The Best Food and Drink in Montana for 2019
December 20, 2018
The sky’s the limit for delicious food in the Treasure State
The Best Food and Drink in Montana
From Kalispell to Billings, Montana is full of delicious dishes, many of them inspired by nature. To celebrate all the great food and drink that our country’s 41st state has to offer, we’ve rounded up Montana’s claims to culinary fame as part of our second annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Big Sky Country offers more than just breathtaking wilderness: Its natural bounty includes huckleberries, chokecherries, trout, bison, and some of the finest beef in the country. Montana is tops in the nation for pulse crop production, including lentils, peas, and chickpeas. Lentils are the star of such dishes as the lentil-mushroom pate at Claudia’s Mesa, a boutique food emporium in Bozeman. If you find yourself in Lewiston, try the state’s famous beef by sampling a Wagon Wheel. It’s a burger placed in between two pieces of toasted bread that’s been crimped and sealed along the edge. People go crazy for them at the Dash Inn, especially when washed down with a Hot-n-Tot (Coke spiked with a homemade cinnamon syrup).
The Treasure State is home to many iconic foods, and over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best steakhouse and grocery store to its best bar and Italian restaurant in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve compiled these into individual slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find our Montana gallery ahead.
Best Airport Restaurant: Copper Horse Restaurant & Bistro (Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport)
Open in Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport since 2010, Copper Horse Restaurant serves classic American dishes with locally sourced ingredients, and is a great stop for those seeking vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. The bistro, located before the security checkpoint, has oatmeal, omelettes, taco platters, burritos, and nachos, as well as specialty beef hot dogs on a Montana-made bun with all sorts of toppings. The restaurant, located after security, has a fuller menu with pancakes, French toast, customized omelettes, specialty salads, sandwiches, and burgers made with Montana grass-fed beef, bison, or turkey.
Best All-You-Can-Eat Deal: Pompey’s Grill (Three Forks)
Located inside the historic Sacajawea Hotel, Pompey’s Grill is one of Montana’s finest steakhouses. It’s renowned for its high-quality steaks and locally-sourced meats, but it really comes to life on Sundays, when $48.95 will get you all-you-can-eat red Alaskan crab legs with soup or salad and two side dishes. It’s first-come, first-served and only available until 8 p.m., so make sure you get there early!
Best Bar: Charlie B’s (Missoula)
Charlie’s Bar (aka Charlie B’s) is a dive that has been around for decades. With a bar that runs down the entire space, a pool table, and a small-town vibe, even out-of-towners will feel welcome at the cash-only establishment that caters to everyone from college students to retirees. The back room, the Dinosaur Café, serves burgers and Cajun and Creole cuisine that’s absolutely worth trying.
Best Beer: Ivan The Terrible, Big Sky Brewing Company (Missoula)
Big Sky Brewing Company’s Ivan the Terrible is a thick, dense Russian imperial stout, but don’t think that means it’s difficult to drink. It’s surprisingly smooth sipping. Brewed in the traditional style using English hops and American malts, this brew tastes of dried fruit, roasted cocoa, and bourbon. It’s the perfect thing for winter nights by the fire (or any time of the year).
Best Brunch: The Fieldhouse (Billings)
Since 2012, chef Ben Harman has been raising the bar for the Billings dining scene at The Fieldhouse, where he’s serving scratch-made dishes using fresh seasonal ingredients. And as for his Saturday and Sunday brunch, it’s simply astounding. The menu is small and may come across as a bit aloof (the Breakfast Special is simply described as “whatever”), but don’t let that fool you: Harman takes his cooking very seriously. Biscuits and gravy are both house-made; the Benedict is a sourdough crumpet topped with ham, egg, fennel, and hollandaise; the frittata is filled with crimini mushrooms, arugula, potatoes, and greens; and the French toast is made with house-made challah. Make sure you try the new potatoes with brown butter and cashew-Parmesan Brussels sprouts with sundried tomato aïoli on the side, as well as whatever the mimosa special is. And as for that “whatever” special? On a recent weekend it was Alaskan King crab Benedict with poached eggs and charcoal sourdough bread. Enough said.
Best Burger: The Burger Dive (Billings)
The Burger Dive chef Brad Halsten might as well call himself “The Burger King of Montana,” because nobody around is turning out such well-made, award-winning, and creative burgers. His 1/3 pound burgers start with Angus beef, and his Jerk Burger (with house-made jerk sauce, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion on a locally-made bun) took first place in beef at the 2012 Masters of Barbecue Challenge; his Best of the Bash Burger (a blackened patty topped with goat cheese, bacon, an onion ring, arugula, sriracha, and garlic basil mayo) won the South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s famed Burger Bash in 2014; and the I’m Your Huckleberry (topped with huckleberry hatch chile barbecue sauce, bacon, goat cheese, roasted red pepper mayo, and arugula) won 2016’s World Food Championships. This guy is a burger wizard.
Best Chinese Restaurant: China Garden (Missoula)
Chau P. via Yelp
A Missoula staple since 1983, China Garden is a beloved neighborhood standby for its wide variety of Americanized Cantonese and Szechuan dishes and comfortable, modern dining room. House lo mein, Szechuan beef, shrimp fried rice, fried prawns, moo shu barbecue pork, and Hong Kong-style chow mein are all favorites, and all dishes are made with fresh and high-quality ingredients.
Best Chocolate Shop: The Parrot Confectionery Store (Helena)
Best Coffee Shop: Black Coffee Roasting Co. (Missoula)
Using craft organic coffee from around the world but roasted right in Missoula, Black Coffee Roasting Company is an eco-conscious endeavor that puts a lot of hard work into making sure their customers have the perfect cup. Enjoy one of their many different types of toast — from avocado to creamed honey — along with high-quality coffee or a tea from their varied selection.
Best Cupcakes: Bernice’s Bakery (Missoula)
Christi V. via Yelp
A Missoula landmark, Bernice's Bakery has been around since 1978. Its baking philosophy is centered on providing quality food at reasonable prices and striving to build community through friendly service and sustainable environmental practices. At least eight cupcake flavors are kept in rotation at all times, ranging from traditional vanilla and chocolate to the more eclectic pancakes and bacon. Want a Montana cupcake adventure? Ask for the chocolate cherry Coke.
Best Doughnut: Granny’s Gourmet Donuts (Bozeman)
Best Food Truck: Cajun Phatty’s (Billings)
Cajun Phatty’s was born on the bayou to parents/owners/operators Shane and Ashley Robichaux, who recently moved to Montana to be closer to family. Although, honestly, this is a bit of a half-hearted apology — because Big Sky Country residents should instead consider themselves lucky to have access to authentic Cajun eats like shrimp or fried chicken po’boys, fried alligator, pork and sausage jambalaya, and crawfish boils served by fun, festive, and friendly folks. (We know we’re jealous!) Clearly the relocation is working, too, as Cajun Phatty’s recently opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant serving even more Louisiana-inspired fare like gumbo, baskets of fried catfish and shrimp, and a decadent crawfish étouffée.
Best Fried Chicken: Roost (Bozeman)
This classic, old-timey Southern restaurant has become a Montana destination, and can trace its roots to the owner’s grandparents’ Tennessee restaurant called Chow-Time. Even though Chow-Time is long-gone, its fried chicken recipe is still drawing crowds about 2,000 miles to the northwest. The chicken here is available in three styles, Southern fried, Nashville hot, and sweet heat, and can be found in sandwiches, atop a waffle, and even on a stick, but we suggest you stick with the classic Southern fried. Get some biscuits and boiled peanuts on the side.
Best Grocery Store: Community Food Co-op (Bozeman)
Community Food Co-op is a local, independent grocery store with two locations in Bozeman. As their website says, they “offer local, organic produce and meat, deli prepared meals, artisan bread, organic non-GMO groceries, hard to find ingredients, natural supplements and body care, and much more.” Locals say it’s “the best place to get a variety of bulk items and a pretty good selection of local produce, bread, and local and regional meats. It's small, but a great place to shop. I really don't go anywhere else for groceries in Bozeman.”
Best Hot Dog: Yeti Dogs (Big Sky)
A quaint takeout spot in the mountain village of Big Sky Resort, Yeti Dogs is a beloved place to refuel after a day on the slopes. The dogs are all-beef, the buns are steamed, and popular varieties include The Lifty (spicy mayo, bacon, and Cheddar); the Texito (Cheddar, chili, onions, and Fritos); and the Yeti Dog (mustard, zesty mayo, relish, sauerkraut, and onions). Make sure you wash it down with a pint of local microbrew for $3.25.
Best Hotel Restaurant: Ten (Billings)
This white-tablecloth restaurant, located in the Northern Hotel, is a destination for locals looking to celebrate. Chef Nick Steen’s menu puts local ingredients to good (and creative) use in dishes like Montana-raised veal porterhouse with pesto couscous, sun-dried tomato cream, artichoke hearts, fried onion, and bourbon barrel-aged sherry vinegar; milk-braised pork shoulder with caramelized cabbage, local rye berries, and walnut gremolata; and local trout with white beans, Spanish chorizo, pickled peppers, and romesco. Be sure to start your meal with one of the classic drinks on the restaurant’s cocktail menu.
Best Italian Restaurant: Lucca’s (Helena)
Lucca’s is a high-end Helena hotspot that’s been named the best restaurant in Montana by Business Insider. And with good reason: Chef-owner Frederick Stout has created a supremely elegant dining room serving expertly prepared dishes using the freshest ingredients possible. Don’t miss the shrimp fra diavolo: angel hair pasta with big shrimp, fresh grape tomatoes, and spicy cream sauce.
Best Mexican Restaurant: Taco Del Sol (Missoula)
There’s nothing like a great taco to stop you dead in your tracks in the middle of Missoula, Montana. But that’s exactly what you’ll find at Taco Del Sol, which has a handful of locations in town and additional outposts throughout the state. Modern and inviting, this Mission-inspired taquería has been going strong since 1997, serving tacos in soft flour, soft corn, and crispy corn shells. Though the pulled pork and grilled steak tacos are great, it’s the fish taco (baked Alaskan cod, beans, shredded cheese, fresh salsa, shredded cabbage, white sauce, hot sauce, and jalapeños) that’s a symphony of deliciousness.
Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: Monster Pancakes, Stella's Kitchen & Bakery (Billings)
Why look for the best pancakes in the state when you can go for the biggest? Stella's Monster Pancakes are 12 inches in diameter, and a stack of four is just $8.95. You can order them in buttermilk, wheat, or gluten-free versions, and extra toppings include apple chunks, walnuts, blueberries, strawberries, and huckleberries. Eat four of these and you'll get a cinnamon roll for free.
Best Pancakes: Running Bear Pancake House (West Yellowstone)
Located just a few blocks from the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park and only a couple miles from the Wyoming border, this low-key, small-town pancake house has been serving down-home breakfast and lunch specialties year-round since the mid-60s. Stop in for buttermilk or buckwheat pancakes topped with banana, blueberries, coconut, chocolate chips, peaches, pineapple, raisins, strawberries, walnuts, or cinnamon roll filling and icing (or get three of them wrapped around sausages for a stellar pigs in a blanket) before making your way into the park, and make sure you grab some homemade cinnamon rolls and boxed lunches for your pic-a-nic basket.
Best Pizza: Eugene’s (Glasgow)
Yelp/ Rob R.
Founded by Eugene Barger in 1962 and sold to Arlie and Mary Sue Knodel in 1967, Eugene’s is today run by the Knodel’s two sons, Jeff and Sam. To give you an idea of how popular Eugene’s is, they sell a full line of branded merchandise, they’ll ship half-cooked frozen pies anywhere in the country, and they go through an average of 1,333 pounds of cheese per month. You can choose from one of their “Time Proven Combinations” (Arlie’s Special, with pepperoni, Canadian bacon, and homemade sausage, is a popular favorite) or take your pick from 22 different toppings, including hot or cold tomatoes, sauerkraut, and even mandarin oranges.
Best Restaurant for Breakfast: Jam! (Bozeman)
Open daily at 7 a.m., Jam! is a bright and lively restaurant that’s guaranteed to start your day on the right foot. Start your meal with some house-made cinnamon rolls or buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy and follow it up with your choice from a wide variety of fun and creative crêpes, pancakes, Benedicts, omelettes, and specialties. Popular items include crêpes or omelettes filled with smoked pork shoulder, pork chili verde, cotija cheese, cilantro lime crema, pico de gallo, and crispy tortilla strips; blueberry ricotta or peanut butter cup pancakes; chicken and biscuit Benedict; huevos rancheros; house-made corned beef hash topped with poached eggs; and a biscuit sandwich filled with a basted egg, slab bacon, citrus arugula, chèvre, and red onion marmalade.
Best Restaurant in the Middle of Nowhere: Home Ranch Bottoms (Polebridge)
Lee Catherine B./Yelp
If you ever find yourself in the middle of Glacier National Park on North Fork Road (the part that the Google Maps car apparently gave up on), and are looking for food and something that resembles civilization, pull off at the log cabin with the sign that says “Home Ranch Bottoms.” In addition to carrying the essential wilderness supplies, this haven near the Canadian border has a fully-functioning tavern and log bar, and serves “the coldest beer in the North Fork” — although we're uncertain how stiff the competition is. The current owner is from Texas, so the food has an authentic barbecue taste when it comes to burgers and brisket, but there’s also a taco Tuesday promotion, and delicious local huckleberry pie and ice cream. They even offer a huckleberry margarita. Try one or three; you’re probably not going anywhere any time soon anyway.
Best Sandwich: Pork Chop, Pork Chop John’s Sandwich Shop (Butte)
Pork Chop John’s has two Butte locations, and as you might have suspected, pork chops are the specialty here. Pork chop sandwiches, in particular: A lean slice of boneless pork loin is pounded, dunked in a corn meal batter, and then fried, put in a bun, and topped with mustard, pickle, and onion. It’s been done the same way since John Burklund first started serving them from the back of a wagon in 1924, and it’s sandwich perfection.
Best Soup: Tomato Basil, The Garage Soup Shack & Mesquite Grill (Bozeman)
Yelp/ Spencer D.
Reminiscent of a 1950s-style mechanic’s garage, The Garage is a great spot for a hearty meal and a big bowl of soup. The restaurant boasts a soup bar, where six kinds of soup are available for the taking — pork chili verde, clam chowder, chicken soup, tomato basil, and two daily specials. Go for the tomato basil; it’s super rich and creamy, and about as comforting as a bowl of soup can get.
Best Steakhouse: Jake’s (Billings)
Since 1979, Jake’s has firmly held onto its reputation as the state’s finest steakhouse, with a “cowboy chic” atmosphere and steaks that are sourced locally and cooked perfectly. Their prime rib (the house specialty) is the stuff of legend, slow roasted and served with horseradish and jus, but you also can’t go wrong with 16-ounce rib-eye (dusted with house seasoning), 14-ounce center-cut New York strip, or 8-ounce baseball cut top sirloin. Their Big Montana Steak Salad is another top seller, and make sure you start with their hot Dungeness crab dip. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.