Best New Restaurant: Tiki Grill

Best of Flag, December 2021

Written by Gail G. Collins

Everyone appreciates a special meal — tables laid with white cloths, china and fussy food once in a while. But where we hang out with friends in flip flops to shoot the breeze, tip one back and eat what makes us grin is what makes it all worthwhile.

Perhaps that propelled Scott McClelland to turn from the chic settings that upheld his culinary experience to open Tiki Grill and offer guests a place on the sand where he had found happiness. 

“The aim is attentive, caring service, good tunes and cocktails,” McClelland said.

Sounds like a winner – Best New Restaurant, to be exact.

He added, “It’s a chill vibe in a cool setting with the same high caliber of food, served in paper boats with flip flops and board shorts.”

Routinely, McClelland had sought out the beach bar and grill atmosphere on the North Carolina coast. Its laid-back ambiance, good company and good tunes appealed to him. Along the way, he owned a fine dining establishment for five years and then landed in San Diego. After a stint as executive chef on a yacht, he was killing time in Arizona with friends and fell into running off-road tours at the Grand Canyon.

McClelland had arrived at a crossroads — he couldn’t get Northern Arizona out of his blood nor the desire for a tropical retreat. He floated the notion of a seafood and sandals spot in Flagstaff and was encouraged to go forward with his plans. The tiki hut in the high country opened its doors in June serving comfort food and cocktails.

“The menu is beach food meets soul food meets health food and great flavors with a heavy lean to seafood,” he said.

The burgers, of course, are hugely popular. The Pittsburger pays homage to the town where McClelland gained his culinary training, as well a well-known diner there, which piles an Angus patty with fries, coleslaw, cheese and tomato. Sandwiches, like the lump crab cake and pork belly cheese melt, catfish, sea scallops or veggie black bean and quinoa, are signature sellers for the scratch kitchen.

Tacos are another perfect handhold and filled with fish or shrimp — grilled, blackened or fried — or as an ahi poke hoice with soy, citrus, sesame and ginger-dressed cuts of yellow-fin tuna. It’s the latest fave at Tiki Grill.

Just need a nosh with that beer? Try the dry-rubbed wings or the high country poutine. Wisconsin cheese curds go one better with pork belly gravy over fries. Or make a meal of it with the whole fish. Two pounds of snapper are dredged in flour and buttermilk and served with two sides.

The menu is simple, indulgent and seafood forward with a large array of sides. These range from typical fries and onion rings to sweet potato biscuits, ratatouille, slaw and salads.

Dessert is a child’s delight of yellow cake with a butter crust and cream cheese sugar topping. Try the ooey, gooey butter bar with ice cream, caramel drizzle and cherries for the full dream or build your own float.

This neighborhood spot has gathered a nice base of folks, according to McClelland. Daily media posts and word of mouth has given Tiki Grill the biggest boost forward, and he is grateful.

“We count on everyone, who comes through the door,” he said. “When you surround yourself with good people, you have joy from the company you keep from staff to customers.”