The dining public of Montana is truly mixed, and continues to evolve. The eclectic nature of available product and the burgeoning food scene fuel a vibrant mountain culinary ecosystem—both in the kitchen and the public writ large. Below are 15 of the best restaurants in the state.
Chef/Owner Pearl Cash describes the café’s food as “honest and straightforward”. She’s right—it’s unassumingly good. The vibe is French bistro with flairs of unpretentious modernity and a particular appreciation for open flame. The approachable and delicious classics of oysters, cheese and charcuterie frame more interesting excursions of rabbit with creamy pecorino polenta, wagyu with rosemary and balsamic, and walnut-crusted prawns. A tight wine list (or champagne, if you prefer) rounds out the menu, enjoyed before or with dessert. After 40 years in the industry, Chef Cash is content—she’s comfortable making the café her permanent culinary home. And Missoula is certainly better off for it.
Feast is steadfast in its cornerstones of sustainability and locally-sourced product. The refreshing seafood-centric menu melds freshness and forward-thinking, highlighted with inspiring milieus—elk tenderloin and giant prawn with horseradish and shiitakes—and comforting globalized creations like duck pad Thai, cioppino, caramelized fig salad and carrot-parsnip cake. The most inspired dishes are raw, shareable plates engendering a truly satisfying culinary experience, meant to be fun and enjoyed en masse. And Feast has a nice wine list, sparkling or otherwise, to pair with raw oysters or clams.
The Depot is the classic Western steakhouse: Welcomingly nostalgic, without pretense, an interior saturated with dark woods and charred meat. Under the same ownership for over 40 years, the establishment has remained true to its roots. Come for slabs of grilled meat, from filet to prime rib, flown-in-daily shrimp and salmon, and a good baked potato, with everything. It’s also got a full bar boasting 18 beers on tap and an extensive wine list. There’s also the plethora of Larry Pirnie art—old west vignettes in neon color.
From a long lineage of Tennessee and Georgia eateries, Roost has evolved into a premier fried chicken joint. It’s a southern place blending grandma’s recipes with granddaughter’s hipster-esque sensibilities of eclecticism. It’s hard to beat Nashville spicy chicken, collards and mac ’n cheese—it warms the belly and fills the soul. For less than $10, grab a couple pieces of chicken and a couple sides. And never forget a biscuit.
When small, shareable, deliciously-volatile tapas are your craving, the Montana-meets-Spain Over the Tapas is a fun joint. Products are locally-sourced as much as possible, manipulated into comforting and well-executed Iberian favorites. Though paella and shrimp certainly come to mind, the menu also features excellent tapas featuring grilled pork tenderloin, patatas bravas and housemate empanadas with chorizo and manchego.
On Alder Street in downtown Missoula, James’ is a great upscale bar showcasing a delicious assortment of burgers, sandwiches and a decent Bison meatloaf to accompany a great selection of local brews and smart custom cocktails. Be it midday or dinnertime, the bar/restaurant slings some great gastropub accoutrements—lamb, elk and lobster sliders—and inspiring mixed drinks with all-local products. The hip stainless, wood and photograph-laden space is a warmly-lit backdrop to good, warm food and hot drinks.
A quick, authentic street taco is a thing of beauty. Loved by foodies and layman the world over, the perfect semblance of meat, veg and tortilla is a singular experience. One’s preference for real Mexican stokes fierce debate, and everyone’s grandmother does it a bit differently. So, experiment with any and all food trucks you encounter—find a favorite spice mixture, or meat preparation, or flavor of salsa. All that said, El Rodeo in Bozeman is a great start: It’s uncomplicated and delicious. Pick your flavor, and get a side of rice and beans.
Trendy Minnesota Avenue is home to an exciting restaurant from a true Billings local. The first and only green-certified restaurant in the region, Chef Ben Harman’s menu emphasizes the sustainable and the artistic: Never be stagnant, always be inventive, and avoid being overbearing. Locavores can rejoice over the Montana-made cheeses and produce, and a range of palates are quenched by the satisfying—wild Alaskan halibut with bacon and lemon—and the refreshingly inventive (flavors like pumpkin hummus or huckleberry-chipotle ketchup). The Fieldhouse will sate your hunger and your creativity, for brunch, lunch and dinner.
In pizza-world, the brick oven is almighty—that unmistakable and inimitable char! Biga wields the brick oven to create crusty, comforting and hearty pies, using only homemade ingredients and fresh produce from in and around Missoula. The eclectic college town isn’t without its foodies, and they dig the homemade bread, dough from scratch and Chef/Owner Bob Marshall’s topping combinations. Highly recommended are the Quattro Formaggio, prosciutto & fig and whichever seasonal special materializes on the menu. A salad or soup, also seasonal, is a great addition.
Beer and pub grub. Amen. This Great American Beer Festival-winning brewery has great beer-friendly gastropub goodies for any hop-laden palate. Follow a flight of drafts with guilty (and delicious!) pleasures like German egg rolls and smoked wings, or admire an admirable list of sausages, sandwiches and bar comfort foods. The attractive brick and steel interior welcomes multiple rounds—there’s nothing wrong with another beer with so much good pub grub within reach.
Tucked into the northwestern corner of Montana, a couple hours from the Canadian border, Eugene’s has become something of an institution. It started back in 1962, and remains the no-nonsense, from-scratch, authentic Italian-American pizzeria. Though in rural Montana, the restaurant is truly Italian: Homemade and without frills. Satisfying and family-friendly.
This place in downtown Billings has award-winning burgers. In fact, championship ones. And it’s hard to pick a favorite. Feel like goat cheese, bacon and arugula? Get the “Best of the Bash”. Want spicy jerk BBQ and pepper jack? Get the “Jerk.” Feeling brave? The “Thunderbolt” has habaneros, jalapeños and ghost chilies. Or get a delicious all-beef hot dog. And some onion rings. And a shake. Really, anything on the menu should do ya just fine.
This lodge restaurant has two things going for it: The uncanny beauty of Bozeman, framed by the Bridger Mountains and Gallatin Range, and the setting of a luxury, boutique hotel. The menu is modern mountain cuisine: Fusing western ingredients, old-world technique and embrace of local spice. After fly fishing or snow shoeing, welcome a marathon of oysters, duck terrine and/or elk chile rellenos; followed by a bison short rib, porchetta, pan roasted pheasant or banana-leaf red snapper. The produce is local, delicious and truly organic, and dessert can be followed by a luxurious bed, only steps away.
A Western staple for drink and mountain culinary staples, the Ale Works lays in a restored railroad freight house. Sip from one of 40 beer taps, washing-down icy Montana ale with a locally-grown bison or wagyu burger, house-made meatloaf, northwest-style wings or pot stickers, or any of a handful of crowd-pleasing salads. All are in western-fusion style: Local, fresh ingredients and an old-west lack of BS.
The café is an upscale continental restaurant, blending the most treasured classics of French and Italian gastronomy. The emphasis here is on classical technique and sophistication. Those partial to the British and bistro classics will be excited to see menu items like filet, wellington and shrimp Diane. And those shying away from the heavier dishes can choose an assortment of chicken (piccata with capers and lemon) and fish (sole with herbed crumbs and citrus). And Uptown is a great option for groups: They provide catering and wedding cakes.