Missoula: Small City, Big Appetites

by Megan Hill | Photo © Green Door Photography

In Missoula, Montana’s wild scenery and cowboy history are never far away—an aspect true of its dining scene as much as any other experience you’ll have traveling here. It’s a small city made for big appetites, especially if you’ve just tumbled down whitewater rapids or spent a day exploring the nearby mountains. Hit the compact downtown and surrounding area to experience the best of Missoula’s growing food and drink scene. While the state’s bread and butter cuisine tends to focus on good ole’ American steak and potatoes, some Missoula culinary innovators are shaking things up.

Red Bird opened in 1996 and has long been a cornerstone of fine dining in Missoula. Chef/owner Jim Tracey and his wife, Laura Waters, are committed to sourcing locally for their elegant cuisine, using ingredients like Flathead cherries and locally raised chicken, duck, beef, pork and lamb, with all butchering done in-house. RedBirdRestaurant.com

Scotty’s Table specializes in upscale bistro fare, with a strong focus on ingredients grown in Western Montana—including produce, meat and grains. The menu at this restaurant, set in the lower level of the historic Wilma Theater, changes to reflect the shifting seasons for its brunch, lunch, and dinner services. ScottysTable.com

Burns St. Bistro tends to think outside of the box and isn’t afraid of a few risks. Dreamed up by four friends on a ski trip, the restaurant is tucked away on Missoula’s Westside, and it’s worth venturing outside of the downtown area for a bite here. The menus change seasonally, but expect an ambitious collection of weekend brunch, weekday lunch and breakfast, and occasional wine dinner offerings. BurnsStBistro.com

The Notorious P.I.G. is easy to spot, thanks to a perpetually long line that can stretch right out the door and onto the sidewalk. The line moves fast, though, and this food is worth it. Everything is cooked fresh that day—beginning at 4:00 a.m.—for the most legitimate BBQ in the region. Expect tasty standards like pulled pork and brisket, plus a few inventive additions like the smoked cranberry-cayenne chicken wings. TheNotoriousPigBBQ.com

Pearl Café’s white tablecloths don’t scare away Missoulans, who have consistently voted this one of the city’s top restaurants in a number of different polls. The restaurant manages to be both upscale and accessible, putting an elegant, European twist on Montana flavors. Chef Pearl Cash serves up favorites like the Idaho trout with Dungeness crab, tarragon butter, toasted almonds, sautéed grapes and small red potatoes, among other meat-centric dishes. PearlCafe.us

Five on Black has three outlets, including one in downtown Missoula. Inspired by the owner’s experiences in Brazil, this naturally gluten-free restaurant allows the diner to take the reins. You pick a base of brown or white rice or greens, and build a bowl of sauces, toppings, meats, and veggies, all of which are inspired by the lively cuisine of Brazil. Choose from a small, medium, and large bowl size depending on how hungry you are, but either way you won’t be out much more than $10 a person. FiveOnBlack.com

PLONK, a sophisticated yet casual spot downtown, prides itself on a well-curated wine list and a wine-savvy staff to guide you to the right pairing. The food menu—and the execution—rivals some of the best offerings you’d find in Seattle or Portland. Can’t decide? Indulge your appetite with a variety of small plates. PlonkWine.com