Beyond Boise's Borders 

Must-eat stops in Eagle, Meridian, Nampa and Caldwell

You won't break the bank at La Pinata Bakery.

photo by Kelsey Hawes

You won't break the bank at La Pinata Bakery.

It is evident to anyone who has been in downtown Boise during the past six months, Idaho's capital city is growing. It's not only Boise sprouting up, though. New businesses and residents are taking root from 1A to 2C and the more Ada and Canyon counties expand, the more the distance between them seems to shrink. It has long been "worth the drive" to check out some of the eateries in Eagle, Meridian, Nampa and Caldwell but, now, it seems even easier (plus, gas is currently super cheap). Though you may not need any extra incentive to occasionally leave Boise's construction zones behind, we took advantage of the perceived reduced distance (and truly lower fuel prices) and headed outside city limits in search of a few gems.

Eagle: The Blue Moose Cafe

click to enlarge If you can't choose at the Blue Moose, we suggest the burger and rings. - PHOTO BY MEGHAN FULCHER
  • photo by Meghan Fulcher
  • If you can't choose at the Blue Moose, we suggest the burger and rings.

Camouflaged on a little residential side street off Eagle Road, the Blue Moose Cafe looks a lot like most of the surrounding houses. A wooden sign hanging off the eaves in front and a small parking lot out back are about all that distinguish the Blue Moose's exterior from its neighbors'. Although the Blue Moose is definitely a restaurant, eating there is like enjoying a home-cooked meal at the house of a friend or family member—especially because when she's not in the kitchen, chef/owner Marcy Anderson might be found next to the big stone fireplace (which is next to the giant portrait of a winking blue moose) in the dining room or chatting with customers. Like the building itself, the menu is more than it appears on first glance: sandwiches, wraps and salads seem standard fare, but surprising ingredients makes for an unexpected flavor profile. A ham and cheese sandwich is served on cinnamon bread; a vegetarian wrap contains rice pilaf; onion rings look and taste like they're fried in hush puppy batter; the Blue Moose Cafe's signature salad comes with a sprinkling of almond honey granola; and beef for burgers is mixed with breadcrumbs and egg. The beef is also fresh: Anderson said she refuses to use frozen patties, instead buying hamburger from a nearby Albertson's every other day. Blue Moose Cafe has something else going for it, too: It's clear Anderson enjoys what she does. You can taste it in her food.

Meridian: The Hungry Onion

click to enlarge Get full at the Hungry Onion. - PHOTO BY KELSEY HAWES
  • photo by Kelsey hawes
  • Get full at the Hungry Onion.

When the Hungry Onion opened in the 1950s, it wasn't an anomaly. Burger joints with curb service were as ubiquitous in the Happy Days era as pompadours and jukeboxes, and the Hungry Onion fit the archetype bill--it was even featured in the 1980 Clint Eastwood movie, Bronco Billy. What does make the Hungry Onion anomalous is that while everything else has changed since the '50s, it has remained much the same. A kid who saved up his paper route money so he could pedal over to the Hungry Onion for a burger and fries or a cone might feel like a time traveler if he stopped by today (except prices have naturally gone up). The Hungry Onion still serves an awesome burger, as well as ice cream, fries and some of the Valley's best tater gems. Even cooler, it's still family owned, a rare feat in today's market. It's like the good ol' days never ended at the Hungry Onion.

Nampa: Flying M Coffeegarage and El Rodeo

click to enlarge Pull into the Flying M Coffeegarage for a delightful sweet and a cuppa. - PHOTO BY KELSEY HAWES
  • photo by Kelsey Hawes
  • Pull into the Flying M Coffeegarage for a delightful sweet and a cuppa.

"Hidden" isn't an apt description for this coffeeshop/venue in the heart of downtown Nampa, but "treasure" certainly is. The big space is roomy enough to accommodate coffee drinkers and concert goers alike, but feels as intimate as a favorite relative's living room—if that relative has great taste. Shelves, tables and countertops in the shop are filled with so many cool curios, it would take someone hours to check out all of the wallets, notebooks, candles, statues, socks and more, more, more. That much browsing can make a person thirsty—and hungry—which can be easily remedied with one of Flying M's specialty drinks and the selection of mostly housemade treats in the pastry case: maybe a chai tea and a lemon bar, an espresso and a pecan roll, an Americano and a samosa. Whatever combination of eats and drinks perks up your day, make sure Flying M Coffeegarage is your pit stop.

click to enlarge Don't be chicken: Try the arroz con pollo at El Rodeo. - PHOTO BY KELSEY HAWES
  • photo by Kelsey Hawes
  • Don't be chicken: Try the arroz con pollo at El Rodeo.

On first glance, El Rodeo isn't much to look at. The non-descript building is so close to an adjacent motel, the restaurant entrance looks like it's the door to the lobby. It isn't fancy inside, either, and the menu is as busy as the connector at 5 p.m. It can be daunting to choose from hundreds of burritos, enchiladas, carnitas and fajitas, with the option of carne asada, camarones or pollo, plus a few Spanish and South American-influenced dishes. If you can't choose, ask one of the friendly, solicitous servers for a suggestion or take our advice and try the arroz con pollo (rice with chicken). It's a dish often made with olives, alcaparras (capers), green peas, red bell peppers, and it can be found on plenty of Mexican menus around these parts. El Rodeo's version does have chicken and rice, but that's where the similarities end: mushrooms, onions and chicken breast are sauteed in a rich tomato-based "special sauce." El Rodeo's arroz con pollo is seasoned to perfection, making a simple list of ingredients into a dish as good—if not better—than those with the same name.

Caldwell: La Pinata Bakery (pictured above)

If you've never had Mexican pan dulce (sweet bread), you have been missing out on an excellent way to kick off your day—or wrap it up. The variously shaped, often brightly colored pastries are like a cross between bread and cake: crumbly and not-too-sweet. Naturally, pan dulce is best when it's fresh, and it's always fresh at La Pinata Bakery. Since it opened in 2000, this festive little family owned and operated panaderia in the heart of downtown Caldwell has been making traditional conchas, cuernos and more, helping customers add a little dulce to their day.

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