As people start putting pumpkins on their doorsteps, pulling out their sweaters from the attic, and making plans for cozy fire nights. Sedona is a magical place during the holidays as the red rock canyons become shrouded with trees sporting yellow, auburn and orange leaves. Since that isn’t breathtaking enough of a view, Sedona may get a lucky snow dusting where the red hue from the canyons peek out in pockets of shimmer to remind us of its majestic beauty.
Visitors who come to Sedona during the holidays soon realize it’s also the best time to sample seasonal dishes and beverages from some of the city’s best restaurants. The chefs in Sedona take their cuisine seriously and serve nothing but the freshest ingredients and seasonal produce. The holidays are an ideal time for a culinary adventure through town. Below are some of the top restaurants to get your seasonal dish fix and get into the spirit.
This plant-based cafe is a hidden gem and mostly known to locals as the best place to get a hearty vegan meal and a tasty treat afterwards. ChocolaTree’s utopian decor captures the essence of its menu as everything is consciously made with the environment in mind. The outdoor garden is surrounded by lush plants, cozy seating and hanging hammocks, is a fab spot to get cozy. Cafe owner Radhika Jen Marie calls herself an experimental gardener and is always thinking of ways to serve up delicious meals without harming the environment. “Every decision we make is based upon our ethos on whether or not the decisions we’re making honor and value our vision of clean air and pure water,” she explains. For the holiday season, she highly recommends the Heart Love Warm Tonic, which is full of ingredients you’d never picture in a drink. There’s a local dual extract turkey tail, aspen polypore, artist conk and nettles. The additional strong flavors of cacao, almond milk and maple in the tonic makes it the ideal holiday drink.
For the main dish, she suggests ordering the vegetable curry with thin dosa made from basmati and lentils. Perfect for post-hike endeavors as it will immediately warm you up with sensational earthy flavors. Save room for dessert, after all, the cafe’s name suggests you’re really here for the sweet treats. Order the oven-fresh warm chocolate chip brownie made from fluffy almond and coconut flour—it’s reputed to be the most popular dessert among locals. Without guilt, you can dine here knowing you’re contributing to a good cause. “If what we’re doing contributes to a more positive, more peaceful world, then we move forward with that decision. It’s that simple, yet that important. What we do today highly impacts the future we seed tomorrow,” she adds.
Ask any local in Sedona where is the best place to dine on Mexican cuisine and they’ll point you in the direction of Elote Cafe. Owner and chef Jeff Smedstad spent more than 20 years traveling across the regions of Mexico to learn about the country’s authentic recipes before returning to his native Arizona to open up Elote Cafe. When asked about his best recipe for the holiday season, it was a no brainer. “Pumpkin flan and butternut squash chile rellenos to reflect the season,” he answers. “They just happen to taste better this time of the year.” Echoing the many sentients of Sedona’s chefs, Smedstad only incorporates sustainable, local, healthy and organic ingredients in his dishes.
It’s definitely an added perk that his restaurant sits on an elevated second-floor building overlooking the canyons. The spacious patio is a front-row seat to the red rocks and during the colder days, fire pits and candles warm the diners as they nosh on delicacies like smoked brisket enchiladas and lamb adobo. For the wow-factor, reserve your seats right before sunset and watch the sun kiss the rocks a good night. Before heading back to your hotel, pick up a cookbook to recreate some Smedstad’s award-winning recipes, so you can bring a piece of Sedona home with you.
While Whole Foods is quite ubiquitous in many parts of the country, the Sedona location stands out for its “Flavors of the Month” where its hot food bar features a few special ingredients in most of its available dishes. During the holidays, flavors like squash, pumpkins and apples dominate the available choices, allowing guests to fill their plates with seasonal delights, and giving them something new to look forward to each month. For families planning their Thanksgiving or Christmas in Sedona, Whole Foods has your back with its catering business. During the holidays, a catering table is set up in the store where guests can browse through and see all the available main entrees, side dish and pies. From there, shoppers can place orders to have their catering ready to be picked up in time for holiday gatherings. The available dishes consist of all the traditional favorites like turkey with stuffing, ham, casseroles and plenty of vegan options as well. The pies available for catering are reputed to be a favorite among locals especially the honey Chess pie made by chef Nicole Rucker, which consists of buttery honey custard, warm spices, whipped cream and ginger. The caramel spice cake by chef Stella Parks will also get even your grouchiest holiday guest into a festive mood.
Arriving to Indian Gardens Cafe & Market is an adventure in itself as diners have to drive through a curvy road in Oak Creek Canyon to find the cafe nestled in a secluded spot in the Coconino National Forest. Out front, picnic tables are scattered around the foothills of the canyons which allows guests a lovely setting to enjoy the crisp cold air while admiring the view of the red rocks. For three generations (since 1947), the cafe has been feeding locals delicacies from hearty breakfast dishes to organic sandwiches to guilt-free salads. During the festive season, the cafe suggests ordering its fresh apple cider that’s been pressed to perfection. The apples are locally grown and picked in Oak Creek Canyon, giving guests a true taste of the land. Local hikers often stop at this charming spot to grab a brew from Garland Coffee Company or various teas before their morning hikes. The cafe only opens for breakfast and lunch so plan accordingly.
A popular hangout for Sedona locals to enjoy healthy and creative meals is Creekside American Bistro. Located in the heart of the city, the restaurant is where Mercer Mohr, a James Beard award-winning chef and business owner first gained attention for his tasty concoctions. During the holidays, Kurobuta pork is an absolute must-order for diners. The high-quality meat likens to wagyu beef but is brined overnight and then apple-smoked for 12 hours before it's served to diners with acorn squash, apple pumpkin sauce, cinnamon fruit chutney and topped with crispy onion straw. Drooling yet? Creekside American Bistro is the type of place to lounge around for a while with a cocktail in hand. For this, they recommend Apple Jack Sazerac completed with absinthe, maple and apple whiskey or the Elixir of Live Hendricks Gin made with St. Germaine, elderflower liqueur, cucumber and tropical fruit. Don’t fill up yet, you’ll want to order the famous peach cobbler to warm up before you leave.
Mercer’s other baby, Mesa Grill at Sedona Airport opened a few years ago due to his rising popularity with Creekside. Located at the Sedona Airport, the restaurant gives diners an incredible panoramic view of the red rocks and the small planes taking off or landing. The establishment is known for its southwestern flair. Every dish has its own added element to reflect the region such as the restaurant’s signature dish—shrimp and grits—made with green chile and topped with pork belly. Their newest recipe is a ranch steak dish that’s umami-glazed with sesame seed, cashew and green onions. If you’ve eaten at both of Mercer’s restaurants, you’ll notice a similarity in its dessert menu—an affinity for cobblers. During the fall, the apple cherry cobbler is to die for and paired with salted-caramel ice cream. And the best thing about both restaurants? They’re open every day, even on the holidays. For anyone traveling to the area during Thanksgiving or Christmas, they’ll have their doors open for you and a specialized holiday menu, making visitors feel right at home.
Click here for a list of restaurants open for the holidays.