A road trip guide to Montana’s local food
This article has been created in partnership between Matador and our friends at the State of Montana.
Montanans are resourceful. Whether they’re hunting, gathering, or growing, folks in the Big Sky know how to squeeze the most succulent and sometimes strange sustenance from the short and vibrant summers, quick falls and springs, and extended winters.
And yet Montana is so big (147,138 square miles of land, with over 60 million acres in agricultural production) you can live there for a decade and not know what lies over the next range.
Here is a glimpse of choice and local morsels that can be discovered between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Whether you want old-school Montana eats or contemporary cuisine, our guide includes a healthy mix of decadence and the just plain weird.
A Few Tips:
- There are ample farm stands and markets selling wild and farmed foods, including salad greens, Dixon melons, sun-gold tomatoes, huckleberries, peach pie, and fresh lavender. Some of them are listed here.
- Montana is rich with wild food: morel mushrooms, huckleberries, fish, and game. These foods have a cultish appeal. If you are intrigued enough to pursue them yourself, it’s important to know the rules of the game and don’t hesitate to ask how they are harvested when you purchase them at market.
- You may see trout, elk, and bison on restaurant menus. While these could be local, they aren’t wild—these meats are regulated by law and are therefore farmed, which plays into their sustainability factor.
- It isn’t feasible for most venues to offer everything local, so expect seasonal selections. Ask what’s local and how it made it to your plate or shopping bag.
The Lodge at Sun Ranch is a luxury eco-lodge located in the Madison Valley. They serve local beef, pork, lamb, and poultry prepared in the style of western bistro cuisine, like the grilled Sika venison chop with blackberry glace, grilled asparagus, and celeriac mashers.
Chico Hot Springs Resort is tucked up against the Absaroka Mountains. The resort has hot springs for soaking and a dining room that features contemporary western dishes, including duck and Montana beef.
The garden and geothermal greenhouse supplies chefs with veggies and herbs. Enjoy an appetizer of baked brie with Montana huckleberry coulis, or barbequed bison short-rib ravioli with a sweet corn sauce and red chili oil.
Fridley Creek Farm has sustainably produced eggs, vegetables, and honey. You won’t ever forget a drive through Emigrant, which is where much of the movie A River Runs Through It was filmed. 406-333-9570
Livingston Farmer’s Market. Sacagawea Park. June 15-Sept 4. Wednesdays 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Fresh and local produce along with local game.
Livingston Bar and Grill. Historic, warm, elegant environs feature delicacies such as juniper elk carpaccio. 406-222-1866
Ferry Creek Ranch. This 560-acre ranch is one of the oldest in the state, established in 1882. Their grass-fed Galloway cattle have been certified organic since 2002.
By Word of Mouth offers both dining and catering. They source their produce, goat cheese, and meats from neighbors in the surrounding valleys, including their in-laws at Gallatin Valley Botanical, making it a true family affair.
Try their roasted Cornish game hen served with fresh basil risotto, organic green beans, and a lemon thyme pan jus.
Virginia and Nevada Cities
The Star Bakery. To get a glimpse of the old and raunchy west, see the Virginia City Players then head to (circa 1865) for fried pickles and strawberry rhubarb pie. Unconfirmed if ingredients are local, but the flavor is.
Virginia City Growers Guild Farmer’s Market. Downtown, June-September.
The Uptown Café. 47 E. Broadway. 406-723-4735. For more of a contemporary feel in an overwhelmingly historic city, nosh on the sausage onion soup, twice baked potato casserole, or black raspberry pie.
Joe’s Pasty Shop. 1641 Grand Ave. 406-723-9071. You can’t go through Butte without having a pasty. What’s a pasty? Beef, onion, and potato baked in a buttery flaky crust — your own little meat pie. It’s like a bite out of history.
Butte Farmer’s Market. Heritage park, June-mid-September. Saturdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Café Kandahar. This 22 year-old restaurant is located in the heart of Big Mountain. French and Louisiana influenced cuisine with a Montana twist, like the pan seared elk roulade with forest mushrooms, spinach, Montana goat cheese, pine-nuts, mashed Yukon golds, and pomegranate glace. 3824 Big Mountain Road. 862-6247.
Farmer’s Market at the Mountain Mall Lot. Mid-May-September. Thursdays, 4 p.m.-6:30 p.m.
The Downtown Farmer’s Market. Central Ave. May 31- Mid-September. Tuesdays, 5 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
Whitefish Huckleberry Days. Honor one of Montana’s sweetest and most celebrated berries. August 7-9. This year is the 20th anniversary of this beloved arts festival.
Three Forks, MT
Wheat Montana Farms, located at the headwaters of the Missouri, is where the Folkvords have farmed for three generations. Check out the deli and order up a John Deere sandwich. Additional delis in Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, Missoula, and Polson.
Real Food Market and Deli. 1096 Helena Ave. Boodles of local and organic foods to choose from.
Helena Farmer’s Market. Fuller and Neill Ave., April 26-November 1. Saturdays, 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and Wednesdays, 4 p.m.-6:30 p.m. (mid-July-September).
Benny’s Bistro. 108 E. Sixth Avenue. It’s a jazzy feast at lunch or dinner, featuring a range of hearty foods, from fritattas to pasties to pastries. Try the blackberry chicken salad or one of their famous European-style desserts, like the frangipani pear tart.
The No Sweat Café. 400 block, Last Chance Gulch. For breakfast and lunch. Leave your guns and cell phones behind, and get Zen with the Tibetan toad, a combo of eggs, sprouts, sausage, and garlic.
Bozeman Community Food Coop. 908 W. Main St. A market and deli with a strong focus on local — most meat is Montana produced and produce is often sourced as part of the local farm-to-market program. Sandwiches, smoothies, soups, and outdoor dining.
Western Café. 443 E. Main St. 406-587-0436. Over the last six months, the owners have been working to return to the roots of the original and very local cowboy café. Order their chicken fried steak breakfast, biscuits and gravy, or cinnamon rolls.
Stockyard Café. 1018 E. Griffin. 406-586-9728. Part of its charm is that the service lacks any. Call ahead to make sure they’re open and don’t act like a sissy and ask for a spoon when you have a perfectly good fork to stir your coffee with. Go there to eat, a lot, especially when it comes to the banana bread French toast.
Plonk Wine. Montana boy Brett Evje recently acquired the restaurant and is working with local farmers and ranchers to source Montana ingredients. This elegant urban wine bar showcases bison tenderloin, alongside a world class selection of cheeses and a very drinkable ginger basil martini, not to mention the extensive wine list.
Bogert Farmer’s Market. Bogert Park. May-October, Saturdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Gallatin Valley Farmer’s Market. Gallatin County Fairgrounds. July-October, Saturdays
9 a.m.-12 p.m.
Home of the Rock Creek Lodge Testicle Festival, a debauched event that occurs every September. You’ll know you’re close when you see the billboard of a cartoon bull guarding his family jewels. Rocky Mountain oysters, or “Montana tendergroin,” are harvested from young bulls between 2-4 months of age.
If you aren’t lucky enough to attend a Montana wedding/branding party (it happens), you might consider hitting up this festival or any of the others across the state to get the freshest sampling of Montana’s most novel offerings.
And in case you were wondering, there are approximately 3 g fat, 375 mg cholesterol, 26 g protein, 1 g carbs, and 135 calories per 100 grams of testicle.
Circle Square Farmer’s Market. Mid-May to the end of October. Saturdays, 8:30 a.m-12 p.m. and Tuesdays in July and August, 5:45 p.m.-7:15 p.m. One of the oldest markets in the state — get there early and bring a big bag.
Clark Fork River Market. Caras Park. May-Oct, Saturdays, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Local lamb, cheese, and homemade pastas.
Scotty’s Table. 131 S. Higgins. Contemporary cuisine, located in the historic Wilma building on the banks of the Clark Fork River. Seasonal menu, featuring such decadent treats as bison osso bucco, Montana farro risotto, and Paradise Farms grass-fed beef.
Biga Pizza. 241 West Main St. A community pizza joint, minus the checkered tablecloths. Try the Flathead Cherry: house-made spicy Italian sausage, cherry chutney, smoked gouda, mozzarella, garlic oil, and parsley.
Red Bird Wine Bar and Restaurant. 111 North Higgins Ave. Intimate fine dining or luscious casual treats. Among its ample charms, the desserts are creative and wonderful. Try the trio of tea sorbets, including the Evenings in Missoula.
The Flathead Lake Area
The Flathead Lake area is home to fertile orchards and a lively lake culture. Any drive along the east side of the lake provides numerous opportunities to stop at cherry and fruit stands for the most succulent fodder of the season.
Farmer’s Market at the Masonic Temple. May 31-mid-October. Tuesdays and Fridays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
The Polson Cherry Festival. July 18 and 19. Partake in this family friendly event with hundreds of local vendors. Your kids never looked so cute with cherry-stained fingers and faces.
The Orchard at Flathead Lake grows fresh cherries, peaches, pears, and plums. Don’t miss their famous barbeque sauce and apple butter.
Kalispell Farmer’s Market. Center St. and 5th. Third week of April to third week of October. Tuesdays, 4:30 p.m.- 6 p.m. and Saturdays, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Mountain Lake Fisheries. Home of world-class Whitefish caviar, known for its crunchy, non-fishy, non-bitter taste. Whitefish caviar comes from Lake Superior Whitefish, harvested wild from Flathead Lake.
This is a sustainable fishery. You can find the caviar at numerous locations, including the Happy Mama in Missoula, All about Memories in Columbia Falls, the West Glacier Mercantile, and select Alberston’s and Safeway markets.
Polebridge Mercantile, an old northern icon, is located just outside Glacier National Park. Local baker Deb Kaufman woos visitors with cinnamon rolls and huckleberry bear claws that rival even the most memorable grizzly in the park.
Planning a road trip to Montana? Connect with one of our local experts for more advice. These folks have written in-depth guides on everything from classic Montana river trips to 9 Backpacking trips that will blow your mind.
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