Catching up with Missoula’s newbie eateries
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Big Sky, Big Flavor

Catching up with Missoula’s newbie eateries

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I am woefully, embarrassingly, frustratingly behind.

Ninja Mike’s is about to celebrate its first anniversary as a brick-and-mortar restaurant in downtown Missoula, and I have yet to go. It became so popular as a food tuck that it opened a shop in the bus transfer center at 200 W. Pine St. last fall, near the courthouse. Friends rave about it. Its menu is fresh, fast, creative, delicious and cheap, a really good place to get breakfast or lunch. Try it, they urge.

So, it’s on my list. I’ll visit Ninja Mike’s soon, maybe before it celebrates a birthday in the first week of September.

But as I thought about this one eatery, I realized there are many other local ones that opened since Ninja Mike’s, and I haven’t gone to many of those either. So I made a list and decided to share it. Maybe you, too, are missing out on the flavors of a new Missoula.

I like to try new places because I like new tastes and dishes I don’t prepare myself, and because I like to see how my town changes. Eateries can highlight new trends and shifting tastes. They’re also a tribute to the motivated, creative and hard-working owners and chefs who open them. It’s a tough business, running and owning a restaurant.

Here’s my list, in alphabetical order. I believe all opened since Ninja Mike’s last fall. Did I get them all? Probably not. If I missed any let me know. My email is at the end of this column.

1. Basal

114 N. Higgins Ave.

Basal just opened in the brick historic pharmacy part of the old Missoula Mercantile, the only part of the old building saved when the new Mercantile hotel was built downtown. Owners Julie and Taylor Clayton are offering whole, simple, fresh, healthy fare that can be eaten on the go or on site. Smoothies, yogurt parfaits, chorizo or vegetarian breakfast bundles, coffee and espresso are served, along with gourmet salads like a kale BLT, a potato and chorizo, or a smoked-salmon summer salad. Diners can build their own salad from a well-stocked bar, or sip on house-made bone broth, simmered for 12 hours using bones from local beef and chicken, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, parsley, ginger, celery root and other ingredients.

What I ordered: The bone broth, which was delicious and comforting; it’ll be especially welcome on the cool-cold days of fall and winter. A 12-ounce cup is $7.50; the 16-ounce cup is $9.50.

2. The Bridge

3000 Brooks St.

Yep, this new spot has a drive-through window where you can order slices of fresh pizza to go, just as the original Bridge on the Hip Strip does. But go in to see the new look at this second location, which opened this summer: It is bright and airy and has a great mural with classic Missoula images (my favorite: a dog awaiting pizza-pie Frisbees near a folf basket).

What we ordered: Spaghetti and meatballs ($9 small, $14 large), a slice of pizza ($3.75 or less) and an arugula salad ($7-$9.50). OK, and a glass of wine and beer, too.

3. Dobi’s Teriyaki

123 W. Front St., inside Stockman’s Bar

Owner Bret Ferris has been offering his “Seattle style” yaki rice bowls in Missoula since 2014, when, with a friend, he converted a shuttle bus into rolling restaurant. He later graduated into a bigger, better food truck but this summer gave up the mobile life and opened in a permanent spot, inside Stock’s in downtown Missoula.

This sounds good: “The Classic,” a chicken and rice teriyaki bowl, large, for $9, with extra veggies for an additional $2.

4. 1889 Steakhouse

104 N. Higgins Ave.

1889 is the year Montana became a state, and thus the name of this new fine-dining restaurant in the new Mercantile Residence Inn downtown. The view is great: Big windows look out on Higgins Avenue and the bustle of downtown. Appetizers, soups, salads, seafood, premium steaks, and a menu of chef’s creations — buttermilk fried quail and flat iron steak frites are two — are served. Wall-sized reproductions of historic photographs of Missoula and Montana grace the walls.

This sounds good: Lump crab cakes, with pickled mustard seeds, frisée greens and a Creole remoulade ($16).

5. Frugals

2515 Brooks St., in the old Dairy Queen spot

Missoula’s Frugals diner opened this spring, offering quick, fresh, simple, big-flavor but small-cost burgers, fries, sandwiches, shakes and more. Frugals started in Port Angeles, Washington, in 1988 and now has a handful of diners around the Northwest, including one in Kalispell. High quality at the lowest price is the goal, which has created a loyal following. Most burgers are under $6.

This sounds good: quarter-pound Hawaiian Burger, with Swiss cheese, pineapple, barbecue sauce, grilled onion, mayo and lettuce ($5.45), fries ($1.95) and a huckleberry milkshake ($2.95).

6. Notorious P.I.G. Barbecue

3621 Old Highway 93, near Brooks and Reserve streets

Well, who doesn’t love ribs, pulled pork, tri-tip, beef brisket? No meat-eating human in my circle. So it made sense that this smoked-meat and BBQ eatery would expand. The original Notorious P.I.G. on Front Street opened in 2015, and the new spot opened in early 2019. It has a loyal following because of its simple fare and great seasonings, sauces and sides, all house-made, and because the meat is smoked in-house every day.

This sounds good: Burnt ends (so popular they sometimes sell out early) with the “tangy with a smooth burn” Zootang sauce, with slaw and Fire and Ice pickles ($17 for the plate).

7. Roosterloo

6170 Butler Creek Road

Roosterloo is a new farm-to-table restaurant that opened near the airport in July. You can’t miss it: Look for the giant metal rooster sculpture out front. Owner Cheryl Bregen has a 3-acre farm, several greenhouses and the restaurant; the restaurant uses some of the herbs, flowers and greens it grows on the farm. It is open for breakfast (served all day) and lunch, and the offerings are hearty and fresh — a breakfast sandwich or burrito; lunch sandwiches; soup; salads; and a Frittata Friday special.

This sounds good: the Breakfast Sandwich, with eggs, cheese, avocado, pico de gallo and sausage on a ciabatta bun, or the Veggie Tay-tos, with potatoes, seasonal veggies, Romano cheese and fresh herbs. Both are $6.

8. Second Set Bistro

111 H. Higgins Ave., inside the historic Florence Building

Second Set Bistro opened just this month in the old Red Bird spot. It has been completely remodeled and has a built-from-scratch menu with unusual, creative and “big flavor” dishes: roasted cauliflower with garlic, mint and Calabrian chili; smoked trout tacos; a Grilled Little Gems Salad of olive tapenade, chili, potatoes and almonds; plus steaks, a pork chop and small plates to share. A bonus: It’s open for both lunch and dinner.

This sounds good: Chicories salad (avocado, corn nuts, cotija cheese, orange, with a tomatillo dressing ($14) for lunch; the half chicken, roasted “Zuni” style, with panzanella salad, currants, pine nuts and jus for dinner ($30).

9. Wally and Buck

319 E. Front St.

Wally and Buck was a longtime food cart whose owners, Travis and Kelsey Walnum, decided to open a brick-and-mortar diner to give loyal patrons a fixed place to go. W&B is designed to be simple, efficient and high-quality: It serves local beef from the Oxbow Cattle Co. in Missoula, has a chicken sandwich and several salads, and also offers a “Squeaky Wheel,” a house-made patty of rice and beans and served with a vegan Wally sauce. But “burgers are our focus,” Travis Walnum told the Missoulian in early spring, after the diner opened.

What we ordered: The Wally burger, with bacon jam, Oregon cheddar cheese, grilled onion, lettuce, tomato and Wally sauce, for $8. We split a $4 order of fries too, enhanced with W&B’s barbecue seasoning.

Mea Andrews worked as a reporter and editor at the Missoulian for 27 years. She is now retired. Reach her by email at MeaAndrews406@gmail.com.

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