Weekend Escape: Chill but changing downtown Boise boasts a sophisticated food scene
At the Chocolat Bar in Boise, Kristi Echols-Preston and Chris Preston make chocolate with flavor twists, such as white chocolate lemon lavender almond bark.(Andy DeLuce)
The exterior of Idaho’s State Capitol in Boise is made of hard sandstone quarried from nearby Table Rock.(Angela Frucci)
The interior of the dome of Idaho’s State Capitol in Boise has thirteen large stars and 43 smaller stars for Idaho’s admission as 43rd state in 1890.(Angela Frucci)
Fork Restaurant’s signature farm-to-fork fare includes a cast-iron buttermilk fried chicken and cheddar waffle.(Fork Restaurant)
The Modern Hotel and Bar is a transformed Travelodge with inventive cocktails and a restaurant that showcases locally sourced ingredients.(Modern Hotel and Bar)
Oh, beloved Boise, or Boy-C, as the locals pronounce it. Spend a weekend in this rapidly changing Idaho city and you realize why its downtown has been rated as among the top 10 in the U.S. It also features cultural attractions such as the Basque Block and the Boise Philharmonic, and it’s minutes (not hours) to hiking and biking trails. My friend and I hit Boise this spring, finding a surprisingly sophisticated, expanding food and microbrewery scene, making this chill Northwestern town of sandstone and green open spaces a nice weekend (or longer) destination. The tab: We spent about $400, including $208 for one night at the Modern Hotel, about $60 at the Modern Bar and $58 for two at Fork Restaurant. From LAX, Southwest, United and Delta offer nonstop flights (about three hours and 20 minutes) to Boise for about $284 round trip.
A former Travelodge transformed into a Boise boutique, the Modern Hotel & Bar (1314 W. Grove St.;  424-8244, www.themodernhotel.com; rooms for two from about $120 in summer) has enough Midcentury vibe to make Don Draper comfortable. We found Zen-ly tidy rooms with crisp white sheets, and enjoyed eating in the Modern Bar, where its talented chef showcases local and seasonal hors d’oeuvres and cocktails that can be enjoyed glamp-style by the Modern’s outdoor fire pits.
With our stomachs leading the way, we stormed into Fork Restaurant (199 N. 8th St.;  287-1700, www.boisefork.com), where foodies indulge in the kitchen’s signature farm-to-fork fare. Most menu items have some component that’s either locally grown or produced in the Northwest, such as a delicious buttermilk fried chicken and cheddar waffle (Tuesdays only) with local Ballard cheese and orange Idaho honey butter. The Urban Burger, a shameless blend of brisket and ground sirloin, paired perfectly with Cinder’s 2012 Tempranillo, which sources grapes from nearby Snake River Valley.
On our way to the state capitol in the heart of downtown Boise, we sampled chocolate marvels at the Chocolat Bar (805 W. Bannock St.;  338-7771, www.thechocolatbar.com). Though the company blends its own dark chocolate, we were smitten with its white chocolate lemon lavender almond bark and dark chocolate red chili pistachio bark.
The lesson learned
Boise has two fine farmers markets, which confused us, because they are a stone’s throw from each other in downtown. The Capital City Public Market and Boise Farmers Market open Saturday mornings and continue until about 1p.m. (seasonally); the former is a bit more arts and crafts, the latter more traditional.
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