Sedona, Ariz. is an incredibly unlikely culinary destination. A two-hour drive from the Grand Canyon’s unremarkable cafeterias and just more than a four-hour road trip from the extravagant buffets of Las Vegas, Sedona is a vacation town worth dining in. Lacking a Zagat guide, falling far from Michelin’s starry scope and nearly absent from the national — not to mention international — media buzz and accolades (though one Sedona chef, Elote Café’s Jeff Smedstad earned a 2017 James Beard Award nomination), Sedona, with its mere population of just more than 10,000 residents, may not seem like a candidate for a food getaway. Yet, the desert town offers a completely unpretentious, refined, diverse and crave-worthy culinary landscape amid its signature gargantuan red rocks.
“Literally, there wasn’t a dining scene 20 years ago,” says Lisa Dahl, the chef and proprietor of four popular Sedona, Ariz., restaurants. “No one would come to Sedona for culinary, but it’s very gratifying now. What was never a dining scene has become a robust little community of almost 200 restaurants.”
Sedona, in many ways, is the perfect place to venture for food lovers — unlike a beach destination or lake getaway where sedentary days are broken up by dinner reservations, time in Sedona is best spent being active outdoors, whether that’s hiking, biking, rock climbing, playing a round of tennis or golf, or jogging through town. Working up an appetite is an inherent part of visiting Sedona, for outdoors buffs and food-focused travelers alike.
“What I’ve tried to create from the very beginning was a dining destination, not just a restaurant,” Dahl says of her restaurants’ continuing legacy. “[I] put fine dining on the map.”
In Sedona, Ariz., restaurants range from the upscale, white-tableclothed Dahl & Di Luca, an Italian restaurant that Dahl launched in 1995, to a cafeteria-style handmade tamale spot, where stopping by in hiking clothes to fuel up for another climb is more than acceptable. Dahl says this diversity of worthwhile places to eat is indicative of the “new Sedona” — an almost unrecognizably thriving culinary destination from the New Age, bohemian town she moved to more than two decades ago, when it was difficult to even procure a fresh tomato. International travelers and Americans who are becoming more well traveled and well versed in high-quality cuisine expect a range of impressive options when they visit a new place.
And though Dahl estimates that most people don’t come to Sedona exclusively for a culinary excursion, they leave impressed by the meals and overall dining experience, often returning to her restaurants on a repeat trip. “A culture of dining has caught up to us, we have sophisticated clientele beyond belief,” she says. “It can be hard to remember faces, but it touches my heart when repeat customers [tell me] they won’t miss a trip to Sedona, and coming to my restaurant.”
Browse the photos above for a sample of Sedona's local flavor, and see more from Arizona below.