Restaurants and Dining in
If you don't know what a conch fritter
is before a visit to Key West, you will certainly know by the time you
Conch fritters are the signature food of Key West. They are made
from conch, animals which live in the large seashells that duplicate
the sound of the ocean when placed against the ear. The conch meat is
placed in batter, shaped into a small ball and deep-fried.
It is a side dish and comes with just about every main entree. Or,
it can be enjoyed by itself washed down, of course, by a cold beer.
Key West once thrived on conch fishing. There is a reason, after all,
the town's nickname is "The Conch Republic."
Key West's other main contribution to the food chain is Key Lime pie.
This, too, is everywhere. It is a tangy dessert made with key limes
and topped with whipped cream. Every restaurant in town claims to have
an "award-winning" Key Lime pie (although many have their
own unique taste). This is because key limes are now brought onto Key
West through a single distributor Key Lime Shoppe whose
limes did win a taste award.
Ironically, conch is now also imported into Key West.
Fresh seafood is imported only from the adjacent ocean. Fish, shrimp,
oysters and crab are plentiful and are served at restaurants all over
town. Some places are upscale white linen tablecloth establishments
while others are classic raw bars serving peel-and-eat shellfish and
frosty cold beer.
The Half Shell Raw Bar (Caroline and William streets)
is an example of the latter. Located right on the water, it is as simple
as a place can be, serving oysters, steamed shrimp and fish sandwiches
with a view of fishing boats. Next door is Turtle Kraals, a good
place for a post-meal beer.
The Conch Republic Seafood House (631 Green St.) is also a tasty
waterside restaurant. As the name implies, it is a haven for catches
from the sea. It claims to have the largest bar between Miami and Havana
but one thing is confirmed: It does have one of Key West's best margaritas.
Crabby Dick's (712 Duval) has killer surf 'n turf and local
shellfish. Say hi to Cami, the friendly owner. Work off the dinner by
going downstairs to Rhumba for salsa dancing.
On the upper end of the dining scale is Louie's Backyard and
Casa Marina (both located at the South end of Duval Street close
to the Southernmost Point landmark). Frequent visitors to Key West always
have lunch or dinner at Louie's tiered outdoor patio. It's Rum Rummer
drink is among the best in Florida. If the wait at Louie's is long,
Casa Marina is a tasty alternative.
The Meteor Smokehouse, adjacent to the Green Parrot bar, is
a Texas-style smokehouse.
Two Friends Patio (512 Front Street) serves Floribbean (Florida/Caribbean)
food with a mix of American fare. Mango's (next to Crabby Dick's)
has excellent brick-oven pizza and Floribbean fare. It is especially
popular among locals during lunch with its open-air patio.
While best utilized for pre-sunset cocktails, Casa Cayo Hueso
(Mallory Square) has outstanding Cuban cuisine.
Why not? For Parrot Heads in search of cheeseburgers, Jimmy Buffett's
Margaritaville Cafe (500 Duval) serves 'em up.
For the late-night munchies, P.T's Late Night Bar and Grille
(902 Caroline Street) is open until 4 a.m.
There are few breakfast places in Key West (hey, no one here gets up
early enough for it!). An exception is Camille's Key West
Restaurant (703 1/2 Duval; named after the hurricane that once passed
through here). It's been a regular stop for locals and frequent visitors
for more than 20 years. It's a toss-up whether the food, the funky atmosphere
or friendly staff is Camille's prime attraction, but put them all together
and you have a winner.
Another favorite breakfast spot is Pepe's, which is off the
beaten Duval path towards the Half Shell Raw Bar. Don't miss the huge
painting of the large-breasted naked lady. Pepe's is also open for lunch
and dinner. The Iguana Cafe, across from Captain Tony's Saloon,
serves American breakfasts in a Cuban atmosphere. It's most famous for
its Cuban coffee.
For a breakfast that's pure heaven, there's Blue Heaven. It's
in Bahama Village, and when you dine outside on the picnic tables, chickens
pick at your tableside The seafood omelet is to die for!
The New York Pasta Garden, located at 1075 Duval and operated
by a former New Yorker and current Keys resident, serves all-you-can-eat
breakfast for a buck-99. This is the best meal deal in Key West. Lunch
and dinner, particularly the New York pizza, is also quite good. It's
a bit hidden off the beaten path though worth the walk; enter off Duval
Square or Simonton and Truman.
Cole's Place (930 A Eaton Street) serves sandwiches and fresh-baked
bread. "Walk into Cole's," wrote the Miami Herald,
"and you'll think you're in an old fashioned bakery in a European
Finally, to spice up your meals back home, take home a taste of this
town. Peppers of Key West (291 Front Street) is the literally
hottest spot on the island, a hot sauce and salsa shop. Hundreds of
bottles of spicy choices are for sale. People from all all over the
country keep Peppers' mail order business booming.
Some like it hot:
Pepper's can really spice up a trip to Key West.
stop on The Party Bus: The Characters of Key West