From elk meatloaf and huckleberry pie to rainbow trout and bison burgers, here’s where to eat great food—and fuel up for a hike—just outside Glacier National Park, Montana.
Bison graze in East Glacier. Photos courtesy of Amy Grisak except where noted.
Visiting the stunningly beautiful Glacier National Park, in northwest Montana’s Rocky Mountains, doesn’t have to mean settling for a generic dining experience that exists only to fill tourists’ stomachs. Just beyond the park there are culinary gems, many of them open only June through September, that let you experience the true flavor and feel of Montana. The secret, of course, is getting off the beaten path and finding those locally owned cafes and saloons that scream with personality and memorable specialties, the best of Montana cuisine. But where to find them? Here’s your guide to the best places to eat near Glacier National Park.
Northern Lights Saloon, Polebridge
Located in the heart of the North Fork region of Glacier, Polebridge is a tight-knit, somewhat eccentric community that opens their arms to visitors during the summer. The Northern Lights Saloon, tucked away on a gravel road en route to the park, is the hub of good food and entertainment throughout the season with live music throughout the week and live mics on Thursday night, so you can enjoy the truly local talent (or step up for a song yourself).
Its menu is inspired by the beautiful surroundings, where elk graze in open meadows below the magnificent mountain landscape. There are many options for carnivores—fitting, perhaps, since wolves returned to the park via the North Fork several decades ago— including a 12 oz. ribeye and an 8 oz. sirloin steak, along with elk meatloaf (topped with a huckleberry glaze) and hearty bison burgers. Seared rainbow trout, served with salad, vegetables, potatoes, and homemade bread, is a nod to the fish that abound in the area’s rivers and lakes.
Vegetarians have plenty of choice at Northern Lights too, from baked macaroni and cheese, a portobello sandwich topped with avocado and goat cheese, and vegetarian burritos and quesadillas packed with enough beans to fuel any hike. (And of course, there’s great beer for after the hike too.) 255 Polebridge Loop, Polebridge, map
While it’s not a place to grab a full meal, a visit to Polebridge isn’t complete without stopping at the Polebridge Mercantile for a delicious huckleberry bear claw pastry. Situated right next to the Northern Lights Saloon, the Mercantile is impossible to miss and welcomes visitors in for coffee and a sweet treat. 265 Polebridge Loop, Polebridge, map
Eddie’s Cafe and Mercantile, Apgar
The line in front of Eddie’s says it all: Besides the delicious ice cream and coffees, its full menu has been fueling hikers in the park for 60 years. The Lake McDonald Breakfast Burrito is the way to go for a long day on the trail, as it’s packed with scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, cheese, roasted peppers, onions, and sour cream wrapped in a spinach tortilla and topped with homemade pico de gallo.
For lunch or dinner, the Charlie Russell buffalo burger (named after the renowned Western artist who frequented this area in the late 1800s) offers one-third a pound of bison with Swiss cheese and huckleberry aioli. Be sure to leave room for huckleberry cobbler for dessert. 236 Apgar Loop Rd., West Glacier, map
Serrano’s, East Glacier
Situated along Highway 2 roughly an hour from West Glacier, East Glacier is home to the spectacular Glacier Park Lodge, as well as the gateway to Two Medicine, a less-visited but equally beautiful region of the park.
Good Mexican cuisine isn’t expected in the heart of Montana, but Serrano’s is long known for its delicious take on traditional dishes. The pollo picado—chicken strips sautéed with onions, green chilies, and tomatoes, then served with beans and tortillas—is enough to fill you up without feeling like you ate too much. For vegetarians, the black bean quesadilla is a great appetizer and the veggie delight enchilada is packed with beans and vegetables. 29 Dawson Ave, East Glacier Park, map
Park Cafe, St. Mary
St. Mary is on the eastern side of Going-to-the-Sun Road, which typically opens by the end of June, although it’s also accessed via the newly reconstructed Highway 89 from Browning. This small town is quiet from the middle of September to Memorial Day when it comes back to life preparing for summer visitors.
For nearly 70 years, Park Cafe has been the spot for homemade pie. It’s no surprise that its huckleberry pie is a popular option (especially topped with a scoop of huckleberry ice cream), but from Grizz-Bear-Y (a mix of huckleberries, marionberries, and blueberries, with a bear-shaped pie scrap topper) to chocolate cream, there is a flavor for everyone.
Morning sweet tooth? Go for a stack of huckleberry pancakes served with huckleberry syrup, or go for the Glacier Peak steak and eggs with hash browns and toast for a substantial start to the day. There are a number of burger selections at the Park Cafe, but the hot roast beef sandwich dinner hits the spot when you’re hungry. 3147 US-89 W, St. Mary, map
Johnson’s of St. Mary
It’s impossible to leave Johnson’s hungry—and even though you’re most likely going to have to wait in line at peak meal times, gazing at the beautiful views from the porch and property is a nice way to spend the time. While lighter options exist, the restaurant’s family-style dinners are a longstanding tradition.
There’s good buffalo steak and tasty pork chops, but the fried chicken—served with a bowl of mashed potatoes, vegetables, amazing soup (which changes daily), and outstanding homemade bread, all pictured above—has been a favorite for decades. Eating this is like sitting around your grandmother’s table. 21 Red Eagle Rd, Browning, map
Courtesy of Two Sisters
Two Sisters, near Babb
Roughly 10 miles north of St. Mary, the town of Babb leads visitors to Many Glacier, where some of the park’s best hiking awaits. Treks to Iceberg Lake or Ptarmigan Tunnel are memorable adventures, and most people cannot get over the surreal blue-green water of Cracker Lake, fed by glacial runoff. Outside of the park concessioners, there aren’t many restaurant options. Fortunately, they are some of the best.
With “Aliens Welcome” painted on the steel roof of this impossible-to-miss purple building, you know something different awaits at Two Sisters. Beth Higgins, the co-owner and sister of Susan Higgins, is a trained chef who creates incredible meals using locally sourced ingredients. Its standard menu items—such as pulled BBQ pork sandwich, roasted Mexican chicken (with adobo sauce, black beans, and mango salsa), and a vegetarian falafel bowl—are always smart picks, but the nightly specials brings seasonal flavor to your plate.
Look for bison ravioli in a cream sauce with peas or bison-and-quinoa-stuffed bell peppers throughout the season. For dessert, the huckleberry brûlée is out of this world, although the seasonal strawberry shortcake also does not disappoint. 3600 US-89, Babb, map
Cattle Baron Supper Club
Don’t let the rough exterior fool you: If you’re looking for the epitome of a good Montana steak, come into Cattle Baron and order the 16 oz. Bob’s ribeye, with its proprietary marinade for an extra-special touch, served with potato and salad. And be sure to order the huckleberry vinaigrette—you’re in Montana, after all. 3990 US-89, Babb, map (dinner only)
PIN AND SAVE FOR LATER!
About the author: Freelance writer Amy Grisak lives for hiking in and spending time in Glacier National Park. When she’s not eating freeze-dried cuisine in the backcountry, she’s on the hunt for phenomenal meals during this short, but glorious season in Montana. Follow her adventures on her website, amygrisak.com.