History, heritage & a heck of a good time

Boise’s Basque Block

Even before I turn the corner onto Boise’s Basque Block, the scent of garlic and seafood and a hint of spice greets me.

As I turn, I look down the block and see its source: a giant pan, perhaps three feet in circumference, heaping with paella. Mussels, carrots… all ensconced in a base of rice.

It looks delicious.

I’m not the only one who thinks so. A handful of others stand patiently by waiting to be served.

Today, Tony Eiguren, who together with his wife Tara, owns and operates The Basque Market, will make and serve paella to dozens of locals and a few out-of-towners in search of the most authentic Basque Country experience outside of Spain.

“A lot of new customers say they can smell it before they see it,” Tony says. “They come by and start asking questions and it turns into five, ten minutes of me explaining the ingredients. Almost everyone decides to try it.”

Welcome to another day on Boise’s Basque block.

Paella Boise

Paella bubbles along Boise’s Basque Block

The Basque Block: An Overview

Situated between Capitol Boulevard and 6th Street on Grove Street, Boise’s Basque Block is a mix of new and historic buildings and businesses that includes restaurants, shops, a community center, and the Basque Museum. The block celebrates Boise’s connection — past and present — to the Basque Country, a region straddling France and Spain along the Atlantic coast.

The Basque people have a rich heritage, including a distinct language, food and traditions. Over the years, thousands of Basques immigrated to the Western United States, with many settling in Southwest Idaho to work in agriculture or as sheepherders.

Southwest Idaho has the greatest concentration of American Basques — more than 16,000

Historically, Boise’s Basque Block was home to two significant Basque boarding houses where new immigrants would stay temporarily while they searched for work and a permanent place to live.

Today, the block is both the center of local Basque life and a popular gathering place for residents and visitors alike. In the summer, the block plays host to a number of lively events and festivals. Year round, it’s a must-visit to get a taste of the Basque culture. Sample Basque specialties. Watch Basque dancers. Or learn Basque history. It’s all here.

The Basque Museum and Cultural Center

The history of Basques, both in Boise and the homeland, is rich and complex. The Basque Museum and Cultural Center provides an in-depth and hands-on look at their triumphs and struggles.

Peek inside an authentic sheepherders wagon.

Executive Director Annie Davis and her dedicated team work tirelessly to maintain regular and rotating exhibits that share an insider’s view of the more unique aspects of Basque heritage. Tour a Basque boarding house. Peer inside a sheepherder’s tent. And gain an understanding of the contributions of Basque people in Boise and beyond.

“The museum tells the Basque story and explains how and why we all work together,” explains Davis, who is herself a fourth generation American Basque. “It’s an interesting story. One that weaves together important parts of world and Boise history.”

Walk through a preserved Basque boarding house filled with historical details.

Etchings left from thousands of matchsticks lit on the building’s brick walls.

 The Basque Market

That paella I sampled earlier? It was just the first stop in the rich Basque food experience that is The Basque Market.

Run by Tara and Tony — two teachers turned entrepreneurs — the Market offers family-style and to-go dining for a host of Basque favorites: pintxos (similar to tapas), chorizo, and, of course, wine.

Local insight: call ahead to reserve space in the Market’s Basque cooking classes. They fill up fast!

Stepping into The Basque Market feels like stepping into a shop in the Basque Country. Jamon legs hang from the ceiling. Basque food and gifts line the walls. And the staff is friendly, informative and passionate about Basque culture. 

It comes naturally. Tony’s grandfather was a Basque immigrant who spent years herding sheep in remote Southwest Idaho. “When he first got here he didn’t speak any English, only Basque,” Tony says. “He spoke Basque to the sheep. Basque to his dog. It wasn’t until he enlisted to fight in World War II that he really learned to speak English and become American.”

Tony himself grew up immersed in the Basque culture (he and Annie from the Basque Museum originally met as Basque dancers in their teens). Now, as owner of The Basque Market, he and Tara consider it an honor to share this heritage with guests.

“This is a very special place,” Tony says. “We’re doing our best to live up to it.”

Tony (along with his wife Tara) are teachers-turned-owners of Boise’s Basque Market.

Bar Gernika

Three words: Spicy. Lamb. Grinder.

It’s not just a sandwich, it’s the signature dish at Bar Gernika, a Basque Block fixture since 1991. Set on the corner of Grove and Capitol Blvd, Bar Gernika serves up Basque comfort food and more in a cozy, neighborhood-bar feel (their “big” expansion added 17 seats).

The small kitchen has room for one cook, with the grill and all other necessities within arm’s reach — precisely what you’d find in a Basque Country pintxo bar.

Bar Gernika interior

Bar Gernika Boise

Did I mention the spicy lamb grinder? It’s thin-sliced roasted leg of lamb paired with onions, peppers and swiss served on a French roll with a light lamb dipping sauce. It’s amazing. And only the start of the menu. I pair mine with fresh hand-rolled croquetas so rich, soft and perfectly fried I could have easily made these my main dish.

There’s more, of course. Solomo sandwiches, beef tongue, white bean and ham soup (regulars add BOTH Cholula and Tiger Sauce for a kick), and a beer and wine list that pairs perfectly.

Now, back to the spicy lamb grinder…

A Perfect Basque Day

Courtesy of Annie Davis, Executive Director of the Basque Museum and Cultural Center

  • Take a quick walking tour to learn a bit more of the history of the block.
    Visit Indulge Boise Walking Tours Facebook page.
  • Grab a pintxo at The Basque Market
  • Peak into the Basque Center in hopes of catching a dance performance
  • Visit the Basque Museum for an education and a few souvenirs
  • Top off the day with food and drink at one of the Basque eateries (each has a different vibe)

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