Food and Drink
Best Romantic Dining
Best Restaurant Service
Best Restaurant Wine List: Red Bird
Ever since Red Bird opened in 1996 it has been the measure of Missoula fine dining. The reason is simple: a perfect balance of warm atmosphere, exemplary service and mouth-watering meals. It doesn’t hurt that chef/owner Jim Tracey and his wife, Laura Waters, demonstrate a dedication to local ingredients and, with the addition of the Red Bird Wine Bar in 2006, one of the best local jazz nights (Mondays) in town. Those still in need of convincing—and, considering the restaurant’s long-standing grip on these categories, there aren’t many of you—let us recommend the grilled bison tenderloin topped with melted montagnola cheese, which comes alongside a Flathead cherry chutney. If there’s a better prepared, quintessentially Montana meal than that one, we haven’t found it.
Best New Restaurant: Ciao Mambo
There’s no better place in Missoula to do like the Romans than at Ciao Mambo, the hot, rowdy and tasty Italian joint newly positioned on Missoula’s Hip Strip. Prime ingredients and made-while-you-watch entrees have locals lining up outside the door and waiting for a seat. Whether you park at the bar and watch the talent toss pizza crusts or just tuck into a window seat with your honey, be sure to save room for their specialty desert—zeppolis—after the feast.
Best Breakfast: The Shack
If wishes were fishes we’d all cast nets in the sea. But if wishes were omelets we’d just go to The Shack and wolf ’em down because they’re so effing scrumptious. The Shack has been around since 1949, giving it plenty of time to master the art of turning a beaten egg wrap into something of beauty—and plenty of time to dominate this category.
Best Asian Food: Sa Wad Dee
Forget the cliché that claims the spice of life is cumin. Sometimes it’s tamarind—on those kind of days. It’s been known to be turmeric as well, but never before the All-Star break. Whatever character of Thai cuisine you’re craving, Sa Wad Dee will serve it up in a spicy, soupy, noodle-y coconut emulsion reminiscent of that Peace Corps stint in Chiang Mai you took back in 2003.
Best Seafood: Sushi Hana
If there’s one thing that confuses interlopers more than Missoula’s roundabouts, it’s the fact that we’re home to first-class sushi. Not convinced? Just try one bite of Sushi Hana’s Asian Sunrise (spicy yellowtail and cucumber rolled in tobiko and smoked salmon) or, even better, check out the long lines snaking outside the downtown restaurant on a Wednesday night, when dollar sushi brings out all the local seafood lovers.
Best Family-Friendly Restaurant: The Montana Club
Few things are more awkward for parents than watching their angelic spawn become “that kid”—the one who saves his or her most epic meltdown for the one night mom and dad need a break and decide to brave a local restaurant. It just plain stinks. But no worries at The Montana Club, a restaurant that takes pride in catering to the entire family and safeguarding against any such outbursts. On our recent visit, the manager took the time to engage the smallest member of our party—he inquired about her coloring skills on the crayon-friendly menu—and the service was NASCAR-level fast. To top things off, the affordable kids menu features a wickedly naughty dessert: The Muddy Cub Surprise, which includes chocolate pudding, Oreo bits, whipped cream and gummy bears for $1.29. The promise of that alone is enough to ensure your wee one behaves.
Best Vegetarian Food: Tipu’s Tiger
As Missoula’s only all-vegetarian restaurant, Tipu’s Tiger is worthy of praise before even walking in the door. But, at just $9 for the lunch buffet, including chai, Tipu’s offers the best veggie-friendly deal in town. The only problem is too much smorgasbording on lentils and garlic-rich samosas makes the prospect of returning to work sometimes, shall we say, undiplomatic.
Best Hamburger: The Missoula Club
It may not be organic beef on a whole wheat bun, but our readers don’t care. The Missoula Club (that’s Mo Club to you) has some kind of super grill that makes burgers taste better than your average patty of beef. Add to that their special horseradish cheese, and if that’s not high-class deliciousness, we don’t know what is.
Best French Fries: Iron Horse
Actual conversation between an adult and a three-year-old sharing an order of Iron Horse french fries:
Adult: “How come you love these fries so much?”
Kid: “Because I love them. I don’t even need ketchup to love them.”
We can’t think of any better endorsement for the Iron Horse, which takes this category for the second straight year.
Best Pizza: Biga Pizza
We could talk about the many virtues of Biga Pizza and chef/owner Bob Marshall all day. But in the interest of space—and the fact that, no doubt, after writing this we’ll have to go grab a large Sicilian pie, fresh garlic-roasted portabella mushroom salad and our secret favorite, the Tuscan tuna sandwich—we’ll talk about exactly what makes Biga best. For our money, it’s that Marshall uses almost entirely local products, including Montana flour and anything he can get his hands on from Clark Fork Organics. There’s that, and, perhaps even more important according to our mom, his recipes are filled with some serious l-o-v-e. For a local pizza joint, it doesn’t get any better than Biga.
Best Ice Cream: Big Dipper
Yellow cake ice cream? More like yellow crack. Big Dipper’s classic flavors are so good, you might just break into the place for a scoop—like 24-year-old Katherine L. Moon did in April, when she smashed the front window with a rock to get an after-hours fix. Just goes to show that whatever they’re putting in that stuff, it’s making addicts out of all of us.
Best Milk Shake: Uptown Diner
You can get a milk shake anywhere. But where can you get the full, unadulterated experience of sitting down in a ’50s-style diner for a giant frosted glass of thick, blended malt served with a straw and alongside the aluminum cup it was mixed in? As if that isn’t enough, the Uptown also offers a choice of boldly contemporary milk shake specials, like “Liquid Pavement” (a blend of espresso, fudge, chocolate and Oreo). It’s exactly the right mix of old-school and new-school that makes the Uptown this category’s reigning champ.
Best Steak: Guy’s Lolo Creek Steakhouse
This category seems destined for the kind of decade-long dominance that only dynasties like the Medici family and Castro can parallel. That’s not to say there’s anything violent or communist about a steak at Guy’s, though you can have all the blood you want if you like your steak rare. That’s the thing: They’ll cook excellent cuts of beef exactly to your request. Add to that an atmosphere that includes a taxidermied scene of a grizzly bear attacking a bobcat attacking a wolf, and you have the type of experience that’s top to our readers.
Best Fresh Produce
Best Supermarket: Good Food Store
Most of us know better than to hit the Good Food Store on an empty stomach. Their fresh, colorful array of misted produce make them a no-brainer when it comes to scoring nature’s most recent crop. That produce section, naturally, helps GFS also provide Missoula’s best salad bar, complete with special toppings like diced chicken and marinated baked tofu. And that’s just the start—a first-rate coffee and juice bar, impeccable selections of cheese, wine and meat, and a staff that includes dozens of neighbors and classmates, makes GFS more than just our favorite supermarket. It’s a Missoula tradition.
Best Desserts: Mustard Seed Asian Cafe
There might be rice in the pudding, but don’t go looking for Asian-style sweets at the top spot for after-dinner delights, the Mustard Seed Asian Cafe. With cakes, tartlets and delectable confections aplenty these restaurateurs have transported our readers regardless.
Best Chef: Bob Marshall and Dan Zachary (tie)
For as long as we’ve been asking you to name a master of the palate (okay, only two years), Biga Pizza’s Bob Marshall has leapt to your attention for recognition of epicurean excellence. He’s also had to share the honor for as long as he has earned it. This year it’s with Dan Zachary of Sean Kelly’s, whose Irish-Italian fusion fare (hence their “where the Gaelic and garlic mix” slogan) tickled an equal number of fancies.
Best Caterer: Two Sisters Catering
Two Sisters Catering bills its business as serving up “Food with love!” and evidently the proprietors have slathered on that sentimental flavor like so much of their delicious Cajun spices—enough that you’ve put them on the hook for when home cookin’ won’t quite do the trick.
Best Waiter/Waitress: Joe Black
The name of his haunt might have changed slightly since he took top honors last year, but The Keep’s Joe Black shows no signs of altering anything about the stellar service that again elevated him to the pinnacle of his craft.
Best Bartender: Jeremy Kehoe, Sean Kelly’s
You want a cold one, and you want it pretty quick, and, on some nights, you want it served by someone with a quick wit and easygoing demeanor willing to chat you up a bit. For this important duty, readers turn to Jeremy Kehoe, the entrusted beerslinger at Sean Kelly’s. Kehoe knows how to pour the best Guinness in town, as well as espouse all things related to Manny being Manny (his well-worn Red Sox cap is an easy tell). Just don’t mention the Yankees and Jeremy’s sure to take care of you.
Best Bar: Charlie B’s
It’s the intersection of time and space. It’s the nameless front, the drab wood floors and the wall-to-wall pictures by Lee Nye. It’s the lack of silicone and hair gel, and the abundance of humility. And it’s the most self-assured group of beautiful bartenders you’ve ever been kicked out by. It’s Charlie B’s, again, and it’s about as Missoula as anything.
Best Place to Dance: Union Club
The Union Club may be the only bar in Missoula where the jitterbug and two-step can trump Jaeger shots and pool games. Thanks in part to a diverse draw of boogie-centric bands, from the Gorgeous Franks to Reverend Slanky, and, even more so, to no cover charge—ever—the Union Club is an easy pick for our readers.
Best Bar to Hook-Up
Best Beer Selection: The Rhino
About 4,000 people reading this double-shot victory just planned their evening. Beer. Hook-up. Beer, as in more than 50 taps. Hook-up, as in the place people go to eye the possibilities. The place? The Rhino. We’ll see you there.
Best Sports Bar: The Press Box
Let’s just say you’re one of the 13 people who still follow the NHL, and you’re perhaps the only Washington Capitals fan in the entire state of Montana. What’s this fan to do when the Caps are playing Philly in a playoff game available only on some dish channel in the high 700s? Those in the know head to The Press Box, where even the most obscure sporting events attract likeminded followers—including, it turns out, one other local Caps fan—to banks of high-def TVs, platefuls of bar food and tall glasses of cold suds. And, needless to say, if the Press Box can draw a crowd for East Coast hockey, Griz game Saturdays are a sight to behold.
Best Martini: Finn & Porter
If the only green vegetables you get are at the bottom of a martini glass, you’ve doubtless discovered the classy confines of Finn & Porter, where gin, vermouth and fruits from the holy land conspire under the guidance of accomplished barkeeps to deliver you into style and lead you into inebriation.
Best Bloody Mary: Last Run Inn
You’ve just finished skinning back in-bounds from a day in the bowls, or maybe you’re slowly trotting down from your first day learning to ski on Snowbowl’s rope tow. Either way, you’re muscles are a little stiff, the raccoon tan is beginning to show and you’re just parched enough to make this fabled end-of-the-day ritual feel like an experience with God. You’re one of many Missoulians who know the fine taste of the famous Last Run Inn Bloody Mary. Cheers.
Best Bar for a Stiff Pour: Al’s & Vic’s
There ain’t nothing but pint glasses here, son. And we’re pretty sure when you say “double” they just go ahead and double that double. Al’s and Vic’s has changed over the years: red booths to tables, old man’s watering hole to college kid hang out, smoking to non-smoking. You’re all grown up now, Al’s & Vic’s, but don’t you change that pour.
Best Happy Hour: Jaker’s
|STAFF PICK: Best Flashback
Last year’s Total Fest saw 43 nationwide bands play over three nights. Johnny No Moniker from the Fleshies sang from a Badlander bathroom stall. The Vile Blue Shades—with their 15 or so band members—made the stage their personal party. All crazy stuff, sure.
But buried in the line-up of one early evening set was a band called Kled whose frontman, Pat Phlymm, is an ex-local notorious for his 1990s Missoula bands, The Banned and Poop. For those who saw Phlymm back in the day, this show was a time warp experience: The stocky, cheshire-grinning singer (who, it should be mentioned, is a trained ballet dancer) wore a pair of tight shorts with the word “juicy” on the butt, and did his hair in little pig tails as he sang in a creepy little kid’s voice falsetto.
A man named “Miss America,” another staple of Missoula’s 1990s music scene and now an anonymous UM professional, slunk around the stage wearing a drawn-on moustache and a yellow banana hammock so small that you could see, well, everything. For some it was a horrifying experience. For the rest of us, it was 1992 all over again—in all its weirdness.
It can be a little surprising for the uninitiated to discover the upstanding, family-friendly Jaker’s at Happy Hour. Three simple words describe the festive scene: two for one. From 4 to 6 p.m., and again from 8 to 11 p.m., every night, well drinks, house wine and beer orders come with an extra bottle or glass. You could say it’s like double vision, but that depends how long you stay saddled up at the bar.
Best Casino: Flippers
There’s something unobtrusive about the Keno machines at Flipper’s Bar and Casino. Oh, they’re there, but the blips and bleeps and game-over noises can be avoided by sitting near the pool table. On the other hand, if you’ve got a handful of nickels or your kid’s college fund burning a hole in the old pocket, well, there’s a whole section of nicely arranged machines and comfortable seating with smoke-eaters right above them. And Flips must deliver some hot payouts if it’s getting our readers’ votes.
Best Club DJ: The Mermaid
DJs often forget to work the club crowd with their personality because, after all, they’re just there to play music, right? Wrong. The Mermaid (aka Adelaide Every) is not so naïve. Not only does the charming, good-humored, artistically inclined DJ know how to play jazz to a crowd of martini lovers at the Badlander’s Jazz Martini Sundays, she also knows her electronica, and her rock ’n’ roll, thank you very much. Not one to scoff at requests, she just goes with the flow—as a mermaid should.
Best LGBTI Scene: AmVets Club
We’re not sure if it’s the cute little plastic shot mugs or the organic feel of the underground venue’s sculpted walls, but AmVets Club is a hit again with the queer crowd. Actually, a well-known non-secret is that AmVets is a great place to dance—even if they didn’t win that particular category this year—which draws a crowd comprising every persuasion under the sun.