10 Things I Ate About You: Great Plates in Sedona, Ariz.
10 Things I Ate About You finds 10 enticing bites in smaller cities from coast to coast.
With cerulean skies, fragrant pines and elaborate rock formations jutting from the earth, Sedona, Ariz., is frequently hailed as one of the most-beautiful cities in the United States. The high desert town is ringed by 1.8 million acres of national forest, as well as miles of hiking, biking and off-roading trails and seemingly countless spas and resorts. There’s a reason so many different kinds of people add it to their list of must-see destinations. The food scene may be overshadowed by the outdoors attributes, but creative chefs and restaurateurs are elevating Upper Sonoran desert cuisine to impressive new heights.
Deviled Eggs at Saltrock Southwest Kitchen
Long the go-to dish for family picnics and cocktail parties, deviled eggs get the Southwestern treatment at this fun, agave-focused restaurant. Like the rest of the menu, the dish incorporates Southwestern flavors and local ingredients from Arizona’s Verde Valley. This variation is spicy, sweet and slightly smoky, with a mix of pasilla-maple syrup and bacon-onion marmalade on top of grain mustard. Pair it with one of the many tequilas or mezcals, offered in craft cocktails, flights or straight up.
Raw Chocolate at ChocolaTree Organic Eatery
Prized for its energy vortexes, Sedona is a hot spot in the conscious-living community, so it should come as no surprise that one of the city’s favorite restaurants focuses on food that’s good for the body and the planet — chocolate included. Here, chocolatier Kelly Johnson starts with 100 percent organic, fair-trade heirloom Ecuadorian cacao. It’s stone-ground, then mixed with natural sweeteners (think maple syrup and honey). Flavors include blueberry and lavender, Fall Spice, Bee Love (with honey and pollen) and Coffee Bean Dream. ChocolaTree also serves L.O.V.E. (short for “live organic vegan euphoria”) cups in combinations like Wild Jungle Peanut, sweetened with coconut sugar, and Superhero, with maca, spirulina and honey. This is some of the best (and most-nutritious) raw chocolate you can find in the state.
Serrano Pineapple Margarita at 89 Agave
Sedonans are spoiled for outstanding views. Located right in the heart of Uptown Sedona, this tequila-centric restaurant boasts three outdoor patios, each with its own prime panoramas. The best place to take in the red rocks is from the back veranda, ideally while sipping a serrano-pineapple margarita. It starts off with blanco tequila infused in-house with serrano chiles. The sweet and piquant mix is shaken with Cointreau, fresh pineapple and agave nectar and served with or without salt on the rim. Make sure to take in the view and raise a glass to Sedona.
Cowboy Cookout at M Diamond Ranch
Cowboy steaks are seemingly everywhere these days, on menus from Los Angeles to New York City. It’s not often, however, that said steak is prepared by an actual cowhand on an actual homestead. But it is at M Diamond Ranch. The working farm offers an evening “Ranch Rendezvous,” which includes a one-hour sunset horseback ride through the desert, followed by a wagon ride to dinner at The Sedona Lookout, an open-air shelter with unobstructed panoramas of the city, the Verde Valley and the Mogollon Rim. The nightly menu, available for riders or biped diners, features mesquite-grilled local steak, cowboy beans, corn on the cob, grilled peppers and salad, finished with peach cobbler for dessert.
Peach Pie a la Mode at Black Cow Cafe
The South has long been known for pie, but Sedona’s Black Cow Cafe is making the Southwest a flaky-crust destination. The tiny storefront serves an excellent selection of homemade pies and ice cream. Each flavor is delicious, but the peach pie a la mode, with warm stone fruit topped with a crisp oat-filled crumble and rich ice cream, will have you dreaming about the spot long after leaving town.
Pollo alla Rustica at Dahl & DiLuca Ristorante Italiano
Chef Lisa Dahl is one of the big names in Sedona’s culinary game. The chef and restaurateur runs some of the hottest spots in town, including Pisa Lisa, Mariposa and Cucina Rustica. Here, she brings her brand of local and organic to upscale Italian cuisine. With stone accents and soft lighting, this white-tablecloth restaurant feels like a Tuscan villa, both inside the elegant dining room and on the romantic outdoor patio. The food is just as classic, with options ranging from simple pasta to grilled rack of lamb. The Pollo alla Rustica is one of the top picks, a combination of housemade fettuccine with grilled lemon chicken, baby spinach and sauteed mushrooms in a lightly scented white-truffle cream sauce.
Breakfast Burrito at Indian Gardens Cafe & Market
Located just outside of Sedona, on the idyllic mountainside highway into town, this cafe and market has been serving locals and travelers since 1947. In its lifespan, the storefront has been a general store, gas station, bar, ice cream parlor, antique store and sandwich shop. Now it’s the ideal place to kick off the day, thanks to its excellent selection of sandwiches and bowls. The breakfast burrito is superlative. Filled with cage-free eggs, avocado, house-roasted green chiles, cheddar cheese and smashed breakfast potatoes on a local-flour tortilla, it’s griddled on the flat top for a nice crisp exterior. House tomatillo salsa comes on the side.
Appetizer Sampler at Cowboy Club
Housed in Sedona’s original tavern from 1946, this place is like walking into an old Western movie set. In fact, John Wayne, Burl Ives, Joan Crawford and other old Hollywood bigwigs graced the bar while shooting films nearby. Now the restaurant blends Old West hospitality with what it calls “high desert cuisine,” a mix of native proteins and ingredients. The best way to understand the range of dishes is through the appetizer sampler. It includes a snackable mix of crisp cactus fries, buffalo skewers, rattlesnake sausage and cilantro flatbread with prickly pear, adobo and Southwest peanut sauces.
Smoked Pork Cheeks at Elote Cafe
Highlighting the food and drink of Mexico and the Southwest, Chef Jeff Smedstad has bucked tradition with his own unique mix of local, organic, sustainable fare. The smoked pork cheeks are a perennial favorite. With a kiss of hickory and applewood, then a dip in braising liquid, the meat is as tender as stew and as flavorful as chili. But Smedstad doesn’t stop there. He tops it with with cascabel chile sauce inspired by a dish made by his ex-mother-in-law in Mexico. It sits on a corn cake (just like the ones Smedstad’s grandmother used to make) and is drizzled with buttermilk cumin dressing that he once devised for fried chicken at a staff party.
Nicky Farms Lapin at Cress on Oak Creek
When weather permits, dinner is served under a canopy of sycamores on the creekside patio of this fine dining spot. Chef Rochelle Daniel, recognized as one of the region’s top toques at the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America: Phoenix event, regularly switches up the prix-fixe menus according to what’s locally available. The accoutrements may change, but the Nicky Farms Lapin is a mainstay. The tender meat is formed into a roulade, wrapped in apple-smoked bacon, and served with blackberry and pickled local vegetables like carrot with rose petals.
Photos courtesy of NK Beer, Rock Paliuca, Black Cow, Mal Cooper, Elote Cafe