Ask any private pilot about airport restaurants, and they’ll snark about “the $100 hamburger.” This general aviation trope earned its moniker from the pilot practice of flying a short distance, eating a basic-at-best meal and then flying home, fuel cost – and culinary satisfaction – be damned. “Av geeks” will use any excuse to get up in the air, even if it means eating at the countless shoddy airport diners that dot this nation.
Which makes Mesa Grill (1185 Airport Rd., Sedona, 928-282-2400, mesagrillsedona.com) all the more impressive. Perched atop its namesake formation at Sedona Airport, the restaurant boasts arguably the most breathtaking runway view in all of Arizona – an amphitheater of rust-colored rocks and azure sky. It’s gorgeous seeing it from above as you fly into Sedona and land, but it also makes for stunning viewing from Mesa Grill’s semi-enclosed patio. And the menu, blessedly, has much more to offer than a bush-league burger.
Chef-owner Mercer Mohr (who has three other restaurants in Sedona) draws inspiration from his North Carolina upbringing, his Southwest surrounds, his global travels and seasonal local produce for his ever-changing dishes, which range from lobster cakes with green chile crème to dry-rubbed pork ribs with jalapeño slaw and borracho beans. Fall and winter menus bring more braised dishes, soups and the annual pig pickin’, a whole-hog nod to his Carolina roots. Mohr’s fare is so popular with locals that visitors would be wise to make reservations – the wait time for a table can be up to an hour on weekends. There’s even a dedicated food menu for canines to enjoy on the dog-friendly patio, in case you packed your pooch in your Piper Cherokee.
Don’t have your own plane? You can charter a custom flight through private operators such as Westwind Air Service (732 W. Deer Valley Rd., Phoenix, 480-991-5557, westwindairservice.com/private-charters), which is based out of Phoenix Deer Valley Airport. Call or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a quote. Not in the budget, or concerned about airsickness? Just drive. You can still dine on the Mesa Grill patio, cocktail in hand, and take in the striking juxtaposition of sleek modern aircraft and sublime ancient sandstone.