BAD BETTY'S BARBECUE
812 Front Street, Helena, MT 59601
Bad Betty’s Barbecue boldly lives up to their die-hard name in every way. From the moment you step through the door, your senses will light up, your mouth will water, and your stomach will growl. This is a deliberately small and focused operation, specializing in the smoky, the sweet, the tender. Casually kind, straightforward counter service, a spacious dining area with just the right amount of hip, warm, bbq-based pizazz, and flavor-packed meals that are delivered to your table in minutes will leave you feeling satisfied and content any day of the week. It’s like the best gourmet indoor picnic ever.
Locals recommend: The daily special with jalapeño cornbread and coleslaw.
1130 Helena Avenue, Helena, MT 59601
Ah, Bullman’s Pizza. From the surprisingly cozy wooden bench booths bathed in natural sunlight (and view of Mount Helena!) to the cleverly named, deliciously put together wood-fired pizza, this place is a win through and through. The service is exceptionally hospitable and not a bit stuffy or rushed. Oh, and the pizza? Perfectly flame-kissed crust topped with refreshing ingredient combinations and caramelized, bubbling cheese. They have a great beer and wine list and the main feeling here, as you glance around the room, is contentment. Much better than your average pizza joint, for sure. Their motto is: “Great pizza from our family to yours.” What’s not to love?
Locals recommend: The Bridger Pizza (It sounds weird, but step outside your comfort zone and you wont be disappointed).
139 Reeders Alley, Helena, MT 59601
Karmadillos is a southwestern style cafe nestled at the top of Helena’s historic Reeder’s Alley in a quaint, cozy old brick building with one of the best patios in town. This unique spot overlooks Park Avenue and has a gorgeous view of Mount Ascension. Sip a cold beer, feel the sun on your face and snack on the most delicious chips and salsa in Helena. Inside things are cozy but, it usually works out just fine, seat-wise.
Karmadillos is an order-at-the-counter restaurant and, even if you have to scramble or negotiate a bit to find a seat, it will be worth it. The service is definitely something to behold. One person taking orders, one person doing dishes, bussing and helping with the prep cooking and one person as the main cook. This is small business at its finest- a very well-oiled machine. The workers genuinely care about getting your order right, offer daily specials with enthusiasm, and check in with you after you’ve gotten your food to make sure you love it. Which you will, trust us. All dishes are perfectly spiced, freshly made and absolutely sing with flavor.
Locals recommend: Chips and Salsa, Prickly Pear Pale Ale, Enchiladas.
LA PA GRILL
32 W 6th Avenue, Helena, MT 59601
La Pa Grill is a refreshing new take on an old mainstay: the burrito. Let’s face it, burritos are great but wouldn’t they be even greater with funky world flavors and super fresh ingredients? That’s what La Pa Grill is all about. In addition to their stellar menu, La Pa Grill also offers really good beer and wine, and provides a warm, hip, spacious atmosphere with a TV, a sweet shuffleboard table and a great list of events and live music. It’s a refreshingly chill place to have lunch, celebrate the end of a long day or stop in and grab a bite in between weekend activities. Service is friendly and laid back, menu is very customizable and it’s even a great place to find healthy kid options and give them enough space to do their thing.
Locals recommend: Buffalo Gypsy or Wrap of Khan with your server’s fave beer on tap.
56 N Last Chance Gulch, Helena, MT 59601
Oh, Lucca’s. You are, by far, the special occasion destination in all of Helena. Why? The service is top-notch . The entire room is bathed in a warm, amber light. There is a candle on each table. Linen napkins and proper silverware settings. Riedel glassware. An awesome wine list. Full bar. Amazing food. Everywhere you look, people are so thrilled with their meals, they’re trading bites and offering suggestions to their neighbors.
The main thing here is, each table is given an ample amount of time to dine. Lucca’s most often seats by reservation only, although there are times when the lucky few manage to slip in. This means, you may have to plan in advance a little, but, once you do get a table, it is yours. You won’t feel any pressure to rush at all, ever. And, it’s best you don’t. Things are timed perfectly here, from amuse bouche to french-pressed coffee with dessert. Trust me, you’ll want to just sit back and enjoy.
Locals recommend: Shrimp Fra Diavolo, Pork Chop with Apple and Rosemary, Tiramisu.
THE MEDITERRANEAN GRILL
42 S Park Avenue, Helena, MT 59601
The Mediterranean Grill instantly transports you to, well, the Mediterranean from the moment you walk in the door. The walls are brightly painted and display murals of oceanic scenes with European flair. The menu offers a huge variety of traditional Mediterranean fair: think olives, hummus, baba ganoush, falafel as well as a whole host of Mediterranean inspired entrées topped with freshly chopped herbs and a dash of extra virgin olive oil.
Exceptionally friendly service, a lively and entertaining open kitchen, a spacious dining room with large windows that allow plenty of natural light to pour in all combine to make this place a local gem. In the warmer months, bask in the gorgeous evening glow of the setting Montana sun while you dine. The patio here is large and gorgeous and who doesn’t love sipping wine and nibbling on fresh Mediterranean fare al fresco?
Locals recommend: A gorgeous bottle of Italian red, Mini Lamb Brochettes, Bisara, traditional Turkish coffee with Baklava.
NO SWEAT CAFE
427 N Last Chance Gulch, Helena, MT 59601
The No Sweat Cafe has been slinging out hot, from scratch, breakfast and lunch in downtown Helena for decades. The cafe is proudly old-school and it’s good to know that going in. The kitchen is tiny, one server single-handedly covers the nine tables in the dining room. At the counter, regulars sip hot coffee and chat each other up. Most people here know each other and tables converse warmly from across the room. In the background, the chopping of onions, the subtle clanging of the spatulas on the grill, the hearty laugh, and playful banter of the cooks.
The menu is hand-written (not-typed) and lists clever dish names (Tibetan Toad, Ole’ Miss, Stumbo Lost Wages) and everything is absolutely made from scratch. It’s just that kind of place. All customers are treated with old-fashioned hospitality. The owners encourage folks to unplug while dining. They actively ask that you be present in the moment, savor your meal and appreciate your company. No Sweat Cafe offers a unique experience that honors Helena hometown glory. Pro tip: Cash or check only, see we told you, old-school.
Locals recommend: Pancakes and Sausage, Huevos Rancheros, Coffee.
105 6th Avenue, Helena, MT 59601
Nosh Cafe is a quaint little cafe specializing in waffles, gourmet toasts, intriguing “sammies” and fresh soups and salads. Decorated tastefully with just the right touch of vintage charm, you’ll find old photographs, retro kitchen tools, old-fashioned aprons, funky mismatched antique chairs and, of course, mason jars to drink from.
Nosh Cafe has chosen to keep their focus somewhat small so they can really master what it is they offer. Whether you choose something like chicken & waffles or go with a lighter salad, you’ll be surprised by how each and every dish is perfectly seasoned and well balanced with flavor.
Locals recommend: Pesto Chicken Sandwich or the Breakfast Sandwich.
106 E Broadway Street, Helena, MT 59601
On Broadway is all the rage in Helena. Locals flock here for dinner and drinks which makes for a busy, lively atmosphere in a really unique historic setting. Upon the beautiful brick walls are giant, gorgeous paintings of serene, dreamlike Montana scenes. There is often low-key live music in the front cocktail lounge area which makes waiting for a table no problem at all. The soft, low lighting creates an intimate dining experience and the service is friendly and accommodating. On Broadway is known for their craft cocktails, fresh, made from scratch pasta dishes and their generous seafood and steak offerings. Great place for a night out with friends or a sweet little date. Pro-tip: On Broadway does not accept reservations, arrive early in the evening if you don’t want to wait for a table!
Locals recommend: Stewed Mussels, Clams Linguine, Gorgonzola Angel Hair, Pear Martini.
THE STAGGERING OX
400 Euclid Avenue, Helena, MT 59601
The Staggering Ox and Red Atlas have a lot going on. It’s one of the quirkiest places in Helena but super loveable all the same. One thing for sure is, you’ll always be able to order a quick, delicious, (albeit slightly strange) clubfoot sandwich and grab a table. The place is huge and goes on forever. Local artwork hangs on the walls, there is a large, very interesting and unique sculpture in between the front cafe (The Staggering Ox) and the back cafe (The Red Atlas) which you just have to see for yourself. Beer, wine, espresso beverages and a smaller version of "The Ox" menu is available at The Red Atlas, which is kind of known as a spot for local creatives to gather and share. On any given night, you might stumble into a live concert or poetry reading or, you may just notice writers and artists anchored at their tables typing and sketching away in this place that is, in and of itself, some kind of masterpiece.
Locals recommend: The Clubfoot and any local microbrew on tap. Do it!
TACO DEL SOL
21 N Last Chance Gulch, Helena, MT 59601
Taco Del Sol is conveniently located downtown, along the walking mall. It is a great place to grab a quick, quality meal. With bright, Latin-inspired decor, fast and friendly service, beer, wine, soda, house-made horchata, and even a few outside tables, Taco Del Sol is a favorite Helena spot for sure. They’re also very family friendly and make the cutest little “baby burritos” that Helena kids love!
How locals do Taco Del Sol: grab burritos for the whole family (and maybe chips and queso, too). Meander on down the walking mall to Ten Mile Creek Brewery where you can eat your burritos, have a great local beer and let the kids dance to live music. Then, top it all off with a cone at Big Dipper Ice Cream. Talk about the perfect evening!
Locals recommend: Fish Tacos or The Mission Burrito Supreme with local beef carne. The chips and queso are SO good!
423 N Last Chance Gulch, Helena, MT 59601
Toi’s Thai serves authentic Thai cuisine in a cozy little space on Last Chance Gulch. You can smell the aroma of the spices from all the way down the block, no joke. There are not many tables, so it’s a good idea to call ahead and make a reservation when possible. The restaurant is run by young, dedicated entrepreneurs who were trained directly by Toi, the previous owner. Toi first brought the place to life decades ago with her traditional Thai cooking magic. The atmosphere is cozy, happy, friendly and lively and each dish is made to order. We are lucky to have Toi’s in Helena. If you keep an open mind and embrace sitting in a pretty small space, pretty close to your neighbors you’ll be impressed by the authentic flavors and variety of dishes happening at this vibrant little spot.
Locals recommend: Beef Panang Curry and Tom Kha Gai Soup.
4528 W US Hwy 12, Helena, MT 59601
Dinner at The Wassweiler is, truly, a grand experience. Once a rather run-down antique shop, the owners of The Wassweiler have clearly invested a lot of time, energy, planning and (let’s face it) money, into one of the best remodels ever. The ambiance is warm and inviting, and perfectly walks the line between rustic and modern. This place is all about detail from the carefully chosen artwork and fresh flowers to the old fashioned light switches and french-pressed coffee. Food, service, ambiance, decor- you’d be hard-pressed to find something to complain about here. The presentation of the food is gorgeous and the flavors are spot on- balanced, complimentary, unique, fresh. If you’re looking for an exquisite Montana dining experience, put The Wassweiler at the top of your list.
Locals recommend: Spiced Carrot Gnocchi, Pan Seared Salmon, Bruschetta.
THE WINDBAG SALOON
19 S Last Chance Gulch, Helena, MT 59601
The Windbag Saloon has been a staple along the walking mall for decades. Recently, it was impressively and extensively remodeled and updated into what has now become a modern, hip restaurant with a pub-like atmosphere. Some of the original architecture remains intact, brick walls, high ceilings, undeniably cool fixtures and details. And, on a Friday or Saturday night, you’ll find the place packed with people watching sports, catching up after a long week, relaxing and enjoying all “the bag” has to offer.
During the warmer months, the Windbag Saloon offers an open air seating area and small patio right on the walking mall that’s tough to beat. It’s a wonderful place to spend a summer evening enjoying an outdoor dinner and cocktail with friends; soaking up the last rays of sun for the day.
Locals recommend: Choose a burger, any burger, Bacon Wrapped Shrimp, local beer or craft cocktail with Gulch Distillers spirits.
Pro tip: This spot is rich in history. Take time to read the section about Big Dorothy’s on the menu. It will make you enjoy the place even more! n
BIG DIPPER ICE CREAM
58 N Last Chance Gulch, Helena, MT 59601
Big Dipper Ice Cream is a BIG deal in Helena. The small town ice-cream shop specializes in unique flavors like cardamom, chai, huckleberry, and prickly pear sorbet, to name a few. They also offer homemade waffle cones (highly recommended) which emit a powerful heavenly scent in and around the shop. If you opt for a Starship Sundae, the brownies are baked by a local shop down the street. During the warmer months, the line is long but so worth the wait. And, you will often see folks and families chatting and catching up while they wait in line. It’s less of a drag and more of a social event. Welcome to the Helena lifestyle.
Because Big Dipper is situated on the walking mall, kids eat their ice cream and frolic freely. High-schoolers hold hands on first dates. Sometimes, there’ll be a musician playing out front in the main gathering spot of the walking mall. Sometimes, a food truck. Last summer, someone brought a piano down and it became the highlight of many evenings downtown (though the ice cream covered keys needed cleaning from time to time). If you’re looking for a great spot to pass a summer evening, delicious craft ice cream cone in hand, look no further than Big Dipper Ice Cream.
Locals recommend: Salted Caramel or White Mint Oreo in a homemade waffle cone.
COTTON TOP PASTRIES
212 S Park Ave, Helena, MT 59601
Welcome to the sweetest, most unbelievably located, craft pastry shop in town. This one woman show will blow you away. First of all, the shop is located in Helena’s historic Reeder’s Alley, in a tiny cabin from WAY back when. Upon approaching the shop, you might wonder, is this place even real? Once inside, the smell of fresh baked pie, melt in your mouth shortbread, fresh, perfectly fluffy scones and flaky chocolate croissants will convince you that, indeed, this is the real deal. You’ll want to arrive as early as possible, though, if you have a particular craving as Cotton Top often sells out early and when they do, that’s it for the day. Find Cotton Top Pastries at the Helena Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings April - October.
Locals recommend: Sea salt oat cookies, lavender dark chocolate scones, ham and cheese croissants.
PARK AVENUE BAKERY
44 S Park Ave, Helena, MT 59601
Park Avenue is Helena’s hometown bakery. Open 7 days a week, it is a great place to have coffee with friends, connect with members of the community, savor the magic of a perfectly flaky croissant or fresh slice of cake. Park Avenue bakery has won the hearts of locals with their exquisite pastries, delectable desserts, expertly baked breads and focaccia style pizza. Inside the bakery older couples sit at bistro tables, quietly enjoying each other’s company. Business people glance over the local newspaper before heading to work for the day, customers dash in to grab a loaf of fresh daily featured bread to go with their dinner or a muffin and coffee on their way to hit the river. Kiddos line up eagerly to choose one of Park Ave’s famously fun sugar cookies. They even offer homemade dog biscuits.
You’ll also find artisan products from Italy and Greece: gourmet pastas and sauces, fig jams and olive tapenades, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The perfect compliments to a fresh loaf of handmade bread. Last minute gift, anyone?
Locals recommend: The Earl Grey Chocolate Cake, daily bread feature, and pizza dough to go!
THE PARROT CONFECTIONERY
42 N Last Chance Gulch, Helena, MT 59601
The Parrot Confectionery has been around since 1922. It is definitely a Helena gem that sits right on the walking mall. The Parrot will transport you back in time in the very best way. They offer specialty hand-dipped chocolates and other candies that sparkle through a large glass case. Each customer has the chance to pick their favorites, put a quarter or two in the jukebox, grab a booth or a seat at the soda fountain counter and enjoy the classic, simple bliss of this extraordinary spot. They also serve chili, popcorn, and all sorts of old-fashioned ice cream and soda treats. The Parrot sells boxed chocolates which make great gifts and this is, of course, one of the dreamiest places for kids to visit while downtown.
Locals recommend: Any of the hand-dipped chocolates, Turkish delight, a bowl of chili, a song on the jukebox.
201 N Rodney St, Helena, MT 59601
The Vanilla Bean is a charming little bakery and cafe in one of Helena’s most up and coming neighborhoods. Well known for their beautiful, fun, custom order cakes, panini sandwiches, cookies and cupcakes, The Vanilla Bean has gained quite a following. The walls are pink, the bakery is always bustling and, it’s yet another gathering place in Helena where regulars connect with each other on the daily. With excellent fast and friendly service, delicious baked goods and menu items, this place rocks. Oh, and their quiche is to die for. Pro tip: Try to sit facing the window so you can delight in all the neighborhood activity. n
Locals recommend: A slice of quiche or a fancy cupcake paired with a cup of hot coffee. For the kids: made from scratch hot chocolate.