The bad news: Christmas bills are in the mail and January can be cold and gloomy.
The good news: Missoula has eateries that can spice up the month without breaking any post-holiday, I’ve-got-to-spend-less-money resolution.
A bonus: You can travel to another country, gastronomically, without leaving town or spending more than $15. Here are a few zesty suggestions:
206 W. Main St.
Here you’ll find the flavors of India — garlic, ginger, chilies, turmeric, cilantro, garam masala, curry — right in downtown Missoula. These flavors warm the soul on frigid midwinter days.
Masala’s menu fits right into the new year’s eating-out budget: Most curries and dishes come in under $10. A few examples: spicy-hot coconut pork curry, made with coconut milk, garlic, ginger, chilies and spices, or the butter chicken curry, made with tomato, garlic, ginger, butter, cream and garam masala, for $7, or choose one vegetable curry and one meat curry for $8. Add a half portion of delicious, house-made naan bread for just $1.50.
This “fast-casual” fare has been a local favorite for years, yet there are probably many diners who haven’t stepped inside because Indian flavors and food are unfamiliar.
Taco del Sol
Downtown: 422 N. Higgins Ave.
Off Brooks: 1116 W. Central Ave.
North Reserve: Grant Creek Town Center
South Reserve: 2730 S. Reserve St.
Taco Del Sol started in Missoula and now has franchises across Montana and in other states too. Missoula has four Taco Del Sols, which means there’s probably one close to you.
The menu includes a selection of tacos and burritos. Some examples: a Cuban burrito with pulled pork or a fish burrito of Alaskan cod, with beans, shredded cabbage and salsa; or tacos made with pork, fish, steak or shrimp. Most sell for $3 to $8 each. Add beans and rice for just a few dollars more.
101 S. Higgins Ave.
The Hernandez family has owned and operated this restaurant in Missoula since 1995, and it’s a downtown favorite. It offers traditional Mexican fare with budget-friendly prices: about $11 for larger combination dinners and $10 for smaller combinations. The small combinations really aren’t that small — plenty of food for most appetites.
Add some extra salsa if you want to spice up your dinner.
A tip for seniors: On Mondays, for lunch or dinner, the owners offer a “buy one, get one half off” special, which helps older diners stay on their budget.
Five on Black
South Reserve location: 3850 S. Reserve St., Suite 140
Downtown: 325 North Higgins Ave.
Here’s a blackboard message at the Five on Black on South Reserve Street, which seems fittingly inspirational for a new year:
“While you’re pondering the mysteries of the universe, we’re serving feijoada to power the mind and spicy coconut sauce to flip the switch. While you figure out how to change the world, we’re doing our best to change yours.”
Brazil is the inspiration for Five on Black dishes, offering a spicy flair to Montana winters. This, too, is a fast-casual restaurant. To build your custom bowl, you order at the counter in five steps:
First, choose your base of brown or white rice, crisp greens or a combo of rice and greens.
Choose a protein — chicken, beef, tilapia, roasted veggies, feijoada (the national stew of Brazil) or a seasonal special.
Choose a side — sweet potatoes, collard greens, black beans.
Choose a sauce, such as mango barbecue, spicy coconut or a seasonal special (recently roasted red pepper).
And finally, choose toppings from a list that includes a vinaigrette, a salty and smoky farofa, a spicy chimichurri, lime wedges or cilantro.
If it sounds confusing, don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of it quickly and will probably put this venue on your regular quick-dinner list.
Pricing for Five on Black is easy on the pocketbook too: $8.95 for the larger bowl, $6.45 for the smaller bowl.
529 S. Higgins Ave.
Iza offers a modern take on Asian flavors, inspired by the spices and dishes of South East Asia, Japan, Korea and India. All of Iza’s dishes are prepared fresh, in house.
Some entrees on the menu are in the $16 or $17 range, but many are just $13 — and offer a spicy kick too. Nasi Goreng is one: It’s a mildy spiced fried rice dish of seasonal vegetables topped with peanuts, green onions, sweet soy sauce, togarashi (ground chilies) and a fried egg. Or Iza’s Green Curry, a spicy coconut curry with fresh basil, red pepper and bamboo shoots, topped with napa cabbage, sprouts, carrot and green onion.
Here’s to a spicy 2019 filled with new adventures and tastes.