I often hear Billings’ locals complain that we don’t have any quality, authentic Mexican restaurants in town. Considering we are about 1,200 miles from the border, one can understand the lack of authentic tamales, mole, and menudo to be found. The problem isn’t that Billings lacks any top-tier Mexican grub, it’s that people aren’t taking the time to find it. In no particular order, these two restaurants are leaps and bounds above their competition.
Originating as a taco truck (more specifically, a school bus) in Red Lodge, La Palmita has only held a presence in Billings for three years. Since its operations were run out of a school bus on Montana Avenue for the first two years, fans of traditional Sinaloa tamales and the best torta north of the border could only delight in the cheesy splendor from late spring to early fall. Luckily for the city of Billings, La Palmita established a brick and mortar in the fall of 2022. Keeping it fresh, all meals are made to order. In the old school bus set-up, when the lunch and dinner rush hit, you could be waiting for your order in the lot or your own car, weather dependent, for up to 30 minutes (something I have done on many occasions). Now, in its permanent location, the wait is much more comfortable.
La Palmita boasts over 40 plates, all with your own choice of meat: asada, picadillo, pollo, and carnitas (you know you are getting authentic Mexican when there is a sign stating “No we do not have ground beef). Having tried all 4 meat options, on multiple plates, I have a tough time picking a favorite: it’s like choosing your favorite kid, pet, or in my case favorite work of art. The two meals that I return for, time and time again, are the asada torta and carnitas quesadilla with rice and beans. Both meals are completely scratch made and hang off the plate. The torta is a full meal in itself. The bun is heavily buttered and a perfect vessel for carrying the weight of some of the best asada I have ever had the pleasure of delighting in. The piece de resistance comes from the side of pickled jalapenos and carrots, a perfect accompaniment that helps cut through the heavy cheese and meat, somehow making it feel almost healthy...almost. The quesadilla is anything, but your typical gringo inspired grilled chicken and melted cheddar cheese on a pan-fried tortilla. It is a heaping, fried pork-filled, thing of beauty. All the elements on their own, (quality meat, cheese, and handmade tortilla) stand up on their own; but when combined, put you in a post-meal-pleasure-coma. The rice and beans are done perfectly, and the hot sauce on the side ties the whole experience together. If these meals don’t strike your fancy, or if you are in the mood for trying multiple options, consider a single taco, tamale, or enchilada, all three are utterly fantastic.
Suggested Order: Carne Asada Torta with rice and beans
As stated earlier, it’s not that Billings lacks quality Mexican food, it’s that people don’t take the time to find it. La Tingasits is quietly in the downtown corridor, 4 blocks from Sky Point, and sandwiched directly between Arthouse Cinema and Tandy Leather. For more than 10 years, Evelyn Hammond has run this one-woman show. An unassuming, unpretentious, 10-table eatery, consisting of the classics: tacos, burritos, tostadas, and nachos, La Tinga stands head and shoulders above its competition. Hammond makes every meal by hand, from scratch, in-house. She also takes every order, serves every order, and cleans the dishes. She is an utter rockstar of the food world. She cooks with love, and you can tell from the flavors she has put together.
Having tried everything on the menu, multiple times, I find myself at a loss for simply making one recommendation. If you are near the spot in the morning hours, get the best breakfast burrito in town or the huevos rancheros (before it sells out). If you have a hankering for street tacos, try one of every option: carne asada, tinga, chicken & potato, pork in veneno sauce, queso fresco, and bean and cheese. Pro-tip, get them loaded with avocado, queso fresco, and hot sauce. If none of these strike your fancy, try the special any day of the week, and you will be more than pleased. If you are lucky enough to get the menudo or pozole, you can simply thank me later.
Suggested order: Regular breakfast burrito with hot sauce (time-dependent) or 1 chicken and potato taco (loaded with queso fresco and avocado) 1 bean and cheese tostada (again, loaded), with rice and beans.
The next time you find yourself craving Mexican food, say no to chain restaurants and indulge in Billings’ best: La Palmita Taqueria and La Tinga.