Taste June 26, 2018

Taco Tidal Wave

Latin-inspired eateries open in downtown Boise

The people behind Boise’s four new taco restaurants are anything but restaurant novices. They include a James Beard award semi-finalist, a food truck fan favorite, an established farm-to-table restaurateur and a veteran farmers market pop-up. The tacos they’re slinging are everything from authentic Latin cuisine to chef-driven fusion. Here’s a preview of this summer’s taco offerings downtown.

Famous Tortillas

Mike and Rosie Weems, owners of Calle 75 in downtown Boise, started making tacos for their friends and family. Far from their current digs, this was in Rosie’s parent’s backyard in California. Rosie’s mom made fresh salsa and tortillas, while her dad flipped carne asada on the grill. They made tacos for their friends back in Ketchum, where Mike was raised, and then they started selling their tacos at farmers markets. Once their farmers market business turned into steady catering gigs in the Treasure Valley, they moved their family and jumped on an opportunity to open in The Village at Meridian’s open-air food court. When a space on 11th and Main streets became available, they opened their second location in January.

Calle 75’s claim to fame is the Nixtamalization process they employ for their blue and yellow corn tortillas. The Nixtamalization (pronounced neesh-ta-mal-i-za-shun) process for making authentic corn tortillas from scratch leaves them with inimitable flavor and texture. Raw corn is processed with an alkaline soak, steeped and then ground into masa with a heavy volcanic stone. The process alters the natural proteins in corn to create a completely hearty hominy.

This summer, catch Calle 75’s staff slinging tacos through a walk-up window that will have a limited menu and be opened late, or cool off in their airy, white-tiled dining room. Their signature tacos el pastor are cooked on a tromp, or the spinning grill you might see in a gyro restaurant. Ask for it gringa style for a layer of fried cheese that adds the perfect crunch.

Tacos Localized

When David Roberts, brand manager at Bittercreek Alehouse and Red Feather Lounge, describes Diablo & Sons Saloon, he makes a point to emphasize that the new concept on 8th and Idaho is bar-driven. The beverage program will feature lagers from breweries that share the same values and point of view that the “Just Eat Local” team touts at Bittercreek, with the liquor program focusing
on mezcal.

Roberts adds that the menu will revolve around tacos that rotate with the seasons, allowing the restaurant to source from local farms. Diablo & Sons has even planted its own corn for the tortillas, working with Casey O’Leary at the Snake River Seed Co-Op to gather heirloom seeds, plant test plots, and make small amounts of tortillas for taste testing. They’re avoiding street-style tacos and hope to create a menu from Boise’s point of view, which means you can bet that M&M Farms potatoes will be included for an Idaho-specific taco.

The design concept will follow the American West theme, with rugged textures and a Japanese technique for charring wood called shou sugi ban. Plus, an outdoor bar will be heated by Boise’s geothermal network.

Chef-Driven Tacos

Madre is the first restaurant-forward space in the up-and-coming Lusk District, the commercial area near Boise State University and Ann Morrison Park that is transforming by the day. Owners John and Julie Cuevas like the up-and-coming quality, the proximity to the park, and the chance to be a part of something new in Boise.

Madre, located in the Lusk District, focuses on locally grown ingredients. Photo by Ray J. Gadd

They hope to win hearts and stomachs through their chef-driven tacos, with ingredients that will be sourced as locally as possible, including Tractor organic soda from Coeur d’Alene and Lost Grove Brewing beer from just a few doors down. John Cuevas was a James Beard Award semi-finalist for his Laguna Beach restaurant, The Loft, and both he and Julie spent several years working in luxury hospitality. Their fast-casual restaurant will allow guests to order at the counter and find their own seating, but the service won’t stop there. Staff will circulate the dining room and expansive patio to offer diners further assistance.

The space was formerly occupied by a tile company, but the only evidence you’ll find of the previous tenants is the cinder block wall and cement floors, which are now accented by a blue-and-white Californian-inspired tilework and Baja blanket covered banquette seats.

Fusion Style

If you cut-open the Airstream that usually serves as The Funky Taco’s home base, you’d find the same tight operation that is their 8th Street restaurant. With modern navy-colored booths and a full bar, the restaurant’s hip design matches its prime location, formerly occupied by Mongolian Grill. Their new brick-and-mortar home, however, takes their funkiness up a notch, with an upper level for live music, vibrant turquoise-colored walls and funkified portraits of pop stars.

The Funky Taco serves fusion-style tacos in a modern and hip environment. Photo by Ray J. Gadd

Owners Justin and Sheri Archambo expanded the menu but kept the same fusion-style tacos that draws long lines at the Boise Farmers Market. Their vegan options still abound, with a fried cauliflower and vegan-optional kimchi quesadilla on the rotational menu, as well as their famous vegan Bahn mi mi taco with funk fu, pickled veggies, jalapeño, cilantro, toasted sesame aioli and Asian slaw. The most mainstream tacos on their menu are anything but, with a macho taco that includes coffee-braised brisket, roja salsa, cilantro cream and shaved carrot, as well as a chicken roja, with charcoaled chicken thighs, house roja, charred peppers and onions, Ballard feta, radish and arugula.

This article appears in the Summer 2018 Issue of Territory Magazine.