Gem State Grub: Idaho’s Most-Iconic Dishes

Go beyond the potatoes to find destination-worthy Idaho fare.

Photo By: Tara Morgan

Photo By: Tara Morgan

Photo By: Tara Morgan

Photo By: Picasa

Photo By: David Agnello

Photo By: Tara Morgan

Photo By: Tara Morgan

Photo By: Tara Morgan

Photo By: Tara Morgan

Photo By: Tara Morgan

Gem-State Grub

Though Idaho might be most famous for its potatoes, the state serves plenty of other culinary gems, including ruby red trout, plump purple huckleberries and honeycomb-topped morel mushrooms. No matter the bounty, Idaho’s edible options are as diverse as its rugged Rocky Mountain terrain. 

Monkey fries photography courtesy of Tara Morgan

Ice Cream Potato

Though at first blush it looks like a loaded baked potato, Westside Drive-In’s famous spud skews sweet rather than savory. Featuring a glob of vanilla ice cream rolled in a layer of dirt-hued cocoa and crowned with a tuft of whipped cream, Westside’s Ice Cream Potato is a nod (with a wink) to the state’s famous export but also a tasty treat when served in a puddle of warm chocolate sauce. 

Photography courtesy of Tara Morgan 

Go to: Westside Drive In

Finger Steaks

Outsiders may think Idaho’s best-known dish is the potato, but ask most Idahoans to name the state’s signature dish and you’ll hear “finger steaks.” These battered, deep-fried beef strips were invented in the mid-1950s by Milo Bybee at the Torch Lounge in Boise. Though you can order a basket of these crunchy morsels at most dive bars, Lindy’s Steak House in Boise has perfected the recipe. The chefs at Lindy’s use top sirloin, rub it with fresh garlic, then dunk it in seasoned flour and drop it in a high-pressure deep-fat fryer until it’s crisp outside but still pink on the inside. 

Photography courtesy of Tara Morgan

Go to: Lindy's Steak House

Idaho Ruby Red Trout

Located on the lip of the Snake River Canyon, with the Perrine Bridge arching up in the distance, Elevation 486 offers more than a postcard view. The Twin Falls bistro lures locals with hearty New American fare like fire-grilled Oregon quail basted with a honey-bourbon-jalapeno glaze. The restaurant’s Idaho ruby red trout is sourced from nearby Hagerman, which produces around 70 percent of the country’s farm-raised trout. The boneless fillets are pan-broiled, brushed with house-smoked roasted red pepper butter and served with sides like wild rice pilaf and seasonal vegetables. 

Photography courtesy of Elevation 486

Go to: Elevation 486

Jim Spud

Taxidermized deer and buffalo heads peer down from the walls at Pioneer Saloon, a rustic steak-and-potatoes mainstay on Ketchum’s Main Street. The space is also decked out with statues of cowboys on bucking horses and a cocked shotgun owned by Ernest Hemingway. After a long day on the ski slopes at Baldy, patrons swear by the gargantuan Jim Spud, an Idaho potato loaded with 6 ounces of teriyaki steak scraps, caramelized onions, butter, sour cream and a mound of melting cheddar cheese. But only the hungriest should go solo: This is a beast that’s best shared. 

Photography courtesy of Tara Morgan 

Go to: The Pioneer Saloon

Huckleberry Milkshake

Follow the mural of a trout and a bear sharing a milkshake to this quirky small-town emporium, which features souvenirs and fly-fishing supplies in the front and an old-time soda fountain in the back. Victor Emporium is renowned for its creamy huckleberry milkshake, made with ice cream from Farr Candy Co. in Idaho Falls and fresh huckleberries purchased from local foragers. Small, purple and similar to a blueberry, huckleberries are the state fruit of Idaho. Victor Emporium’s huckleberry milkshake is served with a straw thick enough for the mildly tart berries to pass through. 

Photography courtesy of Tara Morgan 

Go to: Victor Emporium

Monkey Fries

There’s a twofold magic to the Monkey Fries at Lefty’s Bar and Grill, a laid-back apres-ski shack in Ketchum. First: The ridged potato discs are fried to a shattering golden crispness and dusted with mildly spicy seasoning. Second: They’re served with fry sauce. This magical mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup — served at every burger joint in the state — is the perfect rich, tangy counterpoint to a basket of crunchy fried food. And the little ridges on Lefty’s Monkey Fries give them maximum fry sauce-scooping potential. It’s a double win. 

Photography courtesy of Tara Morgan 

Go to: Lefty’s Bar and Grill

Beef Tongue

Boise boasts one of the largest Basque communities in the United States, and with a sizeable Basque population comes an abundance of authentic old-country dishes. Housed in a tiny brick building on Boise’s official Basque Block, Bar Gernika serves Spanish-influenced pub fare like pork solomo sandwiches with deep-fried croquetas. Every Saturday, from 11:30 a.m. until it sells out, the pub also slings beef tongue. Breaded and basted in a garlicky tomato sauce laced with choricero peppers, Bar Gernika’s beef tongue is served with a side of bread studded with roasted garlic cloves to mop up the sauce. 

Photography courtesy of Tara Morgan 

Go to: Bar Gernika

Cherry Pie

Emmett is famous for its fresh cherries, and when the sweet stone fruit ripens each June, this quaint Southwest Idaho town hosts an annual Cherry Festival, complete with parades and pie-eating contests. For an oozing slice of homemade cherry pie, head to Blue Ribbon Cafe and Bakery, which has been whipping up flaky pies with glistening fruit fillings for nearly two decades. The tender, buttery crust — with its windowsill-worthy lattice top — is based on a secret family recipe.

Photography courtesy of Blue Ribbon Cafe and Bakery

Go to: Blue Ribbon Cafe and Bakery

Duck Confit Poutine

Canada’s famous dish gets an Idaho makeover at Bittercreek Alehouse, a Boise gastropub that serves a rotating line up of craft brews along with pub classics that incorporate local, seasonal ingredients. The duck confit poutine is piled high with Idaho fries and topped with tender M&M Heath Farms duck, melty Ballard Family Dairy cheese curds and housemade gravy. It’s a decadent dish that pairs well with an indulgent barrel-aged imperial stout.

Photography courtesy of Tara Morgan 

Go to: Bittercreek

Idaho Sturgeon

Home to hundreds of geothermal hot springs, the Hagerman Valley is a hotbed of aquaculture operations. At Snake River Grill in Hagerman, 60 percent of the restaurant’s sales come from seafood, like trout and sturgeon, raised on nearby farms. Chef Kirt Martin, who’s known as the Sturgeon General, goes through 135,000 pounds of this firm-fleshed fish annually, sometimes breading and deep-frying it, and sometimes stuffing it with shrimp and serving it with a fire-roasted red bell pepper cream sauce. 

Photography courtesy of Tara Morgan

Go to: Snake River Grill

Red Flannel Hash

Don’t be deterred by the line out the door: The food at Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro is worth the wait. Boise’s iconic breakfast joint serves classics like hollandaise-topped eggs Benedict and banana-stuffed French toast, along with more unusual sides, like the popular red flannel hash. Featuring cubed beets and Idaho red potatoes, the red flannel hash is also peppered with chunks of crunchy bacon. Make it a full-blown breakfast with Goldy’s housemade pork sausage and a couple of glistening eggs over easy. 

Photography courtesy of Tara Morgan 

Go to: Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro

Artisan Cheese

Idaho is the third-largest producer of milk in the United States. But in addition to its large-scale dairy operations, the Gem State also has a number of small dairies that craft top-notch artisanal cheeses. At Nectar, a farm-to-table restaurant in Moscow with exposed brick walls and weathered wood tables, diners can sample some of North Idaho’s best cheeses, like garlicky marinated labneh and tangy Orchard Blue cheese from Brush Creek Creamery in Deary, or Cougar Gold cheddar, produced just over the border at Washington State University in neighboring Pullman. 

Photography courtesy of Tara Morgan 

Go to: Nectar

Ice Cream

In a nod to the milkmen of yore, Cloverleaf Creamery bottles its fresh milk and cream in recyclable glass bottles. Cloverleaf also crafts ultrarich ice cream from its small herd of registered, pedigree Holsteins. At the creamery’s quaint storefront in Buhl, you can pile up your waffle cone with heaping scoops of strawberry, huckleberry or Elk Tracks, a signature flavor made with vanilla ice cream, chocolate-caramel swirl, peanut butter cups and chocolate-covered peanuts. 

Photography courtesy of Tara Morgan 

Go to: Cloverleaf Creamery

Filet Mignon with Morels

From the large windows at Beverly’s, a fine-dining mainstay on the seventh floor of the Coeur d’Alene Resort, you’ll see sailboats cut a path across vast Lake Coeur d'Alene. Beverly’s specializes in seasonal Northwest cuisine, like potato-crusted Alaskan halibut or Snake River Farms filet mignon cooked to a cool pink and ladled with a silky Idaho morel mushroom-peppercorn sauce. The honeycomb-textured morels are foraged in higher-elevation areas around the state in late spring and early summer, usually after a good rain. 

Photography courtesy of Tara Morgan 

Go to: Beverly’s

Injera

Idaho is one of the leading producers of teff outside of Ethiopia. The poppy seed-sized grain has a mild, nutty flavor and is used to make one of Ethiopia’s iconic foods: injera. Sample the spongy, fermented flatbread at Kibrom’s Ethiopian and Eritrean Restaurant in Boise, where it’s used as a utensil to scoop up bites of zilzil wot, a stew of thinly sliced beef, onion and tomato simmered in a buttery red sauce. 

Photography courtesy of Tara Morgan 

Go to: Kibrom’s Ethiopian and Eritrean Restaurant

Idaho Hops

Idaho is the third-largest hop producer in the nation, with thousands of acres strung up near Wilder in the south and Bonners Ferry in the north. At Laughing Dog Brewing in Ponderay, you can sample hops straight from the vine every fall when the brewery produces its limited-release Fresh Hop Pale, made from freshly harvested Cascade and Zeus hops, which impart an intensely citrusy, fresh-cut-grass flavor. 

Photography courtesy of Laughing Dog Brewing

Go to: Laughing Dog Brewing

Eau de Vie

Eau de vie, French for “water of life,” is a clear brandy made from fermented and distilled fruit. Koenig Vineyards and Distillery in Caldwell’s Sunnyslope wine region crafts delicate Austrian-style eaux de vie in copper pot stills. Many of the brandies incorporate fruit grown on the bucolic orchard property — including cherries, plums and pears. Koenig’s new tasting room, a short drive from the distillery, offers samples of its fruit brandies, its vodkas and its award-winning wines made with grapes harvested from surrounding vineyards. 

Photography courtesy of Tara Morgan 

Go to: Koenig Vineyards and Distillery

Elk Carpaccio with Wild Huckleberries

Perched on the banks of Payette Lake in McCall, Rupert’s at Hotel McCall serves a seasonal menu of hearty mountain classics with a fusion twist. James Beard Foundation Award-nominated chef Gary Kucy prepares hunting lodge-worthy game dishes, like local venison meatballs with juniper-pickled cabbage or cold-smoked elk carpaccio with potato chips plus wild Idaho huckleberries foraged from the nearby mountains. 

Photography courtesy of Rupert’s at Hotel McCall

Go to: Rupert’s at Hotel McCall

Rack of Lamb

Chefs across the country clamor for Lava Lake’s grass-fed lambs, which range freely on a million-acre ranch outside Sun Valley. At CK’s Real Food in neighboring Hailey, Chef Chris Kastner serves a rotating menu of seasonal fare that incorporates local ingredients like Lava Lake lamb. In the winter months, CK’s juicy rack of lamb is served with winter squash plucked from the restaurant’s on-site garden and local gaufrette potato.  

Photography courtesy of CK’s Real Food

Go to: CK’s Real Food

Idaho Wine

Though the Snake River Valley in Southwest Idaho has been gaining recognition for its burgeoning wine industry, the state’s first grapes were actually planted in Lewiston in 1872. Prohibition dealt the North Idaho wine industry a massive blow, but the juice is flowing once again. In 2016, the Lewis-Clark Valley received an official AVA designation, which encompasses wineries like Clearwater Canyon Cellars, Colter’s Creek Winery and Lindsay Creek Vineyards.

Photography courtesy of Tara Morgan 

Go to: Lewis-Clark Valley AVA