Homemade Tortillas and Hot Queso at Taco Montes

Maggie Hudlow

Taco Montes
is one of my favorite places to grab lunch in Bozeman. Dreamy handmade flour tortillas—lightly blackened—make the perfect vessel for big flavor tacos. I hate to be a stereotype—by ordering my first Taco Montes taco on repeat—but, I almost always order a Korean style pork belly taco. It’s so good. The pork belly is just the right thickness so that it’s meatier than bacon, but you don’t have to fight through it. It’s a little sweet and tangy with the kimchi and bulgogi sauce of the Korean style, and I probably don’t need to mention them again, but the tortillas are the ultimate unit to house this beast of a taco.  

It’s also hard for me to not order chips and queso every single time I walk in the doors. Everything is homemade, including the chips and queso, and it is worth getting. This is not melt-a-block-of-Velveeta-and-call-it-queso. Oh no. This queso is meaty without having meat in it. The chips are thick enough to stand up to the strength of the cheese. It’s a melty, crunchy, masterpiece served in a basket.

For those of you readers who have not had the opportunity to eat at Taco Montes, let me take a minute to explain the menu. There are 12 different styles of tacos to choose from and match with 9 “meat” options that range from guacamole and grilled tofu to beef barbacoa, shrimp, and braised pork. The idea is to mix and match whatever meat and style you want together to achieve the ultimate fusion of flavors in a tasty taco wrapping. For example: the “Fresco” has tomatillo pico, roasted habanero crema, queso fresco, and pickled onions, and I think this style goes great with the beef barbacoa. A classic, in my mind. However, the “Desperado” which has lime infused cabbage, chipotle ranch, cilantro, crispy onion, and a lime wedge; I prefer to order with guacamole as the meat. That’s right. This meat-lovin’ woman intentionally orders a taco with just guacamole, because it’s honestly that good. The crispy onions add texture and the tortilla provides the structure; this is a taco like you’ve never had.

I was lucky enough to catch Hal Pedersen, owner of Taco Montes, and sit down for an interview before the lunch rush really set in.

Maggie Hudlow: How was Taco Montes conceptualized?

Hal Pedersen: In 2013, the owner of College Street Café wanted to change things up, I was working for him and at Ale Works at the time. So, I started working on a menu for a sandwich shop and two weeks before we opened up, we decided to add a few breakfast tacos to the menu. We made the decision to make homemade tortillas for those, and as we were sitting there trying them, it became very clear that we should only do tacos. Everything that was going to be a sandwich got turned into a taco. We transitioned into more Tex-Mex ideas after that.

MH: What makes Taco Montes unique in the Bozeman food scene?

HP: Homemade tortillas! Distinctive elements are combined together to cater to a variety of tastes. Everything is made from scratch and made to order. Meat isn’t just held hot and thrown onto a manufactured tortilla. Every piece of every order is made fresh and the taste is noticeably different.  

MH: What do you want people to experience when they walk through your doors?

HP: An anti-corporation establishment, more of a hole-in-the-wall dive bar feel than anything. Local art is constantly rotating over the walls, giving it a homey vibe for near-by MSU students. It’s fast food, but its real and good food.

MH: What item do your regulars keep coming back for?

HP: Typically, the first thing they try. I assume because they like it so much, they don’t want to try anything else. So, everyone has their “go-to taco,” but we have punch cards with all the different types of tacos, to try and encourage people to experiment outside of their established comfort zones. And of course, everyone loves the chips and queso, it’s hard to resist.

MH: What do you enjoy most about being a part of the Bozeman community?

HP: People support the community a lot more here, compared to other places. If you are a part of the community and you put yourself out there, as a member of the community, the effort is reciprocated. There is even a peaceful coexistence with the neighboring restaurants. Sharing and swapping specials from time to time with U Burger next door, who have a similar set up, except it’s burgers instead of tacos.

MH: Do you have anything upcoming that you want readers to know about?

HP: Well, we did a spring break shut down, we revamped, remodeled, and reorganized. Update the menu, new POS, spring cleaning kind of stuff. Beyond that, we will probably do some events similar to last summer, with music in the parking lot. More info on that when the time comes.
MH: You were recently voted Bozeman’s Choice #1 for late night eats as well as best kept local secret, what does being voted Bozeman’s Choice mean to you?

HP: First of all, we’re really proud for getting the vote. We’ve won best late night eats a few times, and we love winning that. But best kept local secret is really exciting for us, because that kind of transcends food and goes into other realms. So thanks for the votes!

Everything about Taco Montes makes me feel at home, the chalkboard walls and rolls of paper towels for napkins. I am a dive bar girl and a lover of tacos. I honestly have felt conflicted about writing this article because I want it to stay “the best kept local secret.” This restaurant is my ultimate comfort food. Being walking distance from the MSU campus is a little dangerous and I have to monitor my own taco intake, one visit a week, I tell myself. After speaking to manager, Taylor Salsbury, I realized however, there is another side to Taco Montes that I have never experienced, the late-night life. Taco Montes being open from 10 pm until 3 am provides a hub for people to grab a bite, re-collect themselves, and maybe even sober up a bit. So, if you are seeking out a quick lunch or find yourself in need of a late-night snack, I recommend Taco Montes.  

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