Helena IR - 06/23/02

Salmon wasabi. Chiles rellenos. T-bone steak.

Helena has gone way beyond hamburgers and fires.

The town has attracted at least six new restaurants in recent months, featuring fare from Mexican to Mongolian barbecue.

The goal is to diversify Helena’s palate, said Danial Thompson, assistant chef for the Wok ‘N’ Roll Sushi Bar, the town’s new sushi restaurant.

People from Great Falls to Missoula eat here, he said. The restaurant, started by the Pigman family, is also popular with migrants who move from larger cities where they’ve become accustomed to more than steak and potatoes. Others, unfamiliar with the concept of raw fish and rice wrapped in seaweed, enjoy the new experience, Thompson said.

“We’re doing really well,” he said.

Chang Uyou, owner of Mongolian BBQ and Chinese Buffet, also opened a restaurant because he thought Helena was lacking a big-city favorite.

Now, the Mongolian style is catching on, Uyou said.

Helena business people travel to larger cities, dine in the restaurants and come back to Helena longing for a little variety, according Uyou, a Chinese immigrant who left his restaurant in New York to start one in Helena. Mongolian BBQ and Chinese Buffet has provided that variety with chefs who cook seafood and beef Mongolian-style on a grill in front of customers.

“So you are big-city when you come into the restaurant,” said Uyou’s business manager Miae Myim.

The biggest obstacle has been teaching people the difference between a hot buffet and a Mongolian barbecue, Myim said. Some customers order the hot buffet but grab uncooked food from the chef’s Mongolian tray. They storm out angry and say “you serve raw food,” she said.

But, overall, people love the change.

“It’s really busy,” Myim said. “People really like it because they get to choose whatever they like to eat.”

Besides Asian food, Helena has also added another Mexican restaurant, La Casa Fiesta.

Helenans Aaron Williams and Deb Lindsay partnered to meet what they say is high demand for authentic Mexican food. They remodeled a building on Cooney Drive to provide a roomy, bright, Mexican atmosphere.

Besides a foreign flavor, Helena is also expanding its array of American food with Stinky Burger Westside Athletic Club, Golden Corral Buffet and Grill and the upscale Silver Star Steakhouse in the Great Northern Town Center.

Debra Hudson, founder of Great Falls’ Golden Corral, is bringing the restaurant to Helena. Golden Corral is still under construction.

“The concept is an all-you-can-eat buffet,” said Steve Fortlouis, the franchise’s senior director of marketing.

The restaurant, which originated in the southeast, serves steak, rotisserie chicken and in-house baked goods, he said.

More than 475 Golden Corrals are spread throughout the nation, generating $1 billion in sales each year, according to Fortlouis. The 30-year-old company adds about 30 restaurants, both franchised and company-owned, each year.

Reporter Christina Quinn can be reached at 447-4075.

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