please visit the City of Boise website or official state resources.
Prices per person, excluding alcohol:
$ = Less than $10
$$ = $11 – $20
$$$ = $21 – $40
$$$$ = More than $40
Scott Ki is a former editor and writer for Edible Idaho, and an ex-reporter for Boise State Public Radio and the Idaho Business Review. His work also has been carried by other media outlets, such as the Idaho Press, Idaho Statesman, NPR, and the AP.