South Dakota is not famous for creative dining. It’s a land of ranchers where beef, chicken, meatloaf, and pork chops are the main fare in many of the restaurants. Traditionally a land of comfort food, where salad bars frequently features pastas and beans over greens, portions are more than generous and prices are low. There are some creative chefs making inroads in the hills and a few have made their homes in Hot Springs.
Dale’s Family Restaurant (745 Battle Mountain Ave., 605/745-3028, summer Mon.–Fri. 5:30 a.m.–8 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 5:30 a.m.–2 p.m., winter Tues.–Fri. 5:30 a.m.–7 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 5:30 a.m.–2 p.m., breakfast $6, lunch $7–9, dinner $8–12) is the kind of place that still offers a breakfast special for as little as $1.99. There’s nothing fancy about Dale’s. Booths and tables are Formica, and the walls are hung with chimes and souvenir items available for purchase.
Every holiday, the decorations come out. Spiders and singing ghouls materialize at Halloween, dancing Santa Clauses and Christmas villages show up in December, and bunnies make their appearance in the spring. Every year, Cindi, the owner, finds some new singing or dancing figure to add to the scene. You’ll likely get caught up in local chatter at the restaurant because the regular crowd meets there every morning.
Breakfast items are available all day and it’s the only place in town that can poach an egg. Lunch includes hot and cold sandwiches and soup. Dinner choices include steaks, meatloaf, chicken, and hot turkey and roast beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes. The best deal is the senior menu, which is available to anyone who wants it and includes an entrée and a trip though the soup and salad bar. This is a place that serves good basic American comfort food and you can’t beat the prices.
The Blue Bison (509 N. River St., 605/745-4226, summer Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–9 p.m., closed Sun., winter Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–4 p.m., closed Sat.–Sun., lunch and dinner $7) gets almost as much attention for the huge blue buffalo statue on the roof as it does for its fine menu. Located in a historic sandstone building built in 1901, the restaurant features sandwiches and homemade soups, made fresh daily, for both lunch and dinner. The house special is bison chili. For dessert, they have a full old-fashioned ice cream counter.
Rich and Jackie Gericke, owners of Earth Goods, the local health food store, had no idea that a real estate investment would turn into a new business direction when they purchased a building that once housed a Mexican restaurant in town. Shortly after the purchase, they were approached by a man who said, “You have to hire me,” and after looking at his credentials, they decided the award-winning chef was right. As a result, the Buen Dia Mexican Restaurant (445 N. River St., 605/745-3697, Tues.–Sun. 7 a.m.–9 p.m., closed Mon., breakfast $6, lunch and dinner $9) was born. Opened in March 2010, it’s a family-friendly restaurant with a colorful, festive decor. The menu features homemade traditional Mexican favorites and chef Pablo De La Rosa’s house specialties, including an award-winning meatloaf. Other offerings include steak, burgers, and chicken-fried steak.
The All Star Sports Grill (310 S. Chicago St., 605/745-7827, summer daily 7 a.m.–9 p.m., winter daily 7 a.m.–8 p.m., breakfast $8, lunch $9, dinner $11) is a mid-priced family restaurant that serves a variety of sandwiches, salads, chicken, pasta, and beef dishes. There are two outside dining areas at the All Star, one small deck on the side and a nice sized covered patio in the front. Inside, there are televisions all around the dining room for tracking sports events, but the volume is set very low and the sets are placed fairly high on the walls, so they are fairly unobtrusive. The bar area is segregated from the dining room and has a few slot machines. The restaurant has a beer and wine license and serves several good beers on tap.
China Buffet (333 N. River St., 605/745-4126, summer daily 10:30 a.m.–9 p.m., winter daily 10:30 a.m.–8 p.m., lunch $7, dinner $9) has both a lunch buffet and an evening buffet (although in the winter, the evening buffet is only served on Friday and Saturday nights). The buffet is good, but food is best when ordered off the menu. The facility isn’t fancy and the booths are a little beat up, but the food is authentic, generous (entrées ordered off the menu easily serve two), and tasty. The buffet usually includes two kinds of soup, wonton and egg drop, a choice of fried or steamed rice, egg rolls, and six or seven main courses, including sweet and sour pork, sweet and sour chicken, Happy Family (a mix of shrimp, chicken, and beef), almond chicken, and beef with broccoli, among other dishes. A fortune cookie is served with every meal.
The Branding Iron (Hwy. 18 bypass near the Mammoth Site, 605/745-4545, summer Mon.–Sat. 5–9 p.m., winter Mon.–Thurs. 5–8 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–9 p.m., closed Sun., $15) is a nice steakhouse decorated in the style of the Old West. A large buckboard wagon dominates the interior decor. The restaurant has lovely views of the Seven Sisters range of hills located on the south side of Hot Springs and has a beautiful deck (unfortunately not used for dining). The menu is standard American fare, with burgers, steaks, chicken, and fish on the menu. A trip to the soup and salad bar is included with most entrées.
The Springs Steakhouse (902 N. River St., 605/745-6208, May–Oct. daily 4–9 p.m., closed in winter, $11–19) is located in the historic sandstone Braun Hotel. When the hotel was being built in 1910, builders encountered a large granite boulder that could not be removed, so the hotel was built around it and the boulder protrudes today, taking up residence in the dining area of the hotel. There is an outside patio that looks out over Fall River. The soups are homemade and are quite good. In addition to steak, the restaurant serves a variety of game dishes, including elk and venison. Fine German beers are also available. One of the specials of the house is a delicious small filet mignon, wrapped in bacon.
Do you have energetic kids? Head out to Woolly’s Mammoth Family Fun (1403 Hwy. 18 bypass, 605/745-6414, open year-round for lunch and dinner, lunch $7–9, dinner $9–12), where the food is great and there are plenty of diversions to keep the kids occupied. The menu is extremely diverse, and features Mexican and Italian options in addition to American food. The burritos are especially good. Activities include simulated rock star games, foosball, indoor basketball, pool tables, television sets, arcade games, and simulated golf, which adults enjoy just as much as the kids do. It can be a tad on the noisy side, but it is great fun for the kids.
The Blue Vervain (603 N. River St., 605/745-4400, www.bluevervain.com, summer Tues.–Sat. 5–10 p.m., winter Fri.–Sat. 5–9 p.m., $18–30) is set inside the historic Red Rock River Resort. This sandstone building was built in 1891 by Fred T. Evans, one of the town’s early founders and investors. The kitchen is run by sisters, Rebecca and Elizabeth Christensen, both graduates of the Culinary Institute of New York. The dining area is small and cozy and background music is provided by a grand piano played by one of the owners. Menu options include such choices as wild salmon in tarragon and cream, scallops with bacon and lemon, and Thai-style chicken. A vegetarian menu is available as well. Desserts include tiramisu, rhubarb lavender torte, and espresso fudge cake. The restaurant has an extensive wine list as well. This is truly delicious dining for a special night out.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition