RE: The two places that best represent your town
Sun, 03/12/06 10:43 PM
All right, here's my two for Helena, MT (http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&q=helena,+mt) - Note that I'm originally from the midwest, and even though my choices below might make me seem like a hippy/ecofreak, I love all kinds of food (I miss Waffle House, Steak and Shake, and Skyline Chili in Cincinnati). I'm also going to cheat and list three places . . . even if Helena is a town of only around 30k, it's got some great, local eateries . . .
No Sweat Cafe (427 N Last Chance Gulch St) - Total hippy breakfast/lunch place. One of the signs on the door says "No Guns or Cell Phones." They're serious about the cell phone thing - I've seen people be asked to leave. The place is cozy, with an L-shaped counter in the back that seats around 6, 3 big booths along the right wall, plus a tiny one-sided booth that is maybe 3' across. There's two table/booths in the front windows on both sides of the door, as well as maybe four more tables, that seat two to four.
Some people around town joke that when they say "no sweat" they mean they're not going to sweat for you - wait times on Saturday and Sunday mornings can be upwards of an hour. You just have to relax and get into the hippy mentality; patrons are friendly, and you can meet some great people while waiting. You can see into the kitchen, where Deb will usually be cooking, an older woman is usually doing dishes, and there'll be one or two people working the counter and the floor.
When you do get to sit down, the first thing you'll be asked is "coffee?" Being earth-friendly, they have a water jug on the counter with juice cups. If you want a big glass and they don't know you, they'll only give the big cup after they explain to you that water is a valuable resource, and you have to finish all your water.
The menu is fantastic, with almost everything being made of locally grown organic goods. Lots of scrambled egg or potato based dishes, a fantastic burger (and no you won't get any fries - too unhealthy), great enchiladas, and even nice simple brown rice and veggie bowls. The Tibetan Toad is one of my favorites - a great combination of eggs, sprouts, sausage, and garlic along with hash browns and toast. Average check with tip is probably $10.
Note that everything is cooked to order, and Deb or the other cooks will basically work on one dish at a time, so be prepared to wait.
It's the kind of place you wander into on a Sunday morning and it's a gathering spot, with people reading their papers with family and friends, maybe sticking around for a few hours while chatting over coffee, and talking to friends and neighbors at other tables . . .
Definitely not for everyone, but I love it, and it's great to see a restaurant that lives by it's own beat, eschewing the idea of pushing people through as fast as they can, and not comprising their beliefs to draw in more patrons . . .
Taco Del Sol (101 N Last Chance Gulch St) - The locally owned "fresh Mex" place. Menu consists of mission burritos with fish, chicken, pork, beef, or carne asada, and black, refried, or pinto beans, tacos, and a few other related items. (Don't dish a fish taco or burrito till you've tried it.) Vegan friendly options as well. Menu options range from around $2 for a taco, to $5 for 14" burritos.
Very bright, colorful decor in a restaurant that's in the basement of one of the buildings on the Walking Mall in town - you get a true feel for the mining town that Helena used to be when you go to the bathroom, and you walk past the walk-in vault with the big wheel on the font of it. More character is added to the place as people's various foil creations (animals, vehicles, etc) are on the counter . . . I've heard people compare it to Taco Del Mar, but I've never eaten at that chain
Staggering Ox (400 Euclid Ave) - They've got their bread patented. They bake it in a coffee can, and hollow it out, leaving you with a tube that they fill with the ingredients for your sandwich. Lots of different breads, and some great sauces to go with the sandwiches (I love their wasabi ranch). They've got an old side, and a new side they've expanded into. The old side has a cozy atmosphere, with lots of natural light and green plants, while the new side has an industrial feel to it, with a 20' ceiling or so, exposed conduit, etc. In the back of the new section, there's also a bar, which serves local microbrews.
Again, probably $10 max . . .
I think of this list, the Ox might be the only place that takes plastic - the rest are cash, and since it is Montana, they'll even take personal checks . . .