Exploring Boise, Idaho calorie by calorie

Confession: Though I’ve visited seven continents, 60 countries and 46 of the nation’s states, it wasn’t until recently that my travels included Idaho, more specifically Boise, its capital. As the saying “it’s never too late” suggests, my visit to the largest city of the country’s 43rd state may have been belated but upon arrival, let’s just say my first impression was impressive.

The ease of flying into Boise Airport is as welcoming as a warm handshake. Located just four miles from the capital city’s downtown heart, within minutes visitors are surrounded by decisions – where to go, what to do and what to eat. Here’s only a portion of those options.

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Historic Sites

Situated within an array of historic buildings, the state Capitol is on the northern edge of downtown. With a design inspired by architectural icons – the U.S. Capitol and St Peter’s Basilica – the interior of Idaho’s statehouse includes red, gray, green and black marble and its height is an impressive 208 feet from the ground floor to the top of the 5-foot-7-inch copper eagle perched upon its dome. A tribute to the nation’s history is the large bell on its grounds – a to-scale replica of the Liberty Bell (without the crack).

A short drive from town is a historic site, the Old Idaho Penitentiary, the state’s former territorial jail. Open from 1872 to 1973, it retained such prisoners as Harry Orchard who assassinated Idaho’s governor and 10 year old Oscar Baker, a youngster convicted of manslaughter who lived with the warden in his home due to his age. Here visitors have access to death row, maximum security’s 24 cells, even entrance to a cell whereupon the guide presses the lock lever (temporarily, of course).

Art & Culture

In addition to cultural offerings like the opera, symphony, and dance is the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. Situated along the Boise River with an open-air stage oriented to a backdrop of the setting sun, this is a combo of compelling theater and appealing picnics. It’s annual late-May through September season will celebrate 43 years this year and represents more than four decades of diverse productions from Mama Mia! to Macbeth.

Initially established in 2002 with the painting of one backstreet doorway, Freak Alley Gallery now extends along the entire alley between downtown’s Bannock and Idaho Streets, entered from either 8th or 9th Street. Open 24/7 and requiring no ticket for admission, this colorful outdoor collection of murals, graffiti and public art is the largest mural gallery in the northwest. Upon further exploration of the city’s streets, it’s revealed that even traffic control boxes are artfully painted, evidence of the city’s commitment to public art.

Basque Block

For a bit of history, head to Basque Block. Representing one of the world’s largest concentrations of Basque people, you’ll know you’ve arrived by the red, white and green flags on lamp posts, the Basque Museum and the city’s oldest existing brick building, Cyrus Jacobs House, both of which are open for tours. But it’s the grocery/restaurant Basque Market’s owner, Tony Eiguren, who will transport your taste buds to this ethnic group’s European region. Not to be missed, time your visit with the Market’s Thursday night 6 p.m. paella dinner or Wednesday and Friday’s lunches on the patio at noon. Though prepared in the largest of paella pans, ensure an early arrival to enjoy a glass of sangria and secure a spot as the dish sells out quickly.

For more food, venture beyond the Basque Block to 8th Street, known as Boise’s unofficial “restaurant row”. Though choices are plentiful, with many featuring patios, among its standouts are Fork Restaurant and Wild Root Café & Market. Fork’s mantra, “loyal to local,” reflects its farm-to-table commitment and is known for such specialties as cast iron queso dip, voodoo chicken (a slow roasted Moroccan-style entrée) and salted caramel bread pudding. Wild Root’s husband-and-wife team, Michael and Anne-Marie Trebbi, met in culinary school and its eclectic and creative menu showcases this background with items like Migas at breakfast, grilled PB&B (peanut butter and banana) at lunch and Wagyu beef at dinner.

More Calories to Enjoy

However, it’s not a requirement to remain on 8th for good food. Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro’s claim to food fame is its banana-stuffed French toast, sweet potato hash browns, and homemade Hollandaise. But with only 56 seats, plan on a wait, albeit a well-worth-it wait. Big City Coffee & Café is synonymous with big breakfasts. Located in the Linen District (described by Via Magazine as “a blue-collar area that has spun itself into a chic destination”), the café’s pumpkin chai muffins, cherry pie scones, Rosie’s biscuits, and gravy and Mexican chocolate shortbread cookies are farm-inspired comfort food. On the other end of the breakfast spectrum is Guru Donuts, which is in the Idanha historical building and is famous for its Hipster Berry selection, a vegan donut.

Richard’s, an Italian-inspired restaurant named for chef-owner Richard Langston, serves up regional and European wines specially selected to pair with its menu, a menu known for distinctive offerings such as gorgonzola-stuffed figs and chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. BACON restaurant, an eatery that cooks up eight tons of bacon a year, is the creation of John Berryhill. Among its full-flavor favorites are bacon mac and cheese (made with tomatoes and four kinds of cheese, Food & Wine Magazine selected it as one of the nation’s best) and bacon lasagna, featured on the Travel Channel. One of only a few coffee shops with a liquor license, its bacon-embellished Bloody Mary comes in three levels of heat – “regular,” “spicy” and “pissed off.”
In balance to the savory is the sweet. Thus, the perfect end-of-an-evening selection can be found at The STIL Ice Cream Shop. An acronym for “the sweetest things in life” and voted Boise’s best dessert, here you can find custom-crafted dairy ice cream, booze-infused flavors (all locally sourced), ice cream with beer or wine pairings and handmade ice cream sandwiches.

So many meals, so little time. Though if planned with a purpose, it’s possible to discover the city, devour its delectables and exercise with ease – simultaneously. Indulge Boise Food Tours – food tasting and walking tours – are a delicious introduction to this city, once known for its history, now for its history-making food scene.

Bon Appetit, Boise!

This article originally appeared on TravelSquire.