Where mainland Florida ends, a swirl of diverse cultures funnel into the jewel-like string of islands that make up the Florida Keys. And it’s no surprise that such a colorful cultural melting pot – early settlers in the Keys came from such varied places as the Bahamas, New England and Cuba – has influenced what makes its way to the dinner table here, too.
Key West hosts the most cosmopolitan dining scene in the Florida Keys. And its population of travelers-turned-locals hailing from France, Italy, the Caribbean, Africa, Israel and beyond has molded the worldly dining scene here.
Key West Seafood
Casual fish restaurants within earshot of lapping waves are some of the best places to sample the bounty of the sea.
Commercial fishing is second only to tourism as the most important industry in the Keys, with fresh fish in abundant and flopping fresh supply.
Sweeter than other varieties, Key West pink shrimp are sublime when sautéed in butter. And despite no longer being sourced in the Keys, tender conch from the Caribbean finds its way onto menus here, too, in the form of chowder, fritters and ceviche-style salads spiked with fresh lime that are a favorite of Key West’s Caribbean community.
Most of Florida’s stone crabs, a sustainable resource, are caught in the Keys, with fresh chilled claws found on Key West menus from mid-October to mid-May. Also look for fresh Florida lobster (clawless and smaller than the New England version) from early August to late March. Other local catches to try in Key West include hogfish, snapper, grouper and mahi mahi.
Landlubbers get their fill of fine food here, too. Cubans who migrated to Key West in the 1800s brought their savory cuisine along, and you’ll find classic Cuban dishes such as picadillo, ropa vieja (shredded beef) and sweet plantains on area menus.
And Key West’s dining scene has evolved over the years to encompass everything from bistros and wine bars to Mediterranean-inspired cafes tucked away in historic neighborhoods off Duval Street.
Where to Dine
So much to sample, and so little stomach space! Try one or all of these Key West quintessential dining experiences:
A&B Lobster House, 700 Front St.
Linen-topped tables with pretty harbor views make for an upscale meal on Key West Bight, with such specialties as Florida lobster pasta, local snapper and yellowfin tuna.
Azur Restaurant, 425 Grinnell St.
French toast stuffed with Key lime pie for breakfast and Key West pink shrimp for dinner tempt palates at this trendy outpost mixing Florida and the Mediterranean.
Blue Heaven, 729 Thomas St.
Roaming roosters trumpet their anthems while strutting across the dirt floor at this outdoor restaurant in Old Bahama Village. Locals swear by the banana pancakes for breakfast, and Caribbean barbecued shrimp for dinner are a perennial hit, too.
B.O.’s Fish Wagon, 801 Caroline St.
Key West’s cornerstone establishment for a casual feed of cracked conch sandwiches and fish and chips.
Café Sole, 1029 Southard St.
On a residential street, this romantic restaurant showcases the chef’s provincial French training. Don’t miss the lobster bouillabaisse and locally caught hogfish.
Hogfish Bar & Grill, 6810 Front St.
This no-frills seaside restaurant on Stock Island fronts the working shrimp docks and specializes in grilled hogfish, conch fritters and juicy Key West pink shrimp. Authentic atmosphere guaranteed.
Nine One Five, 915 Duval St.
Housed in a classic Key West Victorian, this stylish restaurant on Duval Street specializes in Asian-inspired yellow snapper from local waters.
Square One, 1075 Duval St.
Black grouper, fished locally and served with a spicy jerk seasoning, is on the menu at this Duval Street mainstay.
This article is brought to you by The Florida Keys & Key West Tourist Development Council. For more information on Key West’s culinary scene, visit The Florida Keys & Key West's website at www.fla-keys.com, or call 800-FLA-KEYS.