By Alison Bailin Batz
Arizona’s culinary scene is not strictly limited to the Valley. In fact, award-winning and unique restaurants abound in Northern and Southern Arizona. Here are some dining destinations more than worth the drive (and calories), no matter if you go for the day or opt to stay overnight.
Page Springs Cellars & Bistro
A family-owned winery and vineyard tucked into the volcanic landscape overlooking pristine Oak Creek Canyon, Page Springs Cellars produces Rhone-style wines. Where the vineyard sets itself apart, however, is with the on-site bistro led by executive chef Bryan Nowicki. A first-level sommelier with decades of experience, Nowicki’s menu, which changes seasonally, is rooted in taking advantage of local ingredients to complement the wines. Don’t miss a few of the chef’s specialties: mason jar rillettes, anything he’s pickled, and handmade spreadable smoked salmon, duck or roasted vegetables, respectively. www.pagespringscellars.com.
Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room & Osteria
Like Page Springs, Merkin Osteria is a tasting room with award-winning wine from Merkin Vineyards out of Willcox, Arizona. Also like Page Springs, they’ve completely redefined the Northern Arizona culinary scene with the introduction of this full-service Italian restaurant and tasting room led by executive chef Chris Smith, lauded for leading the kitchens at Robert’s Creekside Cafe & Grill, Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa, The Asylum Restaurant, and Los Abrigados Resort & Spa before joining Merkin in 2016. You have not lived until you’ve indulged in his creamy gnocchi, Merkin mac and cheese, and cavatelli pesto pasta.
Crema Craft Kitchen & Bar
Crema will knock your socks off at breakfast and brunch. Its head chef, Michelle Jurisin, studied in Italy under a James Beard Award-winning chef before coming to Cottonwood to launch Nic’s Italian Steak & Crab House and then Pizzeria Bocce before turning her sights to Crema, pulling together recipes from mentors and marrying them to family dishes and her own culinary vision. A must-try dish is the chilaquiles, which embodies the spicy, earthy flavors of the Southwest and pairs well with the ultimate mimosa featuring a Grand Mariner float and rock candy for stirring (and a sweet crunch). www.cremacottonwood.com.
Dahl & DiLuca Ristorante Italiano
More than 20 years ago, chef and owner Lisa Dahl sought healing after the loss of her son by moving to Sedona. All these years later, Dahl is a James Beard House-featured chef and widely credited for Sedona’s emergence as a national foodie destination. Today, she boasts several fine restaurants in the area, but Dahl & DiLuca was her first. The restaurant’s ample menu spans a variety of pastas (don’t miss the lasagna), grilled surf and turf, and classic Italian specialties including chicken piccata and veal marsala. www.dahlanddiluca.com.
Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill
Perched atop a scenic bluff with panoramic views of Sedona’s majestic red rocks, Mariposa is also a Dahl venue taken in a totally different direction. By using a wood-fired grill and wood-burning oven, Dahl creates handmade delicacies inspired by her travels to Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. The lunch, tapas and dinner options are beyond impressive, but for something truly exceptional, splurge on the “Prix-Fixe Tomahawk for 2” with a wine pairing option, which features four courses showcasing a little bit of everything that makes Dahl’s cooking so special (including a whopping 34-ounce USDA prime rib-eye steak!). www.mariposasedona.com.
Cress on Oak Creek
L’Auberge de Sedona resort is tucked into verdant Oak Creek, making it an altogether otherworldly red rock country experience. Its signature eatery, Cress on Oak Creek, takes full advantage of this sought-after locale as its patio dining sits right along the babbling brook and lush forest landscape, while its interior is modern, sleek and romantic. Open only for dinner, each night executive chef Michael O’Dowd – famous in the Valley for putting Kai at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass on the culinary map – dreams up a tasting menu available as a three-, four- or six-course dining experience inspired by three natural elements: earth, water and sky. www.lauberge.com.
Root Public House
Often referred to as a forest-to-table restaurant, chef and owner David Smith’s Root Public House features true Northern Arizona ingredients throughout its evolving seasonal menus, many of which take influence from the South. Smith’s Southern-fried Arizona hot chicken, shrimp and grits, and pecan-smoked spare ribs are prime examples of the Southwest-meets-Southern concept. The drink menu is similarly a love of all things local, bursting with Arizona-made spirits, wines, beers and native produce. www.rootpublichouse.com.
Josephine’s Modern American Bistro
Refined without being pretentious, chef Tony Cosentino uses the seasons – yes, they have them up in Flagstaff – to direct his menu at Josephine’s, taking advantage of the best produce and seafood from across the country month by month and often suggesting wine pairings from the Wine Spectator-awarded wine menu to accompany each dish. Of particular note is his achiote-smoked pork osso bucco, which is slow-braised and served with luscious Tillamook green chili polenta. And try the Southwestern crab cakes at any time – as a Benedict at brunch, in a sandwich or salad at lunch, and even as an entree at dinner, served with a sesame-crusted quinoa masa cake, jicama slaw, spicy remoulade and avocado tomatillo sauce. www.josephinesrestaurant.com.
Café Poca Cosa
Chef and owner Suzana Davila is a proud native of a native of Sonora, Mexico – and incorporates her rich Hispanic culture in every aspect of her restaurant. The authentic menu, which has been lauded by the likes of The New York Timesand USA Today, is printed in Spanish on a portable chalkboard that servers take from table to table. And while it changes twice daily, rest assured every item can be paired with the extensive tequila and margarita options. For a variety of flavor, opt for the chef’s plate, which features a selection of items chosen by Davila – and you won’t be disappointed by the surprise. www.cafepocacosatucson.com.