After attending the TBEX travel blogger conference in Billings, Montana, I was selected to visit for a West Yellowstone food tour with three other bloggers. During our five-day stay in West Yellowstone, we made new friends, ate at incredible restaurants, and had wonderful experiences throughout the town. Today’s article will be focused on the amazing food we had and why you should stay in West Yellowstone when visiting Yellowstone National Park.
Big thanks to the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce for hosting us on this West Yellowstone food tour. It was great to become friends with Wendy and Trent from the Chamber as well as Annette from From Annette With Love, Debbie from Places to Play in Nature, and Marguerite from PeggyWhereShouldIGo.
Why a West Yellowstone Food Tour?
The city of West Yellowstone is located in the western part of Montana. It the gateway to Yellowstone National Park, so it is very popular with tourists.
Many tours provide sack lunches or rush you through meals to enjoy the national park. I understand the desire to spend as much time exploring, but that hurry-up mentality will cause you to miss out on some of the best food I’ve had in a long time.
So, a group of travel and food bloggers came to West Yellowstone from TBEX. We explored the city, the National Park, and many of the best restaurants in town. It was a great follow-up to the Billings Brew Trail tour I did just before the TBEX conference.
The Branch Restaurant and Bar
After driving from Billings to West Yellowstone, our first meal was a lunch at The Branch. The restaurant was pretty empty during our Saturday afternoon visit, so we had the place to ourselves.
When you enter the restaurant, you’ll notice something a bit different. There is an old-time railroad dining car inside the entrance. You won’t eat there, but it is fun to step inside and imagine what it was like to dine while traveling by train.
I ordered a double burger, fries, and beer, while my new friends enjoyed local delicacies like bison chili, bison stroganoff, and bison tots. The food was very good and our server was very attentive. A good start for our culinary tour of West Yellowstone.
Cafe Madriz – tapas you’ve been dreaming of
My favorite meal of the West Yellowstone food tour was at Cafe Madriz. All of the food on the menu is served tapas-style and we ordered just about one of everything.
There was Calamares en Salsa Picante (calamari), a charcuterie plate, Gambas al Ajillo (grilled shrimp), paella, and so much more. The highlights for me were the grilled shrimp, Chorizo al Infierno (skewers of chorizo), and the Carne a la Piedra (steak on a hot stone).
The chorizo dish is known as the flaming pig because a literal flaming pig is brought out with the skewers for you to roast the meat. We had so much fun with it!
And the filet of steak is brought out rare on a hot stone. You can hear the steak sizzle as it cooks right in front of you. We carved off slices as it cooked to our desired tastes and shared it like we did all of the other dishes.
This was my first true tapas experience, and I am now excited about future tapas adventures. The next tapas restaurant I go to will have some major expectations after our meal at Cafe Madriz.
Campfire Lodge – gorgeous views of the river
On our second day, we visited the Earthquake Lake Visitor Center and Museum in the morning. On our way back to town, we stopped by this cute roadside restaurant and hotel. Bring your appetite because all of the portions are huge! At the very least, consider sharing with a friend or ask for a doggy bag, because you won’t be able to finish a plate by yourself.
My friend Marguerite ordered a cinnamon roll, and I instantly became jealous when I saw it. Luckily, she let me have a bite. It was was heaven in your mouth. The combination of the cinnamon, icing, and butter was so amazing, I think all other cinnamon rolls might never live up my new expectations.
I ordered a short stack of pancakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon. When the pancakes were brought out, they smelled incredible. The pancakes were huge… literally overhanging the plate. I made a valiant effort to take them down, but I could only finish about 2/3 of the pancakes.
As great as the food was, the scenery was even more beautiful. We ate inside at the window overlooking the flowing river next to us. We probably spent as much time outside enjoying the sound of rushing water as we did inside eating our meal. Budget extra time to soak in the epic sounds of Mother Nature.
The Lounge at Madison Crossing – bison burger so thick!
After walking around town all afternoon, we were ready for dinner. Locals told us that The Lounge was one of the nicest restaurants in town and it did not disappoint.
This dinner restaurant is all about steaks, gourmet burgers, and delicious appetizers and entrees. After seeing pictures of the bison burger, I knew I had to try theirs. When my plate arrived, the bison burger was massive. The patty was literally an inch thick! I can only imagine how big the sandwich would have been if I had all of the garnishments on it.
My friends ordered a variety of items from the menu. They shared an appetizer of smoked trout crostini ahead of their meals. One person ordered the pan-seared trout, while a couple of others enjoyed the ribeye. On our way out, I saw a plate of the elk tenderloins and they looked amazing. I knew I had to try elk before we left West Yellowstone.
Old Faithful Inn – Ice cream to die for
While waiting for Old Faithful to erupt, we went inside the Old Faithful Inn to take a tour and see the craftmanship up close. I a little hungry, so I grabbed a salted caramel ice cream from inside the inn. I gotta say that the ice cream was incredibly delicious.
Since I was the only one that ordered ice cream, I was tempted to share. But then I took another bite and decided… “nope, this ice cream is just for me!” It was that good. Highly recommended on a hot summer day when searching for something cool to beat the heat.
Today, we spent all day in the Yellowstone National Park. Our tour guide brought prepared sandwiches, apples, and chips from Running Bear Pancake House for us to enjoy at lunch. The sandwiches were good, and I appreciate that they wrapped the tomatoes and lettuce separate from the sandwich so the bread wasn’t soggy when it was time to eat.
What I loved most about our lunch was the location. Amy is a local private tour guide (and Jr High Football Coach) and she knows all of the best spots inside the park. To save time, we contemplated eating in the car as we drove to the next location, but I’m glad we didn’t.
Amy took us to a hidden spot next to the river where there were plenty of rocks to sit on while enjoying lunch. The sound of the flowing water and the beauty of the tree-covered hills made it seem like city-life was one-hundred light-years away.
The Slippery Otter – ever try an elk burger?
I was on a quest to try elk before we left and The Slippery Otter had just what the Doctor ordered.
At Trent’s suggestion, I ordered the elk burger. Normally, you think of deer, elk, and other similar animals as gamey or tough. But that was not the case at all. The burger was delicious and totally hit the spot.
Taqueria Malverde – authentic Mexican inside a taco bus
Taqueria Malverde wasn’t on our original itinerary, but when we were asking about ethnic and traditional food options in town, we heard about “the taco bus.” The restaurant is literally inside a former school bus and you step inside to order and enjoy your food. There is limited seating inside but definitely adds to the overall experience if you can snag a couple of seats.
Being from Los Angeles, I love the flavors of authentic Mexican food, so I was excited to eat here. We have plenty of Tex-Mex in Nashville, but very few options for traditional Mexican food.
I ordered three tacos – one each of pollo (chicken), carne (steak), and carnitas (pork) – and a cheese quesadilla. I squeezed a little of the fresh-cut lime on top of the tacos to bring the flavor to the next level. The tacos and quesadilla were amazing, and if I had more room in my belly, I would have ordered more of the carnitas and steak tacos.
Bullwinkle Saloon & Eatery – delicious huckleberry cheesecake
On our last night in West Yellowstone, we stopped at Bulwinkle’s Saloon. The place was packed and I’m glad we had reservations. Our group was seated in the back around a large circular table, which made it easier to share dishes.
After trying both bison and elk all week whenever I had the chance, I decided to order the steak filet with garlic butter. The steak was cooked medium, just the way I like it. And the garlic butter gave it the right amount of kick.
At most of our meals, the portion sizes were so filling that none of us saved room for dessert. We were pretty full after this meal too, but we knew we had to try some huckleberry dessert. We ordered a couple of huckleberry cheesecakes to share among our group. I don’t normally eat cheesecake, but this was really good.
Where to stay in West Yellowstone
Whether you are in town for your own version of a West Yellowstone food tour or here just for the Yellowstone National Park, you’ll need a place to stay. Here are some great options in West Yellowstone that are all very walkable to the city’s main attractions.
- Best Western Desert Inn
- Days Inn by Wyndham West Yellowstone
- Holiday Inn West Yellowstone
- Worldmark West Yellowstone
- Yellowstone Lodge
- Yellowstone Wildlife Cabins
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The Bald Thoughts
Most people wouldn’t think that a small town of 1,271 people could have so many fabulous restaurants and eateries. The West Yellowstone food tour offered delicious food that was a delightful surprise. During our trip, I kept sharing pictures with my wife (our family’s foodie) and she was so jealous of all the wonderful dishes we enjoyed. I’m looking forward to bringing my family back to share the food, the fun, and the national park here in West Yellowstone.
Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by the food in a small town? What has been your favorite dining experience outside of a major city? Please let us know in the comments below.