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Beyond Local: Taste the Spirit of Montana at Lilac in Billings

Montana is called “the last best place,” a long-cherished refrain that applies now more than ever to its increasingly innovative restaurants. Here, beneath an expansive blue sky, diners can taste not just Montana ingredients, but the spirit of the state itself. Expressed through food, the Montana identity values the land and landscape, direct communication and unpretentiousness, affordability and responsibility, and an ironclad sense of character—in ingredients, dishes, cooking technique, and people too. Nestled in the Yellowstone River Valley beneath breathtaking sandstone cliffs, Billings is the largest city in the state, where I grew up, and home to Lilac, a restaurant that has earned local adoration and national accolades. Just a year after it opened in 2012, Lilac was the only restaurant in the state to be included in OpenTable’s Diners’ Choice Award for the Top 100 American Fare Restaurants in the United States. It’s not hard to see how Lilac, and its proprietor and chef Jeremy Engebretson, embody the best of what could be called “Montana cuisine.” In an intimate space on historic Montana Avenue, glossy …