Sweet Chili Asian Bistro
Taylor Owens | Tuesday Aug. 1st, 2023
Located in the heart of downtown Bozeman on Main Street is a restaurant serving up delicious Cantonese and Thai-inspired dishes. Sweet Chili Asian Bistro opened its doors in 2010, and has been a local favorite for over thirteen years. The bistro is owned and run by Yanfei and Jian Zhang, an adventurous couple who decided to make Gallatin Valley their home.
Natives of Hong Kong, Fei and Jian’s journey to call Bozeman home began with a family vacation to Yellowstone. On a visit to the area in 2006, the owners felt a spark in this valley, and decided to relocate and open their first restaurant here.
Inspired by their travels around Asia studying Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese cuisines, Sweet Chili came to be through bringing together all that they had learned during their years of traveling. The couple also learned many traditional methods of preparation and cooking, and the importance of utilizing local ingredients during their travels—of utmost importance at the restaurant today.
Over the last thirteen years, dishes at Sweet Chili have become perfect mixes of all these cuisine styles, Jian’s family recipes, and homegrown ingredients from Big Sky Country. Cantonese cuisine focuses on fresh vegetables and meat with sweet sauces, while Thai cuisine often pairs hot spices with sweet, light citrus flavors. Named Sweet Chili for the sweetness of Cantonese dishes and the spice of Thai food, this bistro offers unique dishes that are different from other restaurants in Bozeman.
Many types of sushi rolls, fresh seafood dishes, several types of curries, and “off the wok” dishes prepared with local bison line the menu. Items like wild caught sea bass, garlic roasted duck, local bison red curry, and pineapple-chicken fried rice are just a few favorites. Specialty cocktails like the Montana Manhattan (Bozeman’s own distilled Dry Hills rye whiskey with Carpano Antica vermouth); Fool’s Gold (a lemon drop martini with huckleberry vodka and a sugared rim); Horse’s Neck (Big Horn bourbon and ginger beer, garnished with a lemon twist), and the Tokyo (Suntory Toki Japanese whiskey, Benedictine and bitters), round out each meal. Many different types of wine, beer, and sake also fill the menu.
I sat down with one of Sweet Chili’s owners, Yanfei Zhang, and the restaurant’s office manager, Anja Wookey-Huffman, to chat about the restaurant and upcoming events.
Taylor Owens: How was Sweet Chili conceptualized?
Yanfei Zhang: Jian and I came up with the idea for Sweet Chili after traveling around different parts of Asia and trying the different flavors, and then immigrating over and helping different family members with their own restaurants. The main idea was that we tried to use aging seasonings, local products, and high-end ingredients.
TO: How long have you been at this location on Main Street?
YZ: Thirteen years this past June 17th.
TO: What would you like people to experience when they come through your doors?
YZ: We would like for them to enjoy the whole experience: from the servers, to the drinks, to the meal, to the cocktails—and our fresh ingredients. We want them to experience all of the love we put into this restaurant.
Anja Wookey-Huffman: I would say the priority is for people to have a high quality dining experience at a family-owned restaurant. Whether people are looking for a quick casual bite for lunch or celebrating a special occasion, we always do our best to offer a quality experience. Over the years, the menu has evolved to offer not just dishes that are customer and staff favorites, but recipes that our staff can put care into preparing. Whether it is food from the kitchen or a drink from the bar, we have worked to make sure that what we are producing is high quality. I have always seen it as a treat anytime I get to eat at Sweet Chili, and I always hope our customers share that experience.
TO: What menu item do regulars keep coming back for?
YZ: Yeah! I want to say the bison dish and the seafood are what regulars keep coming back for. Every day we are improving our dishes from thirteen years ago. We’ve brought a lot of seafood and high quality ingredients like sea bass, ora king salmon, and fresh roasted duck to the menu.
TO: What is your personal favorite menu item?
YZ: I would say the Ora King Salmon dish. It’s fresh, and filleted in house. The grilled items on our menu are the ones that can’t be rushed, so our cooks have to slow down and take the time for ingredients to speak for themselves. We have the salmon delivered twice a week, so that fish is always fresh, and it is paired with a grilled vegetable, some rice, and fresh mango dressing. So all of the components are super simple, but they come together to form an entree that has an elevated flavor.
AW-H: The Drunken Noodles are my personal favorite. This has been my favorite menu item since I was young and dining at Sweet Chili with my family on special occasions. It has a great savory sauce, the vegetables and basil add freshness, and I personally love the spice.
TO: What would you say makes you unique in the local food scene?
YZ: I don’t think it is very often that you see ingredients like local bison, freshly roasted duck, lamb chops, sea bass, and salmon all on one menu. Taking this unique array of quality ingredients and using them as a canvas for a fusion of Asian flavors makes Sweet Chili unique.
AW-H: Yes. They put a lot of care into the preparation of everything, like the sea bass and the salmon. Jian, the other owner, takes the time to break down the fish himself. On top of the care, like Fei mentioned, the fusion of Asian flavors really is unique to Sweet Chili. There are some dishes that offer more Chinese flavors and others with more Thai flavors, but it’s not just a Chinese restaurant or a Thai restaurant, it is Sweet Chili. And this year we have started to explore featuring more local produce to expand the ways we are rooted in the community.
TO: What do you personally enjoy most about being part of the greater Bozeman community?
YZ: Yeah, I think the whole culture in Bozeman. Like the whole environment, and all the support we have here.
AW-H: There’s still a local character. I’ve been born and raised here. I remember coming into Sweet Chili with my family for birthdays and stuff like that before I worked here. Just being able to have those community ties, even as the community grows.
TO: Do you have anything coming up that you would like readers to know about?
AW-H: Yes. So, at the end of the summer, we’re hoping to have a wine and sushi dinner. Then as we get closer to the holiday season, we’ll shift towards more winter seasonal menu items. We really want to try to have more special events like that. Regular business hours for community members to come in and try our menu, along with stuff that they can’t necessarily find here all the time.
YZ: I just wanted to say thank you to all community members who support us.
Check out some of Sweet Chili’s unique dishes this summer during a night out in downtown Bozeman.