Our home state of Montana is a meat-and-potatoes kind of place. There are a few exceptions, of course, but by and large, it’s not a place to travel if you’re a foodie searching for international cuisine (though we’re told the beef is some of the finest in the country). But the state’s second-largest town, Missoula, is a clear exception to that rule. The University of Montana hosts students from around the country and the world, and the town’s stunning landscape, range of outdoors activities, and culture that promotes openness and tolerance attracts people from all over. With a greater openness to trying exotic foods, Missoula’s a shining example of international (and vegetarian) cuisine in the midst of beef country.
We recently spent some time in Missoula and were excited to eat our way around the world there. If you’re planning to visit Missoula and love trying new foods or just enjoy ethnic cuisine, head to one of these six restaurants.If you're a foodie in Montana, try one of these restaurants for global cuisine in Missoula. Click To Tweet
Brazilian – Five on Black
If you’re looking for the endless offerings of sliced meat you might find at a Brazilian steakhouse, Five on Black won’t be for you. Instead, they’re all about bowls that incorporate the different culinary traditions of Brazilian cuisine. The bowl is assembled to your tastes with a base of rice or greens, a main meat or veggie, a vegetable side, one of two sauces (mango BBQ or spicy coconut), and a few add-on toppings. Their tasty bowls are now being served up at a location in Bozeman, MT, as well, and even as far away as Denver.
Location: 325 N. Higgins Ave. (11:00am-9:00pm, Mon.-Sat.); 3850 S. Reserve St., #140 (11:00am-9:00pm, every day)
Cajun – Café Zydeco
No, it’s not New Orleans, but Café Zydeco is as close as you’ll get in the Rocky Mountains. You won’t find jambalaya, gumbo, or po’boys anywhere else in Montana, and the crawfish etouffee will make you forget that the bayou is nowhere nearby. It’s not the most vegetarian-friendly place, but really, what Cajun restaurant is? If you’re in town for the weekend, though, don’t miss the chance to pick up some fresh beignets. They’re only available on Saturday mornings and aren’t to be missed if you won’t be heading to the French Quarter anytime soon. Café Zydeco also has a few other locations spread across Montana in Helena, Bozeman, and Billings.
Location: 2101 Brooks St. (11:00am-3:00pm, Mon. / 11:00am-8:00pm, Tues.-Fri. / 9:00am-8:00pm, Sat.)
Argentinian – The Empanada Joint
Empanadas are the classic Latin American street food: take some meat, veggies, and cheese, fold some dough around it, and fry it up. Missoula’s Empanada Joint takes that simple formula and tailors it to the town’s culinary preference for fresh and healthy ingredients. The dough is baked, not fried, and the fillings are sourced locally whenever possible. There’s nothing pretentious about this place, though: order at the counter from four meat and four vegetarian options, and don’t forget a dipping sauce, too. At $4.50 a piece (and they’re small, so you’ll probably want two), these empanadas aren’t exactly the cheap street food you’d get in Argentina. They’re worth it, though, because the fillings are made from fresh ingredients and the dough is deliciously flaky. And if you’re hungry for dessert, they have amazing fruit-, Nutella-, and dulce de leche-filled empanadas, too.
Missoula has an art walk on the first Friday evening of every month, where you can visit all the galleries in the downtown area. On those days, the restaurant is open two hours later (until 8:00pm) – and a warm empanada is great way to cap off a night of art strolling.
Location: 123 E. Main St. (11:00am-6:00pm, Mon.-Sat.)
Mexican – Tia’s Big Sky
Montana’s definitely not known for having the highest quality Mexican food. Locals often end up getting their taco fix at chain restaurants, where the ingredients aren’t fresh and the cuisine is far from authentic. Tia’s Big Sky smashes that stereotype with their organically grown ingredients and traditional Mexican recipes. We were happy to find two great vegetarian options, pumpkin tamales and smoked vegetable tacos, alongside their meat-based tamales and tacos and popular Mexican street chicken.
Tia’s doesn’t have much seating, which may be a reflection of their origins as a food truck selling street food; their meals are best enjoyed on a sunny afternoon, maybe sitting on a park bench overlooking the nearby Clark Fork River. They’re not afraid of a little competition either – they’ve made their parking lot home to a food truck pod, hosting some of the town’s best street cuisine.
Location: 1016 W. Broadway St. (11:00am-8:30pm, Mon.-Sat.)
Indian – Masala
First, let me say that Montana is severely lacking in Indian restaurants. While many people might consider Indian a typical cuisine to choose for take-out, not so in Montana – these restaurants are few and far between. That’s why I’m so appreciative of Masala. They have a very small menu, but it’s simple and delicious – two meat curries and two vegetable curries, with the option to add various sauces and chutneys. The small menu is a reflection of the fact that, much like Tia’s, Masala was a food cart before it became a brick-and-mortar restaurant. The menu also changes with the seasons to reflect ingredients that can be freshly sourced from Montana’s bountiful countryside.
Location: 206 W. Main St. (11:00am-10:00pm, Mon.-Sat. / 9:00am-2:00pm, Sun.)
BONUS: Italian – Biga Pizza
Is it a stretch to use pizza as the representative of Italian cuisine (or a reflection of the lack of quality options in Montana)? Maybe, but Biga Pizza is definitely the best in town, and it deserves recognition here. They’ve got a massive brick oven behind the counter, and you can see (and taste) the difference it makes in quality. Their crusts are hand-tossed and have just the right balance of wood-smoked crispiness on the outside and delicious chewiness on the inside. The toppings range from the typical (pepperoni) to the exotic (Hungarian mushroom with herbed mascarpone cheese). It may not be gourmet Italian cuisine, but Biga is one of Montana’s best pizza joints. If you’re in Missoula, I think you can call it a nice Italian meal and take your partner there for date night.
Location: 241 W. Main St. (11:00am-3:00pm & 5:00pm-9:30pm, Mon.-Thurs. / 11:00am-3:00pm & 5:00pm-10:00pm, Fri. / 5:00pm-10:00pm, Sat.)
Have you been to Missoula? What’s your favorite restaurant?