West Yellowstone; Hard Meh…

What Yellowstone National Park has in beauty, serenity, wildlife, and pretty much all the nature you can handle, the town of West Yellowstone does not have in food. Don’t get me wrong; it has plenty actual restaurants and even two small grocery stores, just none are any good. Well almost none; the pizza was well appointed and tasty, so was the broccoli beef, and the local BBQ-monger was, as Sam put it, “The sweetest old man.”

Other than that though…man…no thank you.

Here’s a list of places where you shouldn’t eat if you ever swing through this tiny town:

Las Palmitas Food Truck — Looked good on paper and was a block away from the RV park. The menu read a little pricey, but it’s a tourist town so we went with it. Whoops. Greeted at the counter by a 10 year-old, shithead of a kid rocking a “deal with it” smirk and an obvious lack of respect or enough years to be legally working was how the meal started. Not finishing cold enchiladas suisas and overcooked tacos carnitas was how it ended.

Canyon Street Grill — Ugh. We should have walked out when we saw the $11 grilled cheese, featuring Cheddar AND American, but it’s a tourist town, so what are are you gonna do? Plus, they had a retro theme and you know how I love vinyl and formica. Sam big timed me with the grilled cheese special and I opted for a chicken sando. Both were bad.

Mountain Mama’s — Self-billed as the best homemade pot pie purveyor in all the land, we swung into this joint hungry for lunch and in search of meat pies. We left with two turkey sandwiches and 30 fewer dollars. So close… But hey, it’s a tourist town, so it is what it is. Apparently they were out of pies (all of them) by noon on a Tuesday, but we were assured that if we came back we would not be disappointed. We did not go back.

Book Peddler Cafe - This place was actually kind of cute. It’s in the back of an eclectic bookstore and we grabbed coffee there on multiple occasions. The Americanos are reasonably priced for a tourist town; but the food left a lot to be desired, specifically in terms of cleanliness. Waiting for our to-go smoked turkey wrap and quesadilla, Sam was milling about the store and I was set up next to the counter by the panini press (aka tortilla and cheese heater upper). As the quesadilla was being transferred from the press to its tinfoil wrapper, one of the slices fell on the ground. Without hesitation, the “cook” picked up the slice by hand, made a move to throw it in with clean slices, and locked eyes with yours truly. I’m sure my expression covered the full disgust/not-paying-for-that gamut as the would-be food poisoner mumbled something, threw away the evidence, and quickly scampered to a back room. Five minutes later, a different employee came out of the back with clean tortillas, cheese, and no apology. 10 minutes later we had a warm quesadilla and soggy smoked turkey. Sam wondered what took so long; I checked every slice of her lunch for detritus.

Madison Crossing — It’s the “nicest” restaurant in town and admittedly offers a decent atmosphere, but you pay for it—hashtag tourist town. As such, we celebrated our second wedding anniversary here and were excited to explore the menu—it was early in our stay and we hadn’t yet determined that we shouldn’t eat out. C’est la vie. Our server was disinterested in our presence and seemed to only come by our table to kill time between rails in the ladies’ room. We liked the seasonal vege’, but the elk tartare was the size of a silver dollar, and the hangar steak tasted like a dish sponge that had been left in the immersion circulator too long.

Park Food — Not technically in West Yellowstone, the Old Faithful Inn and Grant Village Dining Room deserve honorable mention for terribleness. I get that when you’re the only show in town, you don’t have to put on a very good performance, but the level of mailing it in at these two “restaurants” was unreal. The food and service were both, simply, indifferent.

On the flip-side, the lack of viable dining out options did rekindle our cooking fire. Here’s a list of things you should make at home if you’re ever staying at or near Buffalo Crossing RV park.

Short-rib pho:
We had a quick overnight in Missoula on our trek from Ketchum to Whitefish and we rocked pho for a late lunch. It was fine, but the restaurant included a small store front with several Asian grocery goods we hadn’t seen in a while. So naturally, we spent a few extra bucks and left with four packs of pho base. West Yellowstone was the perfect opportunity to test them out. While the preceding section’s food shade is warranted, the local grocery stores had a surprisingly wide variety of the meats. Not wide enough to include pre-shaved rib-eye, but the short ribs looked great and we were trying a new recipe.

The first time we made this brothy beauty was when we lived in LA—we spent HOURS par-boiling marrow bones, cooling the broth, and skimming the excess fat over and over again. With a limited supply of propane and patience, we changed things up. No marrow and designs on broth that didn’t require skimming.

Sam started the party by hand-torching a mess of ginger, garlic, and onions. Then we started the broth base with the short ribs; foregoing the knuckles and marrow bones. Success. No skimming necessary. Once the meat was that sweet, opaque gray you’re always looking for, we added the pho starter pack, fire roasted vege’, and a heavy pour of fish sauce. Two and a half hours and lots of garnish slicing later, we were in business.

There’s some fine tuning to do, specifically around rinsing the noodles, but we were impressed with this “lighter” version.

Braised short ribs and bone broth:
We bought too many short ribs. This is basically just the beginnings of the pho broth with more cook time and less pho starter pack. We made a side of rice and topped both with scallions. Simple, rustic, and an easy way to eat more meat.

Gyudon (Japanese Beef and Rice Bowl):
If you’ve ever been to Yoshinoya—a SoCal chain—or Pioneer Saloon—an amazing food experience in Honolulu—you’ve probably had this dish. And if you’ve been to either establishment and not had this delicate mix of finely sliced beef, dashi, egg, rice, and assorted toppings, go back and fix your mistake.

I’d been looking for an excuse to bust out our mandolin and wouldn’t you know it, the first step is to finely slice two medium onions. Jackpot. With all fingers intact, and the onions on the heat, it was meat time. We put the rib-eye in the freezer for about 15 minutes to make the slicing easier and used the 10” Shun reserved for special occasions*. The Shun did its job and once the steak was a nicely browned; we added mirin, soy sauce, and dashi.

Cook that bad boy down for about 15-20 minutes, make rice, fry a couple eggs, and you’re all set. We topped our bowls with scallions.

*One major do-over: Next time I’d leave the rib-eye in the freezer a few minutes longer and keep the mandolin out for the slicing.

Meatballs in Red Sauce:
Everyone has his or her favorite meatballs in red sauce recipe and I won’t bore you with the details of ours. But know two things. 1) It’s delicious. 2) If done correctly, the meatballs alone, can pass for the Asian variety.

You’re welcome.

Mapo Tofu:
Another staple you’ve undoubtedly seen on one of our ‘grams, this tofu and ground pork dish always hits the spot. Plus, Sam makes it much better than I do so it’s a smooth sailing night for this guy.

What you do is, you take the ground pork and brown it. Then add garlic, ginger, chili bean paste, red pepper flake, and if you’re lucky enough to have it on hand, a tablespoon of Boiling Point’s Piquant sauce. Once the mix is nice and red-orange, add the tofu until hot, serve with rice and, surprise, scallions.

It’s always slightly different given the available spices and we’ve gone through the full spectrum—from “buttermilk” to “I can’t feel my face”—and each version brings something new and exciting to the table.

An added bonus to this round of tofu goodness, it finally afforded us the opportunity to share our biggest trailer pet peeves, as they related to each other. And, like our taste in running shoes, it turns out it’s the same for both of us. Something about Boat’s acoustics creates a megaphone of mouth noise when it’s otherwise quiet. I subjected Sam to 10 minutes of abject torture by simply eating leftover Mapo with my mouth closed. Sam subjects me to a similar circle of hell every morning with her mini-wheats and equally polite chewing.

Store bought, Ramen Bowl:
In a pinch, ain’t nothin’ wrong with buying a kimchee forward evaporated ramen bowl. Add boiling water, lap cheong, bamboo shoots, SCALLIONS, and it’s a damn fine meal. Especially in West Yellowstone.

Like most of our stops, we loved exploring Yellowstone park but unlike the rest, we will not be running this back.


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