You can't swing a bushel of nettles in this town without hitting the front stoop of some newly opened restaurant. We count 12 since last fall, with five setting up shop within a few downtown blocks in the span of three weeks. That's a lot of fresh grub to wrap your head around—or mouth, as the case may be—and it could lead to a few worthy establishments slipping through the cracks, like that dropped french fry you find under the car seat four months after your cross-state road trip.
We're here to make sure you don't lose any one of those delicious fries, so to speak. What we mean is, we're here to fill you in on all of the new eateries so that you can fill up. Consider this your culinary cheat-sheet, a savory scouting report, a fully vetted, Indy-style rundown of restaurants that have opened since last fall. (Yes, last fall. We had to create some sort of cutoff or else we'd still be eating.)
The whole experience not only made us hungry, but also appreciative of Missoula's ever-expanding edible offerings. With great opportunities to dine out come great responsibilities, so we've added some helpful hints on dining etiquette, as well as cautionary tales from members of our newsroom lucky enough to work in the local food service industry.
So, dig in. Find a new place. Experiment with different types of cuisine. Support a new business. Just make sure the first thing you say when you stroll up to the counter is not, "So, what's good here?" You'll learn why on the opposite page.
Opened: November 2012
Where it's at: 2230 N. Reserve St., Ste. 100
What it's about: This Mexican chain restaurant touts the fact that there are no freezers or microwaves in its kitchens, and that everything—from the guacamole to the corn tortillas—is handmade.
Signature dish: Cafe Rio offers the usual array of Mexican food, from tacos to burritos to quesadillas. It's hard to go wrong with a pork barbacoa burrito slathered in enchilada sauce ($8.75).
Recommendation: If you feel like tormenting employees, order the nachos. That's all it takes to hear the staff break out into "Nacho Man" to the tune of "Macho Man."
Dickey's Barbecue Pit
Where it's at: 143 W. Broadway
What it's about: This Texas-based chain, which started in Dallas in 1941, smokes its meats overnight. The Missoula location becomes downtown's first official barbecue joint.
Signature dish: The chopped brisket sandwich with sides comes in at $7.99.
Recommendation: Dickey's includes a full bar and stays open way past last call on weekends3 a.m., to be exact—making it one of downtown's few late-night sit-down options. If you're anything like us, the whole menu tastes good at this point.
Five On Black
Where it's at: 325 N. Higgins Ave.
What it's about: Tom Snider, a 24-year-old University of Montana finance graduate, opened this Brazilian-inspired "fast casual" joint based on a business proposal he put together in school. The cuisine focuses on stews and sides in a "build your own bowl" format.
Signature dish: Feijoada, a Brazilian stew with black beans, bacon, sausage and beef chunks ($5-$8, depending on bowl size).
Recommendation: With bases like rotisserie-cooked beef, chicken, roasted vegetables and several toppings to choose from, you have no reason to not get a little adventurous with your flavors. The coconut-milk-roasted sweet potatoes are toothsome. Try pairing your bowl with an imported Brazilian soda, like Guarana Antartica, that you won't likely find anywhere else in town.
Einstein Bros Bagels
Where it's at: 150 W. Broadway
What it's about: Mainly East Coast-style bagels. They also serve sandwiches, salads and bagel dogs, plus coffee and espresso. Part of a national chain, but locally owned by the same family that ran Mullan Station.
Signature dish: Toasted everything bagel with a healthy schmear and a cup of Neighborhood Blend coffee ($4.50).
Recommendation: Grab a baker's dozen of bagels with two containers of cream cheese and a coffee carrier to go—they call it "Joe to go"and become the hero of the office or your apartment (about $31).
Opened: December 2012
Where it's at: 2700 Paxson St., Ste. M, next to Southgate Mall
What it's about: GoodieVille bills itself as Missoula's only entirely gluten-free bakery, but also offers a full breakfast, lunch and dinner menu full of both standard and vegan options.
Signature dish: A front counter stocked with baked goods—doughnuts, cupcakes, loaves of sorghum and brown rice sandwich bread, etc.attracts the most attention. From the breakfast menu, look for the biscuits and sausage gravy ($6) or vegan biscuits and mushroom gravy (also $6).
Recommendation: You know that friend or coworker who always reminds you of their gluten intolerance and/or vegan lifestyle? Now you've got somewhere to take them for lunch where they can dig into a 12-inch vegan pizza ($12) while you enjoy a heaping roast beef sandwich with lettuce, tomato, mayo and gouda ($6.50 cold, $7.50 hot).
Masala Indian Food Cart
Opened: Fall 2012
Where it's at: Depends, because it's a cart, but track it via Facebook or by calling 406-370-9407
What it's about: This seasonal cart sets up at events, markets and brewery sidewalks to offer Indian dishes like red lentil curry and grilled lamb with masala rub. The cart's chef and owner, Theodore Smith, is spending this spring traveling in India and blogging about it at theodoressmith.wordpress.com.
Signature dish: It's hard to go wrong with dishes you won't find on many other menus in town, like chickpea curry or pork vindaloo ($5-$8).
Recommendation: In late summer, the grilled corn on the cob with Flathead cherry chutney offers a new take on a familiar Montana treat ($1-$2).
Where it's at: 322 N. Higgins Ave.
What it's about: After successfully opening a Bozeman version of this upscale wine bar and restaurant, owner Brett Evje brought the concept to Missoula.
Signature dish: The menu includes vegetarian options, but carnivores will find the most to love here. The seared scallops appetizer ($16) balances a tender inside with a perfectly seared outside, and is topped with buttery foie gras and wisps of crispy shallots. For an entree, the adobo-rubbed chicken ($18) with black bean cake, corn salsa and bacon lardons offers a similar contrast of textures, with a perfect hit of spice.
Recommendation: It's more difficult to accommodate groups, but Plonk's two-seat tables make for a intimate dining experience. Plan to dress up (in Missoula, that means jeans without holes and your best hoodie) and enjoy a romantic evening.