Maui’s legendary “perfect fish taco” comes to Scottsdale, but is that lofty claim just a fish tale?
As a rule, I don’t seek out premium fish from order-at-the-counter joints in strip malls. There’s just something about single-serve mayonnaise packets that feels ill-suited to ocean-fresh cuisine.
But based on its solid pedigree, Coconut’s Fish Café in north Scottsdale warrants an exception. Owner and founder Mike Phillips opened the original Coconut’s in Kihei, Maui in 2009. Since then, CNN.com named it one of their “Top 10 Places to Eat Like a Local,” and Zagat hailed the eatery for its “perfect fish taco.”
Superlatives aside, the tacos are excellent. And the rest of the menu – seafood and chips, seafood burgers, seafood pasta and seafood salads – is also surprisingly good, thanks to that delicious fish. The hefty burgers are grilled and served in a variety of ways, including blackened, Cajun style, and lemon butter-doused, and all come smothered in crisp, not-too-sweet coconut milk coleslaw. More attention could be given to the other accoutrements, including a partly-parched bun, tomato, cheese and tartar sauce. The burgers start at $10.50, plus a $2 surcharge for ahi, and $2.50 for ordinary French fries. Round things out with a glass of mid-level Flipflop wine or a Kona Longboard lager, and you have a quality – if not cheap – meal.
According to the menu, tacos ($10.95) are made with “a variety of 17 different ingredients,” including tomato, cheese, coleslaw, mango salsa, and fish, steak, chicken or a veggie patty. I’m not sure how they reach that number, but I’ll happily volunteer to try every iteration. As it is, I can’t pull myself away from the fish version: two large, white corn bundles stuffed with a sloppy-but-worth-it combo of grilled fish, tomato, coleslaw and mango salsa with big chunks of juicy fruit. Also in the “tastes better than it looks” category is the Taco Mountain ($11.45). Picture a hubcap-size plate of rice topped with fish, chicken, or a veggie patty, then mounded with coleslaw, tomato, mango salsa, lemon wedges and an explosion of shredded cheese that nearly spills off the plate.
It’s probably too much to expect magic from spaghetti with chunks of fish in Alfredo cream or tomato sauce when it’s served in a small, lime green café painted with an “our fish tacos are off the hook” mural. But the pasta ($15.95) is reportedly prepared to-order, and the seafood – including ono (wahoo), mahi mahi, ahi, and daily market specials like opakapaka (crimson snapper) – is flown in from Hawaii. The enormous entrée is satisfying if too mildly seasoned (at least in the thin tomato sauce rendition I tried), presented with soggy garlic bread and a snowstorm of grated parmesan.
More careful attention to detail would improve several dishes, but kudos to Coconut’s for making the fresh effort, plus including fat-free and gluten-free choices. We may be almost 3,000 miles from Maui, but this is a tasty bit of the “reel” deal.
Coconut’s Fish Café
Address: 16640 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily
Highlights: Fish burgers ($10.50); fish tacos ($10.95); Taco Mountain ($11.45)
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