The extent of what I knew about Boise was that it’s the capital of Idaho and that Idaho is synonymous with potatoes.
The culinary scene is emerging, thanks to a commitment by a growing number of restaurateurs to serving what I call honest food — that is to say, fare made from fresh, seasonal and local or regional ingredients. This is also evident in the large number of craft breweries and even Idaho’s wine industry. Yes, Idaho wine is very much a thing.
It would be easy to attribute the culinary scene to Boise’s rapid growth. But the Gem State, as it’s called, is also booming. In fact, Idaho has been the country’s fastest-growing state for two consecutive years, according to the Census Bureau.
All this growth makes it unlike most other state capitals, which generally have an air of provincial backwater.
What to see and do
There are several notable museums and cultural attractions to see.
These include the Boise Art Museum, Idaho State Museum, World Center for Bird of Prey, the small but interesting Basque Museum and Cultural Center and the Old Idaho Penitentiary Site with its castle-like architecture.
My hands-down favorite? Zoo Boise.
Open year-round, it offers more than just a traditional zoo-going experience, thanks to an extensive partnership with the famed Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique that resulted in the creation of the Gorongosa National Park Exhibit. The recently opened exhibit added 2.5 acres and 20 new species of animals to the zoo. Be sure to also try the Gorongosa coffee, which I found to be as good as anything at high-end coffeehouses.
Then there is the Idaho Capitol, which has surprisingly open access with no metal detectors or screening of visitors. Architect John Tourtellotte’s early 20th-century design is instantly familiar to anyone who has visited other state capitols. The interior looks almost heavenly, thanks to the generous use of scagliola, a fake marble, and the amount of natural light that filters in through the dome in the rotunda.
Where to eat
Fork, a casual-meets-upscale restaurant in the very walkable downtown, is emblematic of Boise’s culinary scene and has a drinks menu — a separate booklet from its dinner menu — with 11 Idaho wines. Also downtown is Juniper, which I intended to eat at until a private party bought out the popular restaurant.
Since Boise claims the country’s largest population of Basques, try the aptly named Basque Market at lunch, if you want a taste of the Old World.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Courtyard Boise Downtown, near the iconic blue turf of Boise State University’s iconic football stadium and within a couple minutes by car of most everything downtown. For something different try The Grove Hotel, which boasts a 4-diamond rating from AAA, or The Modern Hotel and Bar, a vintage-style motel that has been converted into a boutique hotel.