Missoula may be nicknamed the Garden City, but it doesn't look like the citizenry is ready to go vegetarian anytime soon.
Two new burger joints have opened in town so far this year, and both started out as mobile operations before transitioning to a permanent restaurant.
The first, Wally and Buck, opened at 319 E. Front St. in the ground floor of the new ROAM Student Living apartment complex. A longtime food cart, the new fast-casual restaurant with indoor seating serves local beef from the Oxbow Cattle Co. in Missoula.
"We're a modern diner," said Travis Walnum, who owns the restaurant with his wife Kelsey. "Burgers are our focus, but we also have a fried-chicken sandwich, two salads, fries, beer and wine and an ice cream sandwich. It's designed to be really simple and efficient."
Walnum said he and his wife have become friends with the owners of Oxbow Cattle Co., Bart and Wendy Morris.
"We believe in their concept," he said. "They are a small ranch focusing on animal welfare. They focus on environmental protection, so they don't overgraze pastures, and they move their herd to encourage proper regrowth of plants and soil. They really try to have the least impact on the environment and they're really great people."
Oxbow Cattle Co. recently worked with the city, the county and Five Valleys Land Trust to protect wildlife habitat, including trout spawning streams, in a perpetual conservation easement.
Right now, Wally and Buck is open from 4-9 p.m. and they'll have three to four tables outside once the weather warms up.
The second new place to get your burger fix is called Frugals at 2515 Brooks St., at the site of the old Dairy Queen store, which relocated to a larger space nearby at 1515 Dearborn Avenue.
Owner Matt Waatti and his son Cecil and their family are running a Frugals food truck right now while they remodel the permanent store, which should be open by the second week of April.
They'll serve things like a Hawaiian burger, a Buffalo chicken sandwich, fries and milkshakes. True to the name, all the burgers and sandwiches are under $6, and if you add fries and a soda it's still under $10.
The chipotle burger, for example, comes with Daily's bacon, chipotle sauce, roasted red peppers, lettuce, cheddar cheese and a quarter-pound never-frozen burger patty. Other items like a garden burger, cheese curds or a fried egg are available.
"Frugals started in Port Angeles, Washington, in 1988," Matt Waatti said. "And the business model is a lot like In-N-Out Burger. We keep it simple, we use fresh ingredients and we don't change the menu. People like it the way it is."
Waatti said the place could be open until midnight on weekends to cater to the late-night crowd, but they haven't quite decided yet.
The new store will be drive-up and walk-up only, with a few parking spaces, but there are outside tables.
Frugals has a location in Kalispell to go along with a handful of other locations in Idaho and Washington. Business manager Laurie Macarty said she's been with the company since it started in 1988.
"People want fresh food, and they want fresh food fast," Macarty said.
The owner, Sheila Stewart, lives in the Flathead Valley. The place will hire a handful of workers for the busy summer months soon.