Best Buffalo Burger Joints near Sun Valley, Idaho

By / Photography By Royanne Minskoff | March 01, 2014
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Buffalo Burgers

The buffalo burger suits my palate, has nutritional and health benefits and allows me to daydream about the enormous thundering herds of yore. Of course, the American bison (the actual name, though “buffalo” is used interchangeably) was nearly wiped out. By 1893 about 300 animals remained of an estimated 40 million. Thanks to Teddy Roosevelt—conservation efforts, national parks and refuges—today there are half a million in North America alone making herds sustainable and putting the buffalo burger on the menu. While buffalo burger joints are far from ubiquitous, even in the West, Idaho has its share that serve up buffalo burgers (BB) in places that celebrate the rural and the rustic.

Rocky Mountain rustic with a hint of whimsy defines Ketchum’s Kneadery. This local favorite is famed for its generous portions, strong coffee and all-day breakfast. Barnwood clad, it is packed with Sun Valley memorabilia. Its walls are crowded with taxidermy: heads of antelope, deer, elk, moose and a glorious hirsute buffalo. The BB comes on a Telera bun, a softer ciabatta, that complements the eight-ounce housesmoked Colorado buffalo, served traditionally with lettuce, tomato, onion and served with a choice of sides (potato salad for me).

The Boise Fry Company (BFC) in Bown Crossing is a 10-minute walk from where I live in southeast Boise. BFC celebrates spuds; six varieties of potatoes—purple, yam, sweet, russet, Laura, gold—offered shoestring, curly, homestyle and regular. Each is served with a choice of nine types of condiments and various spritzers. BFC uses grass-fed beef and bison from Brown’s Buffalo Ranch in Nyssa, just across the Snake River from Parma. BFC serves its burgers—beef, vegan, buffalo—in three styles: classic, original and the heat. The four-and-a half-ounce bison burgers can be ordered with double patties. The potato buns are baked on the premises daily. I like the spicy ketchup fry sauce with a dash of sea salt topped with blueberry ketchup for color. This is a meaty, messy and tasty BB. Feeling flush and adventurous, I order the “bourgeois” fries—cooked in duck fat and “garnished with truffle salt.”

Looking for a classic Northwest lodge experience, I tried the buffalo burger at the Cottonwood Grille. This elegant capital city eatery overlooks the Boise River. The main dining room has a grand setting with an enormous wall of south river facing windows. The Cottonwood Grille’s half-pound buffalo burger, sourced from Brown’s Buffalo Ranch, comes with tasty hand-cut fries. My BB was served medium rare with provolone cheese, lettuce, bright red tomatoes, a pickle spear and onion with a little mustard, mayo and ketchup. This BB had fine flavor, good texture and left me feeling festive; I paired the BB with a Coiled Sidewinder 2010 Syrah.

Garden City’s Crooked Fence Barrelhouse sits across from the Fairgrounds on Glenwood. One of the city’s new breweries, Crooked Fence offers nine of its beers on tap at the Barrelhouse, which has a modern vibe and unexpectedly adventurous menu. The BB is found on a section of the menu called “Perfectly Unusual”; other items to be found here are frogs legs, scotch eggs, corned beef tacos and shepherd’s pie. The Crooked Fence Buffalo Burger was the most unique that I tried. It’s served with a slice of poblano pepper, avocado and grilled onions. I added a house salad with green olives and sun-dried tomatoes. A Rusty Nail Pale Ale or Devils Pick IPA would work well with the BB. This six-ounce burger was complex and flavorful; it had a pleasing combination of heat from the pepper that was cooled by the avocado yet the distinct buffalo taste remained. Alas, the Barrelhouse’s BB was by far the most expensive of any that I tried.

Why buffalo? Buffalo provides a healthy alternative to hamburger. According to the USDA, buffalo has less fat, lower cholesterol, fewer calories, is higher in iron and Vitamin B-12 than beef, chicken or pork. Try a buffalo burger for its nutrition and savor its flavor. And you can connect to the continent’s largest wild beast, imagine the vast herds and hum “Home on the Range.”

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