Spencer MacKenzie’s is all about filling portions of fresh fish served in causal surfside digs. It is a streetside shack a few blocks from the beach with a sunny open patio. There are places like it dotted up and down the Pacific coast, but Spencer Mac’s plump grilled shrimp and aggressive hot sauces make it one of the best. Most items on the menu have Mexican names, but they have little in common with familiar tacos and burritos, other than being wrapped in a tortilla.
The famous item is the grilled fish and shrimp burrito. It’s a simple pocket stuffed with flakey, gently grilled haddock and bouncy grill-kissed shrimp. The only company in the flour tortilla are plain white rice, unseasoned cabbage and a spiced crema known as “Spencer sauce.” It is audaciously restrained, but it works because the seafood is fresh and well-cooked. Because of the simple, clean fillings of the burrito, it becomes a bit of a hot sauce vacuum. Fortunately, Spencer MacKenzie offers three excellent hot sauces on the table. Use them!
Each sauce has a different balance of sweet and heat. Being hot heads, we kept reaching for the hottest, least sweet one: habeñero. Habeñero is a natural partner for seafood anyway. You can get most dishes “Brooklyn style” which adds a sweeter hot sauce in the kitchen. We prefer to do it ourselves.
Almost as essential as the subtly grilled fish and shrimp burrito are “world famous” fish tacos. You can get them either with grilled or fried fish. The fried is tempura-battered cod, cooked to order. It makes for an unusually crunchy fish taco. Fresh cabbage and large diced sweet bell peppers built upon the powerful crunch. The only way to offset the crispiness of this giant taco is with lots of the great aforementioned hot sauces.
We are less fond of the Parmesan hard shell shrimp taco. True, the excellent grilled shrimp were springy and tasty, but its Spencer sauce felt gluey against a crisp shell, and cheese doesn’t really belong with seafood that’s only been slightly cooked. We bet these hard shell tacos are better with chicken or asada.
We also tried two of Spencer MacKenzie’s most celebrated snacks: shrimp wontons and ahi pockets. The wontons are tasty, bite-sized fried pouches of shrimp and cream cheese topped with a drizzle of sweet chili sauce. They are basically like a crab rangoon but filled with shrimp instead of imitation crab meat.
Ahi pockets are a less successful venture into Asian flavors. A sweet tofu inari pocket is filled with cold plain rice and topped with ahi tuna that has been seared with blackening spices and topped with “dynamite” sauce, like you’d find in a fusion sushi place. The marriage of Japanese and Cajun flavors is not a happy one; but we couldn’t even get past the hunk of cold unseasoned rice that made up the bulk of this snack anyway. None of this matters much though. We come back to Spencer MacKenzie’s for best-in-their-class fish and shrimp burritos.