Red lodge: Plan your drive so that you can dine in Red Lodge more than once, because there are many outstanding choices. The Pollard Hotel ($$, 406-446-0001, B/D) has exquisite dining from a seasonal menu, an extensive wine list, and a full bar. Hours and days of operation also depend on the season; during the winter it's only open on weekends. The Pub at the Pollard, on the other side of the hotel, is open every day all year and has a diverse, aim-to-please menu.
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Representing more traditional Red Lodge is the Carbon County Steakhouse ($$/$$$, 406-446-4025, D), with its cowboy cuisine highlighted by hormone-free beef, bison, and elk, as well as fresh seafood and mussels flown in regularly from the Pacific Northwest. Tom Kuntz owns the steakhouse as well as Red Lodge Pizza Company ($$, 406-446-3333, L/D) and Bogart's ($$/$$$, 406-446-1784, L/D), both more casual places. With its robust back bar, Bogart's combines a rustic western feel with a Mexican menu and thirst-quenching margaritas. The Cafe Regis ($, 406-446-1941, B/L, Wed.-Sat. ), located in a retro-esque grocery store, is a diner with a handful of healthy groceries, all co-owned by a vegetarian, Martha Young, who knows how to take care of her fellow greenies while pleasing the meat-eaters with many farm-to-fork foods. Breakfasts plates are memorable and lunches remarkable. Try to snag a table in the backyard, where she grows herbs and vegetables. To see where the old-timers hang out for coffee and conversation, stop at the historic City Bakery ($, 406-446-2100, B/L), best known for something called schnecken a rich, doughy concoction of cinnamon, butter, cream cheese, and nuts. The bakery's fame started with its apres ski French bread and slab of butter. Lucky for you they still bake the French bread. Breakfast or lunch at the Red Lodge Cafe ($$, 406-4461619, B/L/D) is a lesson in history, with their practically life-sized murals on the walls, log furniture, and neon teepee sign. Locals come for beans and eggs smothered in green chili gravy, humongous pancakes, homemade chicken fried steak, and a veritable cornucopia of pies: cherry pumpkin, apple, black and blueberry, and peach, all served daily. Later on a summer day, cool off with a cone of soft-serve ice cream or fuel up with a burger creekside at Red Lodge's oldest drive-in, the Red Box Car ($, 406-446-2152, L/D, May-Sept. ), housed in a 100-year-old you guessed it boxcar from the Northern Pacific's old Rocky Fork and Cooke City Railroad spur.
Bearcreek: The Bear Creek Saloon & Steakhouse ($$, 406-446-3481, D, Thur-Sun. ; see Best Bars) is best known for the pig races out back, but the steaks rank a close second. It's nothing fancy just heaping helpings of good food. The restaurant is open May through September and December through March. Just a note: You can't eat at the bar, so call ahead or be prepared to wait for a table. Cooke city: Dining at the Miner's Saloon ($$, 406-838-2214, L/D, closed November and May) is a course in the unexpected, and that's how the owner, Raz, likes it. They still have their popular hand-tossed pizza, but with the new kitchen and revamped dining room comes fois gras, lamb sliders, poutine with pork belly, rack of lamb off the new smoker, and some delectable dinner specials from trained chefs. Come with low expectations, leave with great anticipation for a return. The seasonal Beartooth Cafe ($$, 406-838-2475, B/L/D, May-Sept. ) is the place to sit on a breezy deck and listen to live music or to hear the latest on grizzly bear sightings while sipping on one of 130 beer choices and slicing into a hand-cut sirloin steak. For a seemingly out-of-place change of pace, you'll find fare with a French flair at The Bistro ($$/$$$, 406-838-2160, B/L/D, closed Oct.-Nov. ), which warms the hearts of winter visitors by reopening in late December (post-Christmas) after a short hiatus. Their homemade soups and dinner specials are tres bon. Another place we've grown to appreciate is The Saloon ($/$$, 406-838-2251, B/L/D) in the Soda Butte Lodge. You can order from the neighboring Prospector Restaurant's menu and either watch a game on TV or gaze into the woods outside their large picture windows. It's one of the places snowmobilers like to hang out after a day of high-marking.
Silver gate: Currently the only restaurant in town, Log Cabin Cafe and B&B ($$, 800-863-0807, B/L/D, May-Sept. ), is favored for its lightly breaded and grilled Idaho trout, which you can get with eggs for breakfast or as an entree for lunch or dinner. Another signature item is their flown-in Alaskan sockeye, which is either prepared lightly smoked or as a simple filet. They're also rightfully proud of their burgers, made from grass-fed beef from Belfry. Insiders' tip: Regardless of what you order, save room for their spoon-licking good pumpkin-bread drizzled with honey and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream Best Bars.
Bearcreek: Grab a cold one, place your bet at the window, and get ready to cheer on your chosen porker at the Bear Creek Saloon's (406-446-3481) summer pig races. Folks come from as far away as Billings and Cody to help with a good cause: Proceeds help pay college tuition for Carbon County students. Although you can't eat at the bar, you can whet your appetite with $2. 50 bottled beer or equally cheap, generously poured well drinks served in a plastic cup to take out to the track's viewing deck. Oh, and the food emphasis on steaks is pretty good too. No pork served, of course. Fishtail: Like the general store, the well-used but well-kept and laid-back Cowboy Bar & Supper Club (406-328-4288) is a longtime icon for shooting the bull and imbibing. While enjoying an ice-cold beer or shaken cocktail, savor a cut-to-order steak, chicken, or and this might seem redundant in Montana a mighty impressive burger. Hunker down to dinner on the brands-on-the-wall, wooden-stools, everyone-knows-each-other's-business bar side, or opt for a different experience on the cheery-country-Italian-dining room side. During the rowdy annual Testy Festy, you get the rare privilege of sampling beer-battered calf testicles locally produced, naturally. The business was for sale in late 2015, but it's such an area icon it's unlikely that it would shutter its doors. Red lodge: Like many good dive bars, the Snow Creek Saloon doesn't list a phone number. What it does have is live music Saturday nights, open-jam Tuesday nights, and enough floor space and table tops to squeeze in some dancing. We've experienced all of the above or just quietly nursed a (reasonably priced) drink while watching a game on the flat screen with friends, familiar and not, after hitting the trails or slopes. With its pressed tin ceiling, hard wooden stools, dollar bills pinned to a wall, and a few dusty animal mounts, it doesn't spiff up much. But that's part of the appeal. That and the fact you just never know who might show up to crank out some hot guitar or belt out the blues. Live to your own beat, as they say at the Snowy.