7330 W. State St., 208-853-7757; Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-close, Sun. 12 p.m.-close

I am about to let you in on a secret. It's one I'm reluctant to share with just anyone because I think of this restaurant as a hideout where I get a consistently delicious meal in a low-key atmosphere while leaving at home the crafty disguises that are necessary for a Boise Weekly food reviewer. They know my true identity at this place, yet I can tell by the enthusiasm of other customers that they don't reserve the best stuff just for me.

Tucked in a tiny strip mall at the intersection of State Street and Gary Lane is a terrific little joint called Pizzalchik that specializes in thin-crust pizza, a killer house salad and juicy roasted chicken. The name stands for pizza/salad/chicken, and it opened in 2004 as a dinky little spot sporting four tables and a few stools near the counter where owner/chef Brad Breakell or right-hand man Steve Horton were usually tossing pizzas. Today the restaurant has expanded into the former empty space next door, and several tables have been set up on the pole-and-post fenced patio out front.

On the rare occasion when I do divulge my secret, the first thing I mention is that Breakell makes not only his pizza dough from scratch, but also the elk sausage and marinated artichoke hearts used to top his pies. His house salad is a work of art, far above the iceberg/tomato/cucumber yawn offered at less imaginative establishments. Pizzalchik's house salad ($4.95-$9.95) is a fusion of flavors that includes thin slices of kiwi and homemade spiced beets atop beds of orzo, lemon-infused broccoli, marinated red cabbage and sesame-dressed rice noodles. All of this sits on a bed of mixed greens that I enjoy lightly tossed in Pizzalchik's house-made Thousand Island dressing. It's been a few years running that we laugh and then cry with Brad when the readers of a rival newspaper have voted that the area's best salad comes from a national steakhouse chain's salad bar. It's easy to fill a couple dozen crocks with fodder for the masses. But it takes talent to create edible art like the folks at Pizzalchik do every day.

The pizza drill is simple. You can top the one-size-only, 10-inch cheese pizza ($7.99) any way you like; toppings cost $1.10 each. Elk sausage, artichoke hearts and wild mushrooms are personal favorites, as are jalapenos and salmon, which are both smoked on site. For several years, Breakell and his wife, Judy, maintained a macrobiotic diet, which tuned them in to regional and seasonal foods and now helps to keep menu flavors fresh and interesting all year long. Dinner specials, like meaty crab cakes ($18.95) or pork scallopini in Calvados sauce ($17.95), allow the formally trained Canadian chef to flex his culinary muscles. Judy's specialty? Creating feather-light cheesecakes in addictive flavors like key lime, apple crisp and chocolate-Amaretto.

Breakell, who is also a drummer, rounds up a few musician friends to play for beer on Saturday nights, and together they rock the patio. Look for the guy in the tie-dye chef's coat jamming on the drum kit. That's Breakell. Throughout the week, an eclectic variety of music plays over the P.A. system that ranges from classic rock to modern jazz. In the last four years, we've enjoyed many a conversation with the chef about favorite musicians over bottles of Cooper's Vintage Ale ($3.95) and Anderson Valley Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema (with its cream soda finish). The restaurant's expansion included a new tap, so now the custom-brewed, organic Pizzal Drizl ale ($3.75/pint) also beckons. The secret is out: My favorite pizza joint in Boise is Pizzalchik, where we always get a satisfying meal, unusual beers and stimulating conversation. And I can leave my disguise at home.

—Jennifer Hernandez has been adopted by a feisty kitten.

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