by Jed Vaughn| Photo © Blues BBQ
With a population of about 100,000 and surrounded by four mountain ranges—the Big Horn, Bear Tooth, Crazy and Pryor—Billings is referred to as “Montana’s trailhead.” This is where Lewis and Clark surely stood on the rim rocks and made some hard decisions. And, if you’re a foodie in this city, you’ll be making some hard decisions too. With more than 500 restaurants, deciding where to dine can be a challenge, especially if you’re just passing through or on a short visit.
Best Sports bar: Hooligan’s (109 N. Broadway; hooliganssportsbar.com) in downtown Billings offers a giant 20-foot screen and about 15 other screens. Pizza, sandwiches and Friday fish & chips are part of an extensive menu. A full bar and a small casino provides a little something for everyone. Service is great on busy nights with cheerful servers. Happy hour fills the room with the older crowd; later the younger folks come in to party.
Best BBQ: Look no farther than a small establishment attached to a Billings convenience store gas station. As you approach, that fabulous waft of meat on the barbeque hits the olfactory sense, the signal there’s something delicious nearby. Blues BBQ (523 Hilltop Rd.; bluesbbqbillings.com) is a small family-owned bbq pit with all the sides and was not only really good the day I was there but, according to locals, is consistently excellent.
Best steak: When you’re in Southeast Montana, it’s pretty hard to find a bad cut of beef. This is quite possibly the toughest category to call here, but my choice goes to the ribeye at Montana Rib and Chop House (1849 Majestic Lane; ribandchophouse.com). With all locally grown, grass-fed beef, this popular, local family-oriented establishment got its start a very short distance from here in Livingston, MT. The owner is from Louisiana where “chop” means “steak.”
Best Breakfast: For 36 years Stella’s Kitchen-Bakery (2525 1st Ave. N.) has ground their own wheat and featured daily fresh bread and mouth-watering cinnamon rolls. Choose from a full breakfast menu (the baked bacon is worth writing home about). Mom & pop actively work the business and the quality of the experience reflects their pride. Stella’s even made it into the Eat Across America guidebook.
Best Burger: The Burger Dive (114 N. 27th St.; theburgerdive.com) is a hole-in-the-wall burger joint in downtown Billings that boasts the prestigious winning burger of the 2014 Food Network and Red Robin-sponsored “Best Burger in the Nation” contest. The winning burger was the “Blackened Sabbath” burger, and is now featured on Red Robin’s menu as the “Big Sky” burger. If you like the “open wide, big, juicy, keep plenty of napkins handy” type of hamburger, this one will please.
Best Brew & Spirits: The downtown Billings brewery experience can be explored on foot or a seasonal small shuttle that circulates a 1-mile loop. The short go around reveals a laid-back atmosphere and plenty of friendly service throughout breweries and distilleries along the route. Step into Trailhead Spirits (2314 Montana Ave.; trailheadspirits.com) for a taste of their newly produced and released chocolate whiskey. A smooth blend with a hint of chocolate aftertaste. Delightful and unique.
Just across the street is the prevailing brewery, Uberbrew (2306 Montana Ave.; uberbrewMT.com), which received a silver medal award at the 2012 World Beer Cup for its hefeweizen called White Noise. President of the company, Jason Shroyer, says it’s their best seller. You may have to wait for a seat at the dinner hour as Uberbrew is an obvious favorite with the locals after work.