As the state capital of Montana, Helena is home to a vibrant dining scene offering hungry diners everything from fine Italian fare, locally brewed beers and delicious baked goods. Here is our round-up of Helena’s best restaurants.
Lucca’s dining room Courtesy Lucca’s
Restaurant, Italian, $$$
Lucca’s is a fine-dining Italian restaurant recently named the best restaurant in all of Montana by Business Insider magazine. It first opened its doors in 2006 and since has been delighting local diners with chef Mike Hyyppa’s classic, lovingly crafted dishes. With just 15 tables, the atmosphere at Lucca’s is cozy and intimate and it is recommended diners make reservations if they want to grab dinner at one of the most popular restaurants in town. With dishes like the hand-trimmed New York steak with gorgonzola cheese and roasted garlic, or the sautéed fennel and seafood risotto with sea scallops, shrimp, calamari and Manila clams – accompanied by maître d Ray Spooner’s hand-picked wine list – its certainly worth booking ahead.
A hip venue located in the heart of historic downtown Helena, Benny’s Bistro takes locally grown ingredients and Montana-raised meat. It then infuses them with global flavors that reference the cuisines of Italy, India and Spain – to name but a few. Rich, earthy colors and exposed brick walls decorated with jazz-themed artworks give Benny’s Bistro a laid-back, lounge-like feel, while an open kitchen lets guests see the restaurant’s talented chefs in action. Select a few of Benny’s international tapas plates, like shrimp and grits or cheese-stuffed mushrooms, to share with friends. Or, opt for the a la carte menu, which offers tempting entrees including deconstructed chicken pot pie and pesto-encrusted walleye pike.
Though it isn’t a restaurant, brewpub Blackfoot River Brewing’s popularity and award-winning beers make it a worthy addition. Established in 1998 by three local home brewers, Blackfoot River Brewing offers beer lovers high-quality, hand-crafted beers in a community-oriented pub where the onsite brewery is visible from its lively bar. It also has an outdoor patio, which offers views over Helena. A daily changing line-up of beers are available by the glass, in sampler trays or as growlers to go (including one free beer while you wait for your growler to be filled). Guests can snack on Blackfoot’s free popcorn while sipping on ales such as its Single Malt IPA which scooped a gold medal at the 2007 North American Beer Awards.
First opened more than 40 years ago by owner Ray Domer, General Mercantile is an espresso bar, tea room and gift emporium rolled into one. Modeled on a typical general store from the Old West, General Mercantile’s wood floored and walled interior harkens back to Helena’s gold rush days. Its cozy nooks and booths are ideal for relaxing with a hot cup of coffee, cocoa or an old-fashioned soda. Kids will love its koi carp pond. Guests can sip espressos made with General Mercantile’s antique hand-pulled Italian espresso machine alongside Danishes and baked treats from local bakeries. Visitors will also love picking up souvenirs like local crafts, candies and cards in the gift emporium.
Located on the edges of Mount Helena City Park in downtown Helena, Park Avenue Bakery is a cute and cozy European-style cafe specializing in artisanal breads, fine pastries and delicious desserts. Proud to be a part of the city’s long history of bread baking, Park Avenue Bakery is housed in the former Eddy’s Bakery building opened in the early 1900s by entrepreneur Eddy O’Connell. Eddy eventually turned it into a regional empire – perhaps part of its recipe for success. Breakfast items available include sausage rolls and fruit scones, while lunch offers pizza, Stromboli, soup and deli sandwiches and Park Avenue’s cakes, which include mudslide pie and lemon delight pudding.
Often hailed as one of Helena’s must-try restaurants, The Brewhouse Pub & Grille combines relaxed and friendly dining with locally brewed beers and hearty American pub fare. Its lively bar and dining room serves up brewpub grub like burgers, pizzas, pasta dishes and salads. For a real taste of what the joint has to offer, however, guests can opt for a house specialty dish like hand-battered Missouri River halibut sandwich or the Brewhouse bratwurst topped with sauerkraut and stone-ground beer mustard in a hoagie roll. During summer months, Brewhouse’s outdoor patio is ideal for sipping beers from local breweries including Blackfoot River Brewing and the Lewis & Clark Brewing Co while taking in views of downtown Helena.
A classy-casual bistro in the heart of Helena’s historic downtown, On Broadway has guest flocking to it for its laid-back and intimate ambience, stylish surroundings and delicious world cuisine. Recently named Best Restaurant in the 2014 Best of Helena Awards, On Broadway welcomes guests with a chic dining room with exposed brick walls and a mezzanine level. While guests will find dishes as far ranging as teriyaki tuna kebabs and sautéed Cajun shrimp on the menu, the restaurant’s real specialty are its fresh, handmade Italian pastas and West Coast fusion inspired fish dishes. Try the prosciutto and angel hair pasta with rich Jarlsberg cheese sauce or the pan-blackened yellow fin tuna with green chili aioli and organic basmati rice.
Quite possibly the most popular deli sandwich joint in town, the Staggering Ox today has two further Montanan branches in Billings and Missoula. Guests should head to the first original location in Helena if they really want to see what the fuss is about. Try its trademark Clubfoot sandwiches, which are made by baking a whole loaf in a tin can and hollowing out the middle to stuff with fillings like Rubin Tubin (corned beef, Swiss cheese, tangy sauerkraut, lettuce and homemade thousand island) or Chili Cheese Ox Doggie (beef franks, cheddar and nacho cheese, chili sauce). Also check out the art hanging from the Staggering Ox’s walls produced by local artists like Mana Lesman.
For classic Cajun and Creole eats, there’s only one place diners flock to in Helena – Café Zydeco. This is a casual place serving delicious Southern fare with further locations in Bozeman, Billings and Missoula. It may be tiny inside, but what Helena’s Café Zydeco lacks in space it more than makes up for in its full-of-flavor dishes. A quick look at its menu and Café Zydeco’s slogan ‘git some South in your mouth’ really rings true. Try a crawfish po’boy, shrimp and garlic cheese grits or a pot of spicy Creole jambalaya packed with chicken, shrimp and Andouille sausage. Sides include fried oysters and sweet potato fries.
A relatively new addition to Helena’s dining scene, Fusion Grille‘s eclectic menu full of global flavors and warm Montanan hospitality have already secured the restaurant a place among local diner favorites. A stylish oval bar serves an extensive international wine list featuring selections from Italy, Chile and California alongside beers from Montana-based breweries. Guests can sample cuisines from all over the world with Fusion Grille’s diverse menu – play it safe with the hand-cut, slow-roasted prime rib with horseradish and au jus. Be adventurous with a dish like Thai caramel chicken tempura with jasmine rice, scallions and wasabi sesame seeds.
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