Best Restaurants in Glacier National ParkOur favorites include some of this destination's best local restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
Where to Eat Near Columbia Falls
The Back Room/Nite Owl Restaurants in Columbia Falls is unassuming and low-key. This two-for-one restaurant is where locals have gathered for years for coffee and conversation during the day, but it's the back room that has made a name for itself. Come early or prepare to wait because this place is usually packed with people looking to dig into large, meaty barbecue pork spare ribs, chicken and pulled-pork sandwiches. Not often found in restaurants, the hot fry bread with honey butter that accompanies the meals is nearly a meal unto itself. And while the ribs may arrive in wax paper-lined plastic baskets, and linens consist of oil cloth-covered tables with a roll of paper towels serving as napkins, no better food was ever served on fine china.
Places to Eat in Whitefish
You may not think of sushi when visiting Glacier National Park, but maybe you should. From its opening day, the area's first sushi restaurant, Wasabi Sushi Bar & The Ginger Grill , was wildly successful, proving that beef was not the only dish in Montana. Of course, the influx of tourists and part-time residents from more urban areas has helped support this spot in Whitefish . However, it's still Montana, and many locals consider raw fish bait, so the Ginger Grill evolved to offer non-sushi lovers dishes with a higher comfort level—now you can opt for a steak instead of raw fish, although it might be marinated in teriyaki.
Widely known as one of the best places for breakfast for miles, the casual Buffalo Cafe in Whitefish has been a local favorite for many years, providing the huge breakfasts necessary to fuel up for a day of skiing on Big Mountain or mountain biking. Although not strictly a vegetarian restaurant, there are enough bean sprouts, yogurt and granola on the menu to give vegetarians some options while their companions dine on eggs Benedict, huevos rancheros or any of the café's unique breakfast pies. Casual is the word of the day here, and you need to fill up early because the café is closed for dinner.
Whitefish Lake Restaurant allows you to combine two vacation activities: dining and golf. It occupies a building on one of the oldest golf courses in the valley, so you can play 18 holes and then have dinner. The building itself is constructed of large logs and was built during the depression by WPA workers. The history and ambience of the building are complemented by the excellent menu, which includes such Montana staples as prime rib, steaks and barbecue ribs as well as interesting daily specials and seafood.
Nearby Restaurants in Kalispell
If gourmet burgers and local microbrews are more your style, mosey on over to Hops Downtown Grill in Kalispell for a satisfying dinner in the Flathead Valley. But don't let the unassuming storefront fool you—the gastropub's menu is bursting with local, organic ingredients and a variety of burgers, salads and seafood options. Try the calamari salad for something different, or stick with classics such as the black bean burger with roasted red pepper or a teriyaki burger with grilled pineapple and onions.
An Asian restaurant in Kalispell, The Alley Connection is wildly popular with locals and is nearly always on the itinerary for entertaining out-of-towners. Although many of the dishes have names that may sound similar, the food has just a slightly different take. Dishes seem somehow fresher, the vegetables look brighter and the taste is just a little lighter. Add to these facts that the prices are extremely reasonable, and you'll see why people return. Even though the place is always packed for lunch, the specials are fairly priced, and you can still get in, get a great lunch and get out in an acceptable amount of time. If you're on vacation, dine a little later to miss the crowds. This is a family-owned and -operated restaurant, and family is very important to them—so much so that they close the restaurant, pack up the entire family and return to China to visit relatives for the month of November.
Longtime favorite Nickel Charlie's Casino & Eatery in Kalispell is a warm, welcoming establishment that's also very family friendly. The portions here are huge, so no one walks away feeling hungry; in fact, you will probably see more plates being shared here than in most other restaurants. Since the eatery is attached to a casino, you'll dine with the notes of poker and keno machines singing in the background as well as the occasional whoop from a lucky winner. (It's those machines that keep prices low and portions large.) In truth, most patrons find a few quarters to donate to the electronic bandits while waiting for their meals in hopes that the soup and sandwich might be “on the house.”
Include a trip to Bojangles' Diner in Kalispell simply because it's fun! The entire restaurant is chock-full of 1950s memorabilia from movies, TV, rock ‘n' roll and other pop culture. You may even spot the waitresses wearing poodle skirts and bobby socks. On the menu, find good, wholesome American burgers-and-fries-type food: Chocolate malts find space along with such comfort foods as meatloaf and PB&J. Desserts are made in house, and the pies are almost as good as mom used to make.
Where to Eat in Bigfork
El Topo Cantina in Bigfork has become a near mecca in the area for lovers of Mexican food. According to most, this unassuming establishment has no equal, and we agree. The quality is evident as soon as you sit down to the freshly made uncooked salsa and house-made chips. And, if you really want to treat yourself, get an order or two of the freshly made mango salsa (if it's available). Then comes the difficulty of actually ordering dinner, because the menu is large and everything tempts. We recommend the fish tacos, which are superb and can be ordered with two different types of fish.
Restaurants Worth a Stop in Missoula
Missoula is about 200 miles south of the park but still serves as a gateway for many travelers.
The Depot in Missoula has been the place to go in town for steaks, prime rib and seafood for more years than anyone can remember—it has almost moved from the realm of tradition to that of legend. Set in an old railroad hotel building and close to the now defunct train depot at the head of the main street, it's easy to find. For many locals, entertaining out-of-town guests at the depot has become a near ritual, and it seems to always find its way onto the list of restaurants in answer to the question, “Where is a really good place to eat in this town?”
The Shack Café in Missoula has been around forever and therefore has tailored itself to the needs of a wide clientele over the years. Nearly a half-century ago it made a name for itself thanks to its fried chicken, a logical food to serve in a university town. It was inexpensive, filling, very tasty and fit the bill for the many poor, “starving” students of the University of Montana just across the river. It still might be the only restaurant where you can order a big plate of fried chicken gizzards, but now the menu has expanded dramatically, featuring a wide array of vegetarian dishes for the health-conscious student or traveler. The Shack is also one of the premier breakfast establishments in town, with large, satisfying platters. And—oh, yes—they still have great chicken.
Scotty's Table in Missoula is a hip, comfortable, laid-back restaurant with jazz wafting through the air, blending with delightful aromas. Because Scotty owns not only the table but the entire restaurant and he just happens to be the chef, he's free to be as experimental and eclectic as he chooses. That freedom makes for a wonderful dining experience. Offerings on the menu may wander the globe from France to Italy to North Africa to Greece, depending on Scotty's mood, but it never strays off course. Flavor and texture combinations are often unique but always exciting, and one meal leaves you wondering when you might be able to return for another.
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Glacier National Park, MT
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255 Montclair Dr. Kalispell, MT 59901