Best of Both Worlds in Four Cities: Boise, ID

written by: Glen Warchol and Mary Brown Malouf

Photo courtesy of: Idaho Tourism

Modern Boise

Good morning! Care for okonomiyaki? Key wat? Herb kuku?

Your choice of a Japanese-, Ethiopian- or Turkish-style breakfast is not what you’d expect from looking at this modest, mid-century former TraveLodge, now called The Modern. Even renovated, and despite the intentional graffiti-covered rear wall and the hipster-heavy clientele clustered around the fire pits, the building radiates  a corn-flake vibe. But like Boise, the nostalgic old structure houses a youthful heart.

And a sense of humor—at check-in, every guest receives a complimentary Idaho Spud candy bar, first sold in 1918.

Looks like a coconut covered potato.

But, not a potato. 

Nate Whitley, the chef at The Modern Hotel, is a James Beard Award semi-finalist—his menu is assertively global and local at the same time. Besides breakfast, we enjoyed late-night snacks of Smoked Trout Buderbrody, porcini and morel mushroom gnocchi and a Laphroaig Project, gin & verjus.

On Saturday morning, hop on one of the free Green Bikes parked at the hotel and take a look at downtown. Just down the block on Grove Street, the farmers market features booths loaded with shiny red and white onions, flats of fresh berries and cherries and coolers packed with locally raised beef, bison and lamb.

Order a cup of chicory coffee and some beignets and browse. Buy a pint of cherries for a snack back at your hotel room. Then cycle further downtown to the Capital City Public Market. Blocks of 8th Street are closed to traffic, creating long pedestrian walkways lined with boutiques on one side (pop into Shift and Ruby Lou for forward or retro fashion) and on the other, booths selling more food as well as handicrafts and—wine?

That’s when you know you’re not in Utah anymore. Gregg and Mary Alger, owners and winemakers at Huston Vineyards in the Snake River Valley American Viticulture Area on the Sunnyslope Wine Trail, are handing out icy tastings of their new Chicken Dinner Rose, made from grenache and cinseault. Take some back to your hotel room to enjoy with your cherries.

A longer ride (but Boise blocks are short compared to Salt Lake’s) takes you to the Boise River and the 25-mile greenbelt through which it meanders—a grassy park with picnic tables and volleyball courts, a paved bike path that runs alongside the river, a marked birding trail and the Payette Brewing Company and Taproom.

Obviously, you should stop here.

Boise is home to a thriving brew scene—pick up a Boise Ale Trail passport and go on a free self-guided tasting tour of the town’s breweries. Payette hosts food trucks daily (check their website for schedule) and the aroma of ribs, brisket and chicken from the Soulcraft Barbecue truck wafts through the taproom. Outside on the lawn, people are picnicking and playing cornhole; inside, families are gathered around tables, playing games, sipping beer and whiling away the afternoon.

Allow time to explore Boise’s Basque museum and restaurants. Pick up a red beret, made famous by Basque revolutionaries and these days, a good alternative to your pink crocheted pussy ears.


At dinnertime, the downtown blocks of 8th Street are lit up like Austin’s Sixth Street, with a similar, if smaller, party atmosphere. Practically every restaurant and cafe has its own outdoor dining patio. The most sought-after tables are at State & Lemp where the food is prepared by another James Beard finalist. But if you haven’t made reservations, there are lots of options. Have a cocktail at Red Feather Lounge during “low power happy hour,’’ drink by candlelight and stay for supper. Fork specializes in sharing plates of locally sourced food. We ate a casual but cutting-edge meal at Juniper—grilled prosciutto-wrapped peaches with whipped chevre and tiny greens and a Reuben made with local lamb and purple cabbage.

Then Cody at The Matador set us up with a flight of mezcal. He also turned us on (I do not use that phrase lightly) to The Mode Lounge down the street, a reclaimed fashion store. Bartenders Sarah and Allie shook up the The Bizz-Bang-Buzz that Cody recommended—a rose-colored cocktail, garnished with the bud of a szechuan button. Savor a sip of your drink, then a bite of the bud, and your mouth gets a tingling, fizzy sensation, like a shot of novocaine that settles into a champagne-like buzz and changes the flavor of the cocktail.

I hear these are big in Las Vegas. Is Boise the next Vegas? With that idea buzzing in our heads, we said good night.

Taste of Idaho

Spend a day in Idaho wine country—the Snake River Valley AVA is only 45 minutes from downtown Boise. Check out the Sunnyslope Wine Trail (sunnyslope​ Or stay in town and experience urban wine at Cinder, Teyala, Coiled or Split Rail wineries and tasting rooms.

Explore by land or water

Explore the foothills outside Boise via the Ridge to Rivers trail system—190 miles of interconnected hiking and cycling trails. Idaho is the “whitewater state” with the most raftable whitewater in the lower 48. Cascade Raft and Kayak is 45 minutes from Downtown Boise and offers full- and half-day trips for kids to the experienced.

The Modern Hotel

Fleeing Franco’s Spain, many Basque settled in Idaho where they could carry on their traditional sheepherding. In Nampa, Idaho, during the Great Depression, two sheepherders, Regina Echevarria, and her husband, lost all of their sheep. They opened a Basque boarding house that catered to Basque immigrants, sheepherders, traveling musicians and businessmen. They called it The Modern Hotel. Sixty years later, Elizabeth Tullis, Regina’s granddaughter, bought a run-down TraveLodge in Boise and named it after the original Modern, using the original logo. Local architect Dwaine Carver and interior designer Kerry Tullis did the mid-century renovation and redesign. 

See the other 3 vacation spots we recommend: Boulder, CO | Spokane, WA | Santa Fe, NM

Salt Lake Magazine
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