Amigos Mexican Restaurant 

2870 W. State St., 208-343-1001. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Closed Sunday

Regardless of how large Boise grows or how many restaurants open and close, two food genres have remained almost consistently ho-hum: Chinese and Mexican.

Even with an influx of bigger-city residents over the last few years, we've yet to see a noodle shop or anyone who does dumplings with success and regularity. "SoBo," or South of the Border, food is relegated mostly to the realm of Tex-Mex, with few transient examples to the contrary. I grew up eating and loving the toned-down, deep-fat fried, sauce-laden, adjusted-for-the-American-palate versions of both ethnic cuisines. Unfortunately I've since learned better.

I've all but given up Chinese in Boise, preferring to seek out my Malaysian friend's kitchen, where Chinese, Thai and Indian commingle like old friends. The SoBo problem isn't so easily solved. Curiously, Boise is a sort of Mexican food purgatory, where we with a few venial sins on our records wait it out until we're able to make it to Caldwell. We limp by with the occasional trip to the taco truck, or, if you're as diligent a diner as myself, you've found the one dish on every SoBo joint's menu that's enough to bring you back. Perhaps it's the tamales in one place, the mole at another. Likely it's a recipe taught to the proprietor/proprietress by an older generation and brought to the United States.

After several trips to Amigos, I've yet to find that dish. However, two things give me hope: the menu, which is uncomplicated and combo-free, and the staff, a gracious couple who run the place day in and day out.

My hypothesis is that a meal in their home is a far cry from a meal in their restaurant. I'd wager it's a place where tamales are served still wrapped in corn husks and without the thin, tomato-based sauce from a can. It's a kitchen where the chili verde has a touch of heat and the dish is served like a steaming bowl of stew rather than pork chunks smothered in versatile, for-the-enchiladas-too verde sauce. And hopefully, it's a place where the pepper makes an unmistakable showing.

Although order by combo number isn't required of you at Amigos, the menu manages to squeeze in plenty of Tex-Mex options to bridge the disparity between the house specialties and the truly American offerings. Those choices rate on par with what the local chains have conditioned Boiseans to endorse. The rice is never overcooked, the beans never too salty and sour cream is a familiar constant. Enchiladas verde are fine enough; a banderilla is a super-sized version of a taquito, which makes it difficult to eat gracefully; and the big burrito certainly sates a big appetite, although it'd be more appropriately portioned for three hungry diners.

A dessert in the vein of nachos with chip-like sopapillas smothered in sugar, cinnamon and honey and topped with ice cream was a hit back at the office (although I secretly still pine for a place in town with the puffy, air pocket version). Homemade flan may actually be what draws me back, not having had the occasion yet to sample it. Maybe that will be the standout dish I expect is hidden somewhere in Amigos' kitchen. Or maybe it's the mole. For now, the search continues.

—Rachael Daigle likes her food spicy, her coffee black and her vodka straight.

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