Only in Butte could one even begin to make the argument that there is a historic Montana cuisine. Its large ethnic population and its intense urban character gave restaurants a prominence and an enthusiastic clientele that was unusual in frontier Montana.
Butte specialties include the pasty (pronounced PAST-ee), brought over from Cornwall, England, and the pork chop sandwich. Meals in Butte were traditionally served in courses; the price of dinner included a relish tray, breadsticks, soup and salads, a pasta course, the main dish, and dessert. This evening’s worth of food and service is called eating “Old Meaderville” style, for the Meaderville Italian neighborhood that collapsed into the Berkeley Pit, fine restaurants and all.
One of the best restaurants in Montana is the Uptown Cafe (47 E. Broadway St., 406/723-4735, www.uptowncafe.com, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 5–10 p.m. nightly, lunch $6–10, dinner $11–30), where the best of Butte tradition meets lively up-to-the-minute sauces and ingredients. The wine list is intriguing, the ambience is light and friendly, and the fare—with lots of fresh seafood, veal, and pasta on the menu, and a nice selection of homemade desserts—is superb. Early dinner specials (until 6:30 p.m.) are a real bargain at $12.50.
Butte’s most famous restaurant is Lydia’s (4915 Harrison Ave., 406/494-2000, 5:30–10 p.m. nightly, $20 and up), which is housed in a modern-era building out on the edge of town. The typical steaks and seafood are joined by Italian food and plenty of old-fashioned but highly creditable side dishes, served in an atmosphere of slightly dated chic. (Be sure to tour the restaurant’s stained-glass windows and lamps.)
Back in uptown Butte, Metals Banque Grill (8 W. Park St., 406/782-5534, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. daily, $7–23) serves its own beers and ales, as well as a full menu featuring steaks, pasta, and very good Southwestern dishes in an old bank vault.
Don’t count out Butte for steaks. Land of Magic Too (801 S. Utah, 406/723-4141, 5–9 p.m. daily, $19–26) is an offshoot of Logan’s beloved steakhouse.
For something uniquely Butte, try Pork Chop John’s (8 Mercury St., 406/782-0812, or 2400 Harrison Ave., 406/782-1783, 10:30 a.m.–10:45 p.m., $3). The boneless pork chop sandwich is a Butte original; order it the traditional way, with pickles, onions, and mustard, and think of all the hungry miners who also gained satisfaction here.
If what you’re really hankering after is some good Tex-Mex, head to Christina’s Cocina Cafe (2201 Silver Bow, 406/782-0346, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily, $6–15).
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition