Tasting a destination’s cuisine, which is often rooted in history and the native natural ecosystem, gives a traveler insight into the local culture. Plus, when eating homegrown foods, you're supporting the community and helping the environment by lowering the carbon footprint. From huckleberries and Flathead cherries to bison and elk burgers, here are 10 foods to try in Big Sky Country.
You’ll see many locals hiking in the northwestern mountains with empty milk jugs or light weight containers for huckleberry picking. High-elevation forests are the perfect growing grounds for these round, purplish berries that make muffins, pancakes, ice cream, jams, and cobbler taste so good. Eat them straight off the bush (watch out for berry-loving bears) by the handful or order a slice of huckleberry pie à la mode. Whitefish, Montana is one of the best places to visit for huckleberry everything, including homemade huckleberry pie at Loula's and the Huckleberry Days Arts Festival. While there, you can also take a day trip to Glacier National Park to experience the Crown of the Continent.
There are thousands of wheat farms across the state, including Wheat Montana Farms and Bakery, which has been owned and operated by the same family for three generations. While most local grocery stores carry Wheat Montana products, treat yourself and visit one of the bakeries in-person. Three-Forks is where it all started, but there are locations in Great Falls, Kalispell, and Missoula. Try the saucer-sized, house-made cinnamon rolls and buy a loaf of Montana Multigrain to bring home with you.
Bison Burgers, Stews, and Steaks
The largest land mammals in North America, bison herds can be found throughout Montana’s wide open spaces. As such, bison meat has long been a staple in Montana. From Café Kandahar in Whitefish to Andiamo Italian Grille at Big Sky Resort and River City Grill in Missoula, there are multiple restaurants across the state to visit and indulge in this local cuisine.
A foot is simply not long enough when it comes to a sub sandwich crafted in Montana. Luckily, you can get a 17.5-inch sandwich at the Pickle Barrel, located in Bozeman (original digs), Livingston, and Billings. Pepper steak, meatball, pulled pork, chicken, and vegetarian subs have been drawing college students and families through their doors for more than 30 years. Each sandwich is accompanied by a full-sized dill pickle plucked wet out of a barrel.
Montana is home to a variety of fish species, but the most popular is trout: rainbow, brown, brook, lake, bull, and cutthroat. While there are regulations in place for fishing and eating your catch, you can easily dine on trout in restaurants throughout the state. And, should you want to fish for yourself, meet up with Trout on the Fly for guided fishing adventures.
Elk Steaks and Burgers
Big game meat is widely eaten across the state, and restaurants regularly offer elk steaks and burgers year round. Said to be leaner and higher in protein than beef, elk burgers are eaten with the traditional toppings of lettuce, onion, and tomato. The Corral—a cozy, rustic restaurant in Gardiner—serves up a mean elk burger, in addition to beef and bison.
Few things signal the start of summer better than Flathead cherries. Grown near Flathead Lake in temperate, northwest Montana, these cherries are dark red and totally delicious. The best way to sample them is to visit a roadside cherry stand, or pick them yourself at a farm like Fat Robin Orchard and Farm. And, of course, you can pop in any bakery or coffee shop along the way and order a flathead cherry scone, muffin, or pie.
A Steak Dinner
Montanans love their steak, and if there was an official state food, this would be it. Agriculture is a chief economy in Montana and the cattle industry is still king. Steak is not hard to find; it's on many menus throughout the state. Sir Scott’s Oasis in Manhattan, Open Range in Bozeman, and Carbon County Steakhouse in Red Lodge are all good bets.
Rocky Mountain Oysters
From late March through June, many ranches across the state brand cattle and remove the testicles of bulls. Once cleaned, breaded, and fried, the testicles—or Rocky Mountain Oysters—are served up with dipping sauces. Many restaurants carry this delicacy and serve it as an appetizer or as bar food. Try it at Stacy's Bar and Steakhouse for something to write home about.
Pizza seems to be associated with local cuisine throughout America and Montana is no different. First opened in Bozeman more than 20 years ago and now in 10 different cities across the state, Mackenzie River Pizza Grill and Pub claims to have the “best pie from the big sky." The Rancher comes with ground beef, the Stockman comes with steak strips, and the Bear Tooth comes with sausage.
Address: Mackenzie River Pizza, 232 E. Main St., Bozeman, 406-587-0055