The first time I attempted to dine at Wok-Inn Noodle, it was closed. The sign out front said it had opened an hour ago, but the door was locked. When I peered through the glass into the darkened restaurant, I saw a wizened man slowly sweeping the floor. He didn’t seem like he was in a rush to get cooking.
Wok-Inn Noodle doesn’t operate like most restaurants. There’s one small dining room, one server, and one chef in the kitchen making one dish at a time—and the restaurant opens whenever he feels like it.
Boise is home to a lot of restaurants that serve upscale casual American cuisine. Boise is also home to a lot of restaurants that used to be food trucks. Saint Lawrence Gridiron is both of those things, and that makes it a quintessentially Boise establishment.
Saint Lawrence offers barbecued meat and comfort food redesigned in service of modern palates. The menu includes brisket, pulled pork, and other hefty entrees that your doctor doesn’t need to know about.
Baguette Deli is Boise’s most well-known supplier of Bánh mì, a beautiful category of sandwich that was invented when savory Vietnamese flavors and fillings met the French baguette. The bustling lunch spot is tucked into the side of the Fred Meyer on Orchard and Franklin streets.
The sandwiches offer respectable meat and a fresh bundle of veggies tucked into a flaky and chewy segment of baguette. A generous burst of cilantro and a subtle smear of a delightful mayonnaise variant make each bite exciting.
Boise, Idaho is a growing, thriving metropolis. It is not yet ‘world class’.
Yes, we live near ‘world class’ river rapids. Yes, we have a ‘world class’ college football training complex. And yes, we may even experience ‘world class’ quality of life. (I assume the mayor is happily nodding at that one.)
But the hard truth is, most of the things we like in this city are only ‘quite good’. Our food scene contains many excellent meals, but few transcendent ones.
This will likely be an inflammatory statement, and I welcome discussion in the comments, but I think there are two ‘world class’ establishments in Boise:
For years, I heard enchanting tales about Tango’s Empanadas. People would return from the beloved Orchard St. establishment gently touching the flakes of fried dough stuck to their upper lips as if they were the shimmering remnants of a magic spell.
To my great shame, I never managed to visit. I ignored the siren song of these Argentinian treats for more than a decade. Just two weeks ago, I finally got my life together and visited Tango’s.
Now, what exactly is an empanada? It is hot meat, cheese, or vegetables fried inside a light and crispy shell of dough. And—Why are you already running toward the restaurant?
When I found out that Bleubird was closing I could barely leave my house. The sudden evaporation of the city’s finest sandwich shop felt like a nightmare. Bleubird’s brilliant sandwiches, inventive side salads and herbaceous fruit sodas were so beloved that a line often curled out the door and down the block on Friday afternoons.
At the nadir of my emotional crisis, I was saved by astounding, thrilling news. Sarah and David Kelly, the power couple behind Bleubird’s massive success, were opening a new restaurant on Boise’s bench. Cleverly dubbed ‘Petite 4’ (a nod to its diminutive size and location at 4 N Latah St.), the Kelly’s new venture would serve French food in an ‘upscale casual’ environment. I made reservations as soon as possible.
My girlfriend and I visited Petite 4 on a Saturday evening at 7:30 pm. Reservations are mandatory unless you plan on fighting for space at the bar. Petite 4 has inherited much of its stylistic vision from Bleubird, but the execution is closer to impeccable. A striking kitchen forms the heart of the restaurant, and every member of the staff looks dapper in a pinstriped apron.
My girlfriend, blessed to be born in 1997, turned to the wine list. I, a cursed child of 1998, examined the sodas. We asked the waitress for guidance, and she said that most people order one starter, one vegetable, and two entrees. Expecting small, fine dining sized portions, I ordered those four dishes and a cheese plate. Little did I know, the entrees here are roughly the size of a family sedan. When you consider the vastness of some of these meals, the prices are closer to a brewery than a steakhouse.
If I had it to do over, I would order one starter, two vegetables, and split an entrée. That way, I would have had room for dessert.
We are wrapping up taco and burrito week (get it?). I kicked off this week with a rundown of downtown Boise’s sorry burrito situation. But you may recall that the taco situation was better…
…much, much better.
This week I sampled the fare at two of Boise’s hot new taco spots. Calle 75 and The Funky Taco have strikingly similar stories: beloved food truck turned brick and mortar establishment. Both are focused on honoring their street food past and creating eyebrow-raising taco innovations. Their culinary goals are so similar that I’m surprised they opened just a few blocks apart. They will have to pull from the same taco loving demographic; I hope the population is large enough for both to flourish.
Because these are good tacos.
But I’m not here to hand out participation awards. Here at Eating With Henry we pursue excellence and we choose winners. So where do you go when you have $11.73 in your pocket (remember, these are upscale) and a hankering for tacos?
The Turkey Bahn Mi at Hyde House might be my favorite sandwich in Boise right now. It’s a brilliant creation that I have eaten twice in the last month. It’s on the pricey side as sandwiches go ($12) but I’ve been able to justify it to myself, mostly because the lime mayo makes me so happy.
Everyone knows that the success of a sandwich relies on it’s bread. Hyde House hits it out of the park here: their baguette is simultaneously light, soft and crunchy. Amen.
The turkey is equally well executed, with thick slices that really transcend the ordinary deli meat experience.
The pickled red onion is, as always, magic. (Most amazing bites of food I eat involve a sweet or acidic onion.) The jalapeño relish delivers a strong performance and adds much needed heat. And the lime-spiked mayo… shall I compare thee to a summer day?
I recommend making your way to Hyde House soon, just in case this delightful item is tragically removed from their seasonal menu. I always get their iceberg laden house salad on the side, but the choice of side is, as ever, a personal matter.