Meet the Restaurateur: Chef Lisa Dahl

Lisa Dahl is a renowned chef and restaurateur based in Sedona. Following the loss of her son, Justin, Dahl left behind the Bay area and fashion industry to seek healing in Sedona. Once settled, she decided to follow a passion her and Justin once shared: cooking. Dahl began Dahl Restaurant Group, the creators of Dahl & Di Luca Ristorante Italiano, Cucina Rustica, Pisa Lisa, Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill and her newest concept, Butterfly Burger. Since then, Dahl has been awarded with the 2019 Food Pioneer award and the 2018 Top Chef award by the Arizona Restaurant Association. She has also been honored with the Best Chefs of America Hall of Fame Award by National Elite. Chef Dahl’s unique take on cooking has credited her with transforming Sedona into a foodie destination. We caught up with Dahl to learn more about her restaurant group’s identity as well as her own ambitions as a chef.

AFM: Have you always been interested in culinary? Tell us about your life before the start of Dahl Restaurant Group. 

LD: I grew up surrounded by fashion. My mother was a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology and opened a string of extremely successful, avant-garde clothing stores in Indianapolis. Following in her footsteps, I started my career working in the fashion industry in San Francisco until a tragic accident killed my teenage son, Justin. After that, I sought healing and moved to Sedona where I rediscovered myself through cooking.

AFM: Tell me a little bit about the restaurant group’s history. 

LD: I opened my first restaurant, Dahl & Di Luca Ristorante Italiano, in 1995, turning a small, shuttered drive-through restaurant into one of Sedona’s most cherished fine dining establishments serving classic Italian dishes. Opening Dahl & Di Luca fulfilled a lifelong dream I shared with Justin. As an entirely self-taught chef, I traveled throughout Italy to develop a menu of pastas that are as light and delicate as they are satisfying, hearty vegetable-based dishes and hard-to-find Italian seafood classics. In stark contrast to the rugged spirit of Sedona where towering red rock formations and dense forest lands set the stage for outdoor adventures, Dahl & Di Luca delivers the ambiance of classic Italian fine dining that rarely exists today with a dimly lit dining room draped in silk, adorned with gold and crystal chandeliers and filled with the notes of live piano music. 

More than 23 years later, Dahl & Di Luca remains a dining tradition for generations of locals and travelers alike and is credited with opening the door for other chefs to create their own footprint in Sedona, a town with just 10,000 residents but three million annual visitors. As demand continued, I expanded my own presence in Sedona opening Cucina Rustica in 2003, an Italian-Mediterranean fine dining concept, followed by Pisa Lisa in 2014, my first-casual restaurant serving pizzas and salads, and Mariposa Latin-Inspired Grill in 2015, a dramatic destination restaurant focused on South American-inspired cuisine that serves as a true reflection of my style and love for fashion, design and art.

Just this year, I opened a first-of-its-kind “couture burger lounge” called Butterfly Burger. It is my most creative concept yet. From all-natural, certified Black Angus beef burgers to plant-based vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options, Butterfly Burger entices all cravings with its incredibly diverse menu in what’s sure to become one of the country’s best burger restaurants.

AFM: Where do you see Dahl Restaurant Group in the future? What are your goals?

LD: I have big plans for Dahl Restaurant Group, especially for my newly opened Butterfly Burger, a couture burger lounge. Not only is Butterfly Burger a chic eatery, it has a sexy lounge-like setting that you typically only see in big cities like New York or Paris. The Sedona location is my protype and as we continue to see great demand for this kind of restaurant, we plan to introduce Butterfly Burger to other Arizona markets and beyond.

AFM: What is the restaurant group’s accompanying mission statement and values?

LD: I live by the mantra, “When you cook with love, you feed the soul.” I believe that flavors should never be overworked, food should speak for itself and only the finest ingredients should be used from the best sources available.

I pride myself in my relationships with local and regional organic growers, selecting the highest quality specialty purveyors of meats and seafood. I am hands-on when it comes to attention to detail in choosing the resources for the dishes that go out to guest’s in all of my restaurants, which focus almost entirely on organic produce, health-conscious ingredients and meats raised without antibiotics, hormones or GMOs and sustainably-harvested seafood.

A love of comfort food, bold flavors and Old World methodology are the essence of my cooking, as are my secret “elixirs” used within many of my ethnic dishes.

AFM: Of course, we must ask, what is your favorite dish from any Dahl Restaurant Group restaurant?

LD: My favorite dish at Dahl & DiLuca is the arancini – crispy handmade risotto balls stuffed with baby peas, peppers and mozzarella on a bed of molten Mother Sauce.

My favorite item at Cucina Rustica is Lisa’s Luscious Lasagna – layers of signature Bolognese and Italian fennel sausage finished with ricotta pillows.

My favorite dish at Pisa Lisa is the Tuscan Tomato Bisque – our signature, perfectly balanced and velvety tomato soup finished with extra virgin olive oil and paper-thin crostini.

At Mariposa, my favorite dish is the handmade empanadas stuffed with portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, chevre, gorgonzola and truffle gouda, with signature chimichurri.

Finally, at Butterfly Burger, my favorite dish is the Oui Oui Monsieur – an obscenely decadent patty melt, grilled to perfection, on caraway rye bread, with charred onions, gruyere cheese and special Dijon sauce. –Aubrey Martin

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