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Redefining Boise Dining

Reflections on a post-pandemic food scene

Article by Lex Nelson

Photography by Lex Nelson, Charles Knowles + Provided

Originally published in Boise Lifestyle

At Little Pearl Oyster Bar on Eighth Street in Boise, Chef Cal Elliott and his team serve “Foie Gras Butter & Jam,” an old-world product with a local spin. The duck for the foie is raised in Buhl, Idaho and presented with triangles of sourdough bread from Boise’s Acme Bakeshop. On a warm night in June, a waitress served the spread alongside two briny-sweet oysters.

In many ways, the meal was emblematic of the new Boise food scene: simple but creative, starring local ingredients paired with “the best of the best” flown in from afar. Look closely and you’ll see chefs striving to appease both Boise locals and the palates of new urban residents driven to town by COVID-19. 

When Dave Boyle, the General Manager of Boise fine dining steakhouse Chandlers, moved to the City of Trees eight years ago he found the food scene “burgeoning but still rather limited.”

“It was really local-focused but without maybe some of the outside creativity and inspiration that I think we see now,” Boyle said. 

Today, former New Yorker Cal Elliott is one chef bringing a big-city perspective to Boise. Another is Hawaiian transplant Edward Higgins, executive chef of The Lively. Both men cooked in Michelin-starred kitchens before bringing their talents to the City of Trees. 

Lizzy and David Rex, owners of Wylder Hospitality Group, are also newcomers. Since arriving from California they’ve opened The Wylder (2018) and Certified Kitchen & Bakery (2019), with two more restaurants in the works for 2022 and 2023. That pace may seem breakneck, but considering the Treasure Valley added 25,687 residents from July 2020-July 2021 alone, restaurateurs are simply supplying demand. 

Pandemic Gains and Losses 

Chandlers has operated since 1994, but Boyle said the last two years have been “the most challenging time that our industry has faced, probably ever.” Staffing problems, supply chain issues, and rising costs plagued Boise restaurants, forcing many to shorten their hours and shuttering local favorites like Kopper Kitchen, which closed in 2022 after 45 years. 

Yet, when one door closed another opened. Anthony's, a family-run seafood chain with 28 locations, was one of many restaurants that debuted in Boise in 2020.

“Opening at the beginning of a pandemic was not in the plan,” said Anthony’s Restaurants Marketing Director Kirsten Elliott. Still, she added, Anthony’s menu of oysters and flown-in seafood “got a very warm welcome.”

Fresh Dining Experiences 

Beyond new restaurants, Boise has seen an explosion of flexible dining options, including food truck parks; Instagram-driven pop-up dinners in private homes; and the city’s first large-scale food hall. The 29,000-square-foot Warehouse Food Hall opened in July 2022 and as of this writing features 10 restaurants selling everything from Thai pizza to American barbeque.

“The food hall concept is designed to be an evolving space to change with the times,” explained General Manager Steve Steading. “We may have different food operations in a year from now to continue to expand that culinary horizon in the downtown neighborhood.”

More Than ‘Meat and Potatoes’ 

Old guard meat-and-potatoes restaurants like Lock Stock & Barrel Steakhouse, Bittercreek Alehouse, and Chandler’s are no longer the only flavors in town. This summer at fine dining hotspot KIN, Idahoans dug into dishes like tomato panna cotta and cucumber gazpacho from acclaimed chef Kris Komori. 

Taco joints and boba shops have spread across the city, and restaurants with deep cultural roots like Alyonka Russian Cuisine and the Puerto Rican Wepa Cafe have brought unique flavors to Boise. Instead of balking, diners are cheering them on. In 2022, Wepa won “Best New Restaurant” in Boise Weekly’s annual Best of Boise contest. 

A Food-Filled Future

There’s no doubt Treasure Valley chefs and bakers have raised the bar. In 2022, four of them qualified as James Beard semi-finalists, and Food & Wine magazine named Boise one of “America's Next Great Food Cities.”

“Expectations have certainly been raised by people relocating here from other areas of the country and bringing expectations of their own as far as flavors and tastes and ingredients. I think it bodes well for continuing to push the envelope in that area,” said Steading. 

Boyle said the staff at Chandlers welcomes the extra pressure. 

“I think that rather than finding that as a negative it should be viewed as a challenge and an opportunity to really to take a good look in a mirror, look at our service levels and our offerings and our quality of menu... It makes us better individually and should make us better collectively as an industry,” Boyle said. 

Whether or not Boise’s culinary star continues to rise, one thing is certain: The nation is watching.

  • Little Pearl Oyster Bar
  • The Warehouse Food Hall.
  • The "Tower of Tuna" at Chandlers.
  • Chandlers martinis
  • Chandlers
  • Diners raise a glass at Chandlers.
  • Open since 1994, Chandlers is a Boise institution.
  • Anthony's opened in downtown Boise in 2020.
  • An interior shot of Anthony's in Boise.
  • Anthony's
  • Anzalone Pizza is one of many restaurants inside The Warehouse Food Hall.
  • A local coffee shop inside The Warehouse Food Hall.
  • Behind the scenes at Neighbor Tim's BBQ in The Warehouse Food Hall.

Businesses featured in this article