A balanced combination of nature and culture, Missoula is a small city with big dreams. Its culinary scene has been growing from strength to strength in recent years, boosted by the University of Montana campus located in the heart of the city. From buffalo steaks and traditional brunch haunts to modern wine bars and historic venues, here are ten restaurants and cafés in Missoula that reflect the city’s cultural heritage.
Voted Missoula’s best restaurant numerous times over, The Pearl Café is a staple of the local fine dining scene. The venue’s rustic charm is present not only in the elegant, wood-dominated space, but also on the menu, which features a mouth- watering combination of European-inspired and regional flavors. The classic tender, herbed rabbit in red wine sauce harks back to the complex textures of French cuisine, while the pan-seared Idaho trout with Dungeness crab stuffing is a more local option, with ingredients sourced directly from the neighboring state. Owned and headed by enthusiastic young chef Pearl Cash, The Pearl Café is perfect for an evening of tasty indulgence.
Five on Black is one of the trendiest restaurants around, with a gluten-free, Brazilian, make-your-own menu that showcases the freshest of ingredients and demonstrates a unique, flexible attitude to cooking. At Five on Black, you can ‘build your bowl’, starting with the base and finishing with a range of sauces and toppings, a process inspired by the owner’s vision of customizing Brazilian cuisine. All bowls are made-to-order, bursting with Latin American flavor and the perfect excuse to enjoy a generous portion of real comfort food. The designer décor, a chic affair with warm, wooden elements, a raw red brick wall and industrial metal features, only adds to Five on Black’s effortless sophistication.
It may not be the most glamorous of Missoula’s culinary destinations, but The Depot has been the city’s premier steakhouse, and a local favorite for high-quality, locally sourced cuts, for 40 years running. Try the naturally aged, blackened prime rib for a mouthful of succulent goodness or go for one of the seafood options; the beer-battered shrimp and Alaskan king crab are particularly recommended. Hung along The Depot’s walls are local artist Larry Pirnie’s colorful paintings, which add an artistic touch to the venue and emphasize its strong connection to Montana’s heritage. After dinner, head out to the adjacent Deck Bar for drinks in a more casual atmosphere.
Priding itself on a balanced combination of rustic charm and upscale elegance, Blue Canyon serves up ‘contemporary cowboy cooking’ in its vast, wood-decked interior. From the tender elk meatballs served with a huckleberry BBQ sauce and crispy Peppadew pepper popcorn as an appetizer to the delectable mains, such as the bison pot pie, a juicy dish of braised bison, garden vegetables, mushrooms and Parmesan cream. The choice at Blue Canyon is strongly rooted within Montana’s culinary tradition while borrowing from several other sources, Chef Wes Coffel’s experience, has taken him to states as diverse as Wyoming, Hawaii and Nevada. You can find Blue Canyon at Missoula’s Hilton Garden Inn Hotel.
Airy and impeccably decorated with Venetian walls and a painted ceiling, Caffe Dolce sits in a historic building a few blocks away from the University of Montana campus. As the name suggests, Caffe Dolce specialises in Italian favourites, from the decadent wild mushroom and truffle pizza to a solid selection of pastas and antipasti. Most of the entrees served here rotate according to season, making for a dining experience where the best of the local cuisine can be sampled fresh. Caffe Dolce is also a great spot for Sunday brunch, their strong espressos make a great match for the breakfast sandwiches.
Missoula’s current ‘in’ spot for an evening out, Plonk Wine certainly doesn’t serve up any plonk. With a wine menu that’s both comprehensive and skilfully curated, this place is all about quality. The wine menu alone lists bottles from five continents, while the accompanying food selection offers simple, local specials designed to bring out the flavors of the wines. Pick from the tender lavender-glazed duck breast, served with a fennel and potato puree, grilled asparagus and pomelo kiwi relish, and the bison skirt steak prepared with cold smoke scotch ale marinade, potato salad verde, tomato bacon jam and sautéed greens. Always ask the waiter to recommend the best bottle to go with these delicacies. In addition to the Missoula branch, Plonk also has a location in Bozeman.
Located on the grounds of the picturesque Highlands Golf Club, the building that is home to The Keep Restaurant is a gorgeous, stone-clad villa built upon the remains of The Mansion, Missoula’s landmark that burned down in the early 1990s. And yet, once inside, you’ll notice that the amazing views of the town are coupled with a more informal vibe, where a warm fireplace and regular live music events liven up the stone walls. The menu is distinctly carnivore-oriented, with specials such as the confit-style roasted duck served up with caramelized onions and a raspberry port wine sauce; or the simpler but no less tasty, grilled Montana buffalo topped with balsamic reduction and Gorgonzola butter.
A green café dedicated to supporting local farmers, coffee roasters and artists, the Buttercup is a favorite with Missoula’s eco-friendly crowds as well as students, thanks to its proximity to the University campus. While the lunch menu is great with its fresh soups, empanadas and salads, nothing can quite beat a relaxed breakfast at the Buttercup. Here the breakfast burritos overflow with flavors and the Local Yokel sandwich encapsulates Montana dining: scrambled egg from Spencers’ Valley View Family Farm is served with locally sourced white cheddar and bacon, and the whole concoction sits on a rich and fluffy English muffin from Baker’s Dozen. Frequent art exhibitions, discussions and meetings make this the perfect spot to join Missoula’s creative scene.
Famous for its excellent breakfasts, The Shack Café has been a staple in Missoula for over half a century. Although it moved from its original premises in the 1980s, The Shack still retains an out-of-this-world atmosphere where wooden antiques and retro decorations from the 19th century make it a typically Montanan haunt. From sweet and savory omelet packed with delicious, local ingredients to huckleberry pancakes and Rocky mountain rainbow trout, The Shack Café offers brunches galore while showcasing the area’s rich culinary heritage. A must for lovers of all things traditional.