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Although Boise probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of culinary diversity, the rapidly growing metro area has amassed an impressive list of restaurants serving a variety of foods from all over the globe. 

While some of these restaurateurs are refugees who have been displaced from their native lands, others have moved to the Treasure Valley in search of new surroundings or accessibility to the great outdoors. No matter how they arrived in Boise, they all possess one thing in common: the desire to share the flavors of their family ancestry or their homeland with the community.

Read on to learn the stories and inspiration behind four international-cuisine-serving eateries that are pleasing palates one plate at a time.

Kibrom’s Ethiopian & Eritrean Restaurant

Kibrom Milash, Owner

What brought you to Boise?
“I came to Boise as a refugee (from East Africa) in 2013 with my wife and two sons.”

What inspired you to open a restaurant?
“My wife and I love cooking, and we wanted to share our countries’ (Eritrea and Ethiopia) culture with the community.”

What have been the biggest rewards of running a restaurant?
“It has helped me meet a lot of different people. It is also good to be your own boss and fun to cook and create menu items.” 

What are your favorite dishes you serve and why?
“Red Tibs (a spicy sauté of lamb, onion and exotic spices), Bozena Shiro with beef (a mild dish made from ground chickpeas) and Doro Wot (tender chicken thigh and drumsticks gently simmered in Berbere sauce). These dishes demonstrate our culture by containing Berbere (a spicy mix of dried red pepper, dried garlic, dried onion, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and other spices — a flavor that is central to Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine) and being served with injera, a flatbread made with teff flour. Doro Wot, specifically, is one of the most popular cultural dishes in both countries. Mothers teach their daughters how to make it before they get married.” 

What else would you like future customers to know?
“I tell everyone that the food is fresh. It is also gluten-free and can be made with or without butter. And we only use vegetable oils because most of our dishes are vegetarian or vegan.” 

Experience the bold flavors of West African cuisine with a platter of meat and veggie dishes served with injera. Photo credit: Kibrom’s Ethiopian & Eritrean Cuisine.

Sunshine Spice Café

Homeyra Shams, Co-owner

What brought you to Boise?
“When we immigrated to the United States, Boise was chosen for us by the immigration office. We did not really know anything about any of the states. Once, we got to Boise, we loved it and we now call it our home.” 

What inspired you to open a restaurant?
“We dreamed of creating a place where we could highlight our individual talents and introduce the cultures in which we were raised to the people in Idaho.” 

Celebrate Afghan flavors with mantu. Photo credit: Bahar Amir.

What are your favorite dishes you serve and why?
“Mantu (steamed Afghan dumplings filled with ground beef, onions and spices and served with tomato sauce; sour cream mixed with garlic, green onions, cilantro, dill; and two pieces of Afghan bread). This is one of the main dishes in Afghanistan and is served at weddings, birthday parties and other events.

Enjoy a sweet, refreshing treat with saffron pudding. Photo credit: Rase Photography.

“Saffron Pudding (whole milk, rose water, corn starch, sugar, saffron, cardamom and pistachio) is one of the main desserts in Afghanistan and is also served at many different events. It is a dessert for all seasons, but is best enjoyed during summer because it’s sweet, cold, delicious and it has a unique taste that cannot be compared to any other dessert.

Pistachio or walnut baklava (house-made dough, butter, pistachio or walnut, cardamom and syrup made with water, sugar, rose water and lemon). Baklava is a dessert that most Middle Eastern countries bake and serve to their guests. Our baklava is sweet, but not too sweet, and can be enjoyed with a cup of hot tea.”

Indulge in Sunshine Spice Café’s baklava. Photo credit: Bahar Amir.

Wepa! Café

Art Robinson, Owner

What brought you to Boise?
“I moved to Boise in August 2015 as part of a relocation for the company I was working for at the time.” 

What inspired you to open a restaurant?
“In 2018, I decided to step away from the corporate world and chase my dream — a combination of wanting to share the culture and the amazing food of Puerto Rico, leverage the growing restaurant scene in Boise and find a way to give back to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. We partner with a charity in Puerto Rico that builds roofs for homes affected by Maria and the subsequent earthquakes.”

What have been the biggest rewards of running a restaurant?
“By far, the biggest reward is when people compliment the food — especially those familiar with Puerto Rican cooking. I had one customer tell me my beans were as good as their abuela’s (Spanish for ‘grandmother’). It brought tears to my eyes. Also, those who have never tried Puerto Rican food and come back for more. Pure joy!” 

What are your favorite dishes you serve and why?
“My favorite dish is pernil. It’s a slow-roasted pork shoulder that we marinate for two days in garlic, oregano and Puerto Rican spices. The meat is juicy, tender and delicious, and we serve it with rice, stewed red kidney beans and plantains. This dish is very popular on the island and is typically served for special occasions and holidays. Traditionally, a whole pig is roasted with these same spices, so pernil serves as a more practical version for an everyday choice.”

Experience Puerto Rican flavors in Wepa! Café’s pernil with rice and beans. Photo credit: Debbie Merritt.

What else would you like future customers to know?
“Puerto Rican food is bursting with flavor. As guests enter Wepa!, they are whisked away to an island paradise, greeted by upbeat Latin music and Puerto Rican décor. The emphasis is on beaches, tropical rain forests and the vast diversity and vibrant culture of Puerto Rico’s history, with a mix of Spanish, Taino Indian and Afro-Caribbean influences. 

The air is filled with the aroma of Cocina Criolla, with an emphasis on Puerto Rican spices and herbs such as adobo (a blend of salt, garlic, turmeric, oregano and pepper), sofrito (a potpourri of onions, garlic, coriander, peppers and achiote-annatto seeds — the last which impart a bright orange/reddish color to the island’s rice, soups and stews).”

Alyonka Russian Cuisine

Elena DeYoung, Owner

What brought you to Boise? 
​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​“I was born and raised in ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Kazakhstan (which borders Russia and was part of the former Soviet Union). “I was born and raised in ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Kazakhstan (which borders Russia and was part of the former Soviet Union). ​​​​​​​When travel restrictions were lifted, I traveled to the United States from Russia in 1993. I was so happy to have a travel passport and find new opportunities in America for myself and my oldest daughter. 

I moved to Brooklyn, New York, where I lived in a Russian neighborhood and was comforted by the familiar flavors, languages and customs of home. Then we moved to Portland, Oregon, which is where I met my husband. We lived there for a time and then came to Boise in 2004 for my husband’s job.”

What inspired you to open a restaurant?​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
 
​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​“I grew up in a large family and learned to cook at a very early age. After moving to Boise, I quickly found my community within the St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church. Along with some other wonderful women from the church, I helped found the Russian Food Festival to help a local family raise money to adopt a child from Russia. The festival took off and has run for 14 years (it’s back in 2021 and will be held October 1-2). 

It was here that I really learned how to develop flavor, cook for a crowd and hone the skills I would need to run a restaurant. Every year, I heard the same thing: ‘Why can we only find this food once a year? We want to eat it every day!’ For many years, it wasn’t the right time, so I watched and waited for the opportunity. Finally, I saw the location on State and Lemp streets available for rent and all the pieces fell into place. Located only a few blocks away from the Russian Food Festival, I knew the neighborhood would support Russian food. 

My friends and family encouraged me and contributed their talents along the way. Everyone was so generous with their time. We signed the lease in August 2019 and navigated many obstacles until we opened our doors in November that year. It’s been so wonderful to see the years of hard work and wishes pay off.”

What have been the biggest rewards of running a restaurant?
“I absolutely love to feed people. It brings me such joy to watch people get happiness from eating my food. When someone tries something new — something they’ve never tried before and loves it — that’s an amazing feeling.”

What are your favorite dishes you serve and why?
“The whole menu is my favorite. To pick one and leave out the others would be unfair to the rest of the menu! I picked all my favorite childhood dishes to create this menu.

My neighborhood growing up was diverse and multicultural. We had Germans, Armenians, Koreans, Russians and others all living next to each other. So the entire menu reflects the diverse heritage of my childhood. Each menu item has a special story with fond memories of my friends and family. For example, the koreiskaya morkovka (carrot salad) is a Korean recipe that we learned from our neighbors. We loved it so much that it became a staple on every table.

The marinade that I use on our shashlik (kebab) was a recipe from an Armenian friend.  In fact, it’s the only marinade that I use on meat! 

Taste a blend of cultural flavors in Alyonka’s shashlik and koreiskaya morkovka. Photo credit: Nina Nikitina.

Our pelmeni dumplings are distinctly Russian. I remember making them in massive amounts with my family during the winter when vegetables were scarce. We’d fill them and set them outside to freeze. All winter long, we could count on a pelmeni dinner to make it to the table.” 

Try a true Russian dish with pelmeni dumplings. Photo credit: Natalie Martin Photography.

How would you describe the dishes you serve to somebody who has never tried them before?
 
​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​“Savory, deep, complex flavors. Varied and distinct textures. Well-seasoned without fillers. Light, delicate and slightly sweet desserts.” 

Is that the sound of your stomach growling I hear? Then I encourage you to follow your gut to Boise and experience these and the several other restaurants serving up amazing international cuisine for yourself. Find other Idaho food-and-drink Travel Tips here.


Published on July 9, 2021