Every year, The Idaho Statesman invites their readers to chime in on what they consider to be the best eateries, retailers, venues and recreation spots in the Treasure Valley. And every year I look forward to it, because I’m not such a snob that I believe the popular consensus holds no merit, especially when it comes to restaurants. This year in particular, I feel compelled to venture forth a few opinions of my own, and I’ve decided to do it here rather than in the comments section of the Statesman’s website in the hopes I might maintain a little dignity rather than getting dragged into the juvenile mudslinging happening there (tempting though it might be).
- Best Asian Restaurant – Golden Star has won this three years in a row now. Though I used to really dig the place, I haven’t been there in quite some time (like fifteen years, if memory serves), and I’m thinking it might be time for a return visit. This is also the selection that made me feel like venting a little, as there are four pages worth of comments on the website, the majority of it backbiting from pedantic, pretentious blowhards. As you would expect, a lot of it involves insulting the quality of Asian restaurants here and the tastes of the people who patronize them. I spend as much time as anyone bemoaning the lack of authentic, regional Chinese cuisine here, but the fact remains that to the majority of people in the area, Golden Star is the best of the available options. Deal with it. As my beloved so often takes pleasure in pointing out when I’m going off about traditional ingredients and methods, the most important thing is still whether or not the food tastes good. Even if there were an amazing Szechuan place here, I’d still be making late night runs to Twin Dragon (best chow mein in town). Since the concept of fusion cuisine is so hot right now, perhaps the Americanized “Chinese” restaurants would do better to bill themselves as “Chinese American Fusion”. Just a thought. For my own part, I try to keep my bitching on the subject to a minimum, except when it comes to the almost total lack of dim sum in the Treasure Valley, and I won’t be tackling that subject right now…
- Best Mexican restaurant – Chapala has taken this for the ninth time in thirteen years. That doesn’t shock or offend me, even though I haven’t been particularly impressed by them. It’s the runners-up that bother me. Café Olé? I have no issue with them winning Best happy hour since I’ve sucked down enough 2 for 1 margaritas there myself, but the food is hardly traditional Mexican, and unlike the local Chinese options there are plenty of good Mexican eateries around. Same thing with Los Betos, though I wholeheartedly agree with their taking the Best place to eat for under $7 category. Baja Fresh? I adore them, especially since the entire place is in open view and there isn’t a can opener, microwave or freezer in sight, but they still don’t seem appropriate for this list. If these places can make the short list, why not Fiesta Guadalajara? Granted, I’ve only tried three of the locations and there wasn’t anything particularly special about the Boise and Eagle ones, but the Meridian branch is one of my favorite restaurants, period. The manager is as friendly as you could possibly hope, they really go the extra mile with portion size and presentation, and their sauces are just plain addictive. Try the veggie burrito there and tell me you disagree (I recommend that one because there’s nothing in it to get in the way of the sauce). Of course ideally I’d have loved to see this title go to Lorena’s Mexican Grill or the taqueria in Campos Market, but I’m not lying to myself about who the voters were…
- Best coffeehouse – I honestly don’t know why I bother to look at this anymore. I don’t even remember the last time anybody other than Moxie Java won, if it’s ever happened at all. All I can say is that on three separate occasions at three separate locations, they just plain forgot to put the coffee in my drink. Two times I’ve gotten drinks that were ice cold (and no, I hadn’t ordered and wasn’t served iced coffee by mistake). That all happened in the only dozen or so times I’ve had their coffee, which makes for a pretty lousy batting average. I’ve discussed Moxie with a lot of people over the years, and much of the time the conversation goes from being one about the quality of the coffee beverages to a diatribe about supporting local businesses. They’re a chain now, just like Starbucks but not as big. They have locations in Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina and Wyoming. I’ve even heard rumblings about the possibility of international expansion. If I get a bug up my butt about supporting local businesses, I’ll go to Flying M, Dawson Taylor, or one of the little drive-through shacks that are scattered through the parking lots all over town. Usually my money goes to Starbucks because they’re close to both home and work, but if I’m going to make a trip for the pure pleasure of drinking coffee, my choice is nearly always Dutch Bros. They started off as a Northwest business, the employees are always genuinely friendly, the tax is already figured in to the prices of the drinks, there’s no extra charge for flavors or whipped cream if you desire them, their large drinks come with four shots of espresso out of the gate, and extras are only a quarter. They’re also very charity-oriented and socially conscious. Did I mention the coffee is really good too? And they didn’t even show up as an “also ran” on the Statesman’s list.
- Best late-night food – Pie Hole…was there any doubt? It’s definitely in keeping with what I said about them being a good place to hit up when you’re drunk. Maybe they try harder after last call because that’s when their true target demographic comes out, or maybe they’re that perfect combination of grease and starch that you need when you’re inebriated (check out the late-night lines at Jack in the Box for more proof of this). Maybe I hit the Meridian location on a bad night, though prime dinner hours on a Friday evening would seem like the time to put your best foot forward. Still contemplating giving them another chance.
- Best pizza – Flying Pie. Yes, that seems about right to me. I even agree with most of the other nominees, though I was surprised that Papa Murphy’s wasn’t even a contender. Is it because you have to cook it yourself? Personally, if I’m eating it at home anyway, I love having the control over how crispy the crust gets and how browned the cheese is. And I swear their veggie pizza is better served cold the next day.
- Best fries – Guess who! Did I hit Boise Fry Company on a bad day or something? Or do I just have a completely different opinion than most as to what constitutes a great fry? I guess not, because I’m in agreement with my sister that nothing beats McDonald’s fries if you get them when they’re fresh, and they took second place. Maybe this is more of that supporting local businesses stuff, since it seems that if a place is locally owned and located downtown it’s hard to find people saying bad things about them. Red Robin, Westside Drive-In and Big Jud’s also made the list. I haven’t been to the first two in a while and I’ve never to Big Jud’s at all. Maybe it’s about time I give them a try? So many places and so little time. And even less money. Anyone wanna pay me to do this?