After spending a wonderful Christmas weekend with my family in the Flathead Valley, I hopped in the car for what would be a long, foggy drive back to Zoo Town. By the time I got home, I felt the familiar pang of hunger — for both dinner and deals. Here is how I satisfied my craving for both.


3 places to get a bite on Christmas


My original idea, as I cruised through Missoula in search of food on Christmas night, was to put together a blog post about the five best places to dine out on Christmas.


Due to an overwhelming lack of open dining establishments, however, the subject of this post has been revised. Instead, I will list the three best places in Missoula to dine out on Christmas. (And by “best,” I mean “only ones I saw open.”)


From Brooks to Reserve to Broadway to Higgins, these are the hardy Missoula businesses that kept their doors open on the night of Dec. 25 — when even the Walmart parking lot was eerily dark and empty.


1. IHOP – Like a glowing blue beacon of light, the International House of Pancakes shone brightly against the night sky amid a row of deserted restaurant kitchens and dining rooms. And let me tell you, IHOP was hopping. So hopping, in fact, that I kept driving because it appeared that I might actually have to wait.


2. The Rhino – OK, so it’s not a restaurant per se, but it was the only place downtown that was definitely open. Although I needed something a little more substantial than a liquid dinner, I will say that as far as drinks go, a Blood Mary from the Rhino is about as substantial as you can get.


3. China Buffet – When it comes to eating out on Christmas, Chinese restaurants are supposed to be the go-to solution. (Remember the roasted duck scene from “A Christmas Story”?)  I’m usually not a big fan of buffets, but my options were few, so I decided to give it a whirl. And…it was pretty good. The teriyaki chicken was particularly scrumptious. I might even go back next Christmas and make it a holiday tradition.


The dash for deals


I’ve never been much of a Black Friday shopper. Chalk it up to the post-Thanksgiving dinner food-coma. With all that turkey and gravy in my belly, how could I possibly find the energy to get up at 4 a.m. and fight crowds of shoppers who are bloated, irritable and sleep-deprived?


When it comes to after-Christmas sales, however, I’m totally on-board. In my family, we usually have Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, which means I have an entire day to rest and digest before getting my shop on. This year’s shopping adventure was particularly successful, so I’m going to take this opportunity to brag on my bargains.


I will admit, I was having second thoughts as I negotiated heavy traffic in the mall parking lot on Monday afternoon. When I walked through the front doors and into a sea of deal-hungry customers, I had even more second thoughts. But, despite bumping into a few distracted shoppers, I’m glad I stuck it out.


Most stores were offering deals of 40 to 70 percent off on a good chunk of their merchandise. Some were even running storewide sales. In one store, I took advantage of a shoe sale to nab a $210 pair of boots for $125. Not bad, eh?


My other big find for the day came from a small retailer that had slashed its prices upwards of 70 percent on its entire stock — which is how I scooped up a $125 dress coat for $35. Win.


If you were too busy to bargain hunt on Dec. 26, don’t give up hope yet. Some businesses will continue running deals both online and in-store throughout the week.


Even if you don’t want or need anything at the moment, this is a great time to “shop ahead” for upcoming events and holidays. For example, you might think you have no use for heavily discounted Christmas goodies — but red candy is perfect for Valentine’s Day, and green candy works well for St. Patrick’s Day. If someone in your life is celebrating a birthday or anniversary in the coming months, now is the time to find a fabulous gift at an even more fabulous price.


Brooke is a 2010 graduate of The University of Montana, where she ran track and cross country for the Grizzlies. She is currently working as a writer and editor in Missoula.


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