Photo: Scott Yates

Why Sedona, Arizona, Is a Magical Destination for Anyone Who Loves to Eat

Restaurants + Bars
by Nickolaus Hines Feb 4, 2022

Ask a group of people about their thoughts on Sedona, Arizona, and you’ll likely hear some common themes. The dream-like red rock buttes are sure to come up, as are the many wellness retreats and the impressive local art scene. For someone who grew up with a certain kind of California mom (hi mom!), Sedona is a town where phrases like “energy,” “magic,” and “natural mysticism” slip into what feels like every sentence.

And then there’s the food, which belongs in any conversation about what makes Sedona such a great place to visit, thanks in large part to chef Lisa Dahl, the executive chef and CEO of Dahl Restaurant Group who has worked in Sedona’s food industry for more than 25 years. Dahl’s restaurants — Mariposa, Cucina Rustica, Pisa Lisa, Butterfly Burger, and Dahl & Di Luca — range in style and draw inspiration from the Mediterranean to South America. She’s appeared on the Travel Channel and Food Network, and has been the featured chef at New York City’s James Beard House. The Arizona Restaurant Association has twice awarded Dahl the “Top Chef of Arizona” and “Food Pioneer” honors.

All this is to say that when wondering about anything related to the Sedona restaurant scene, Dahl is the person to turn to.

We caught up with Dahl just as her second book, A Romance With Food published on February 1. The 91 recipes and 150-plus photos featured in the book bring readers on Dahl’s travels through Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay, and it includes recipes from her restaurant Mariposa. Overall, it treats food with a romantic reverence without putting good food out of reach — meaning home chefs can put the dishes together without spending a month’s paycheck on kitchen tools at Sur La Table.

Here, Dahl explains what makes Sedona a special place to go out for a meal, as well as offers up her take on which of her restaurants are best for whatever type of date night you’re looking to have in Red Rock Country.

Matador: Are there any dining scenes that you think are similar to what people can find in Sedona?

Lisa Dahl: When I travel, I gravitate to restaurants that are owned by chefs and places that have similar motivations and passions as my own. Geronimo in Santa Fe is the first one that comes to mind because it’s like going to one of my own restaurants. The atmosphere is classic, and the hospitality is consistent, I always know I will feel special and valued as a repeat guest. As a restaurateur, I am thrilled when my servers do things for my guests that make their experience memorable and special. This level of care and attention to detail is few and far between.

What makes Sedona a special place to dine?

In my opinion, Sedona is special because it has evolved over the past 20 years into a world class dining destination. In 2019, I was awarded the honor of “Food Pioneer” by the Arizona Restaurant Association’s Foodist Awards which acknowledged my contributions to developing the Sedona food scene. I feel honored to have helped raised the bar and paved the way for more eclectic and remarkable restaurants to open in Red Rock Country. Sedona is no longer a typical tourist food town, when you come here you are visiting a premier dining destination.

Sedona has a reputation for being magical. How does that translate to the restaurants and general feel of the area?

As someone who has personally experienced the magic and healing of Sedona – I have worked incredibly hard to incorporate that energy into my five dining destinations. All of them embody romance in different ways and showcase how food can be sensual and adventurous. The food must tell a story, such as Butterfly Burger (casual doesn’t have to mean boring), couples can feel elevated and excited to dine together with a well-executed mood setting. I create a magnetic force that makes you feel drawn back again and again. It’s for couples to share wonderful flavors so you can layer the dining experience. Layers being music, lighting, and a sensual atmosphere. We are the opposite of a chain.

For a spiritual experience outside of the restaurant world, I highly recommend Sedona Soul Adventures. They’re highly rated but not well known. It’s a retreat company for couples and individuals who want to work on themselves and their relationships. I have witnessed firsthand the incredible growth, results, and life-changing experiences couples have undergone through this adventure therapy. Sedona Soul Adventures frequently recommends their soul-searching couples to come dine at our restaurants.

Lisa Dahl’s Sedona restaurants for a romantic date night

For a couple’s first serious date

Dahl & DiLuca. Because of the intimacy and small private corners, you feel like you’re in a world of your own. You will feel a twinkle when you are there – it’s special and carries the energy of “the Shrine to the Divine.” Sometimes a certain photo will catch this angelic energy, it’s incredibly comforting and bewitching at the same time.

For a surprise romantic date

Mariposa. With the unmatched views and magnified dining experience, Mariposa is a generator, an explosive, must-get-a-reservation destination with eye candy. It’s a huge accomplishment to get in especially when you want to impress your date or loved one. You can propose or celebrate very special and personal events there. It’s a vortex of energy where breathtaking views and incredible food create a seriously magical experience. I call it the vortex of dining experience here in Sedona.

For when you want the fanciest Sedona has to offer

Hands down Dahl & DiLuca – it embodies modern romance. We will do rose petals on the tables for special occasions. We have a delicate color palette and beautiful intimate small garden. It is the type of place to dress up and look and feel romantic.

For Valentine’s Day with a friend

Cucina Rustica is a great place to celebrate friendship. I have a sense of pride in seeing the influx of women coming to my restaurants to celebrate a woman owned business. This fact in itself is a draw and women supporting women blows me away. It stops me in my tracks when they say they want to support a woman owned business in the hospitality industry.

For a more casual romantic night

The word that comes to my mind is “convivial,” celebrating life in a warm and gregarious atmosphere. The rustic kitchen and welcoming environment make you want to raise a glass. The setting was designed to bring people together and be a cause for celebration. Cucina Rustica is the living definition of convivial.

For date night in a longtime marriage

Dahl & DiLuca. This is our flagship and oldest restaurant. When I was a young restaurateur, it was shared with me by a couple that they had chosen to live in Sedona because of their experience at this restaurant. It reminded me that these are not just restaurants to eat in, they are experiences to be cherished. The classic elements incorporated into Dahl & DiLuca result in a rare and unexpected dining experience to patrons. So many couples come in for dinner and make their second reservation on their way out. To see that kind of response and feedback is the highest compliment I can receive as a restaurant owner. I am constantly striving for an organic and magical experience for our guests. The reality is, you have to earn it.

For two people who aren’t officially together, but hope to be

Butterfly Burger – it’s flirtatious as hell, casual, and fun. The cocktail list has a sensual, flirty, and tantalizing energy almost pulling directly from the spirit realm. It’s seduction at its finest.

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