Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, Key West is blessed with an abundance of fresh seafood. Its proximity to Cuba also introduces a special flair to the cuisine. With a thriving bar and restaurant scene on Duval Street and beyond, Key West is filled with plenty of opportunities for a tasty bite and a stiff drink. Here are the top 10 must-try food and drinks in Key West.
Key Lime Pie
While key limes aren’t harvested in Florida anymore, Key West is still home to the best key lime pie around. Whether it’s frozen on a stick and dipped in chocolate at Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Pie Shoppe (200 Elizabeth Street $4.50) or served by the slice with mile-high meringue that’s hand-shaped into a thick landscape of spikey peaks (almost too pretty to eat) at Blue Heaven (729 Thomas Street), you’ll find a sweet, tart bite that satisfies. Local tip: Real key lime pie is a creamy-white color, not green.
Also known as the Conch Republic, Key West is home to many tasty delicacies made of the conch’s tough meat, which is found inside their pretty pink shells. Conch fritters are a popular bar snack or appetizer in Key West, served in a crispy fried batter with creamy dipping sauce. They’re on almost every menu in town, and they’re especially good at Conch Republic Seafood Company (631 Greene Street, about $10).
Grouper or Mahi Sandwich
A fish sandwich is a Key West staple, and B.O.’s Fish Wagon (801 Caroline Street) is the place to go to get one. It’s a funky, ramshackle stand draped with buoys, lined with license plates and piled high with lobster traps for an authentic, salty experience. Using the day’s fresh catch, grouper and mahi-mahi are typically on the menu. Get yours grilled, fried or blackened on a pillowy-soft Cuban roll with key lime tartar sauce.
A Key West delicacy, stone crab is in season from mid-October through mid-May. Often served chilled with sweet Dijon mustard for dipping, these crabs have a delicate, sweet flavor that’s positively addictive. In season, you’ll find them on special at market price at restaurants such as Half Shell Raw Bar (231 Margaret Street) at the Historic Seaport and The Stoned Crab (3101 N. Roosevelt Blvd.) situated on the water, a short cab ride from Old Town.
Locally Brewed Beer
The Waterfront Brewery (201 William Street) opened in Key West in 2015, making it one of the newest bars in town serving craft beer brewed on-site. Stroll over for a tasting flight inside the large industrial space overlooking the harbor. It’s immediately recognizable with its Wyland mural of marine life covering the building. Another classic spot for craft beer is Kelly’s Caribbean Bar Grill & Brewery (301 Whitehead Street), where you can sip their Southern Clipper Wheat beer or Havana Red ale with an order of the tastiest buffalo wings in Key West.
Lobster looks a little different in Key West. Key West’s spiny lobsters have larger antennae and smaller claws than typical lobsters. The meat is just as delicious, though, and can be found in creative preparations at great restaurants across the island, like Blue Heaven (729 Thomas Street, about $25), Alonzo’s (700 Front Street, about $25) and Sunset Pier (0 Duval Street, about $18).
Unique to the Florida Keys, hogfish is a local delicacy best served lightly pan-fried with key lime butter. This snapper, named for its pig-like snout, is flaky with a mild, sweet flavor. Take a 20-minute cab ride to Stock Island’s Hogfish Bar & Grill (6810 Front Street, market price) with ample Old Key West charm for a taste of hogfish, or look for it on special at restaurants like Alonzo’s Oyster Bar (700 Front Street, market price) at Key West’s Historic Seaport.
There’s something about Key West’s sunshine and humidity that makes a cold, refreshing rum drink the perfect accompaniment. Whether it’s a rum punch served at the iconic Sloppy Joe’s Bar (201 Duval Street) or a visit to the Key West First Legal Rum Distillery (105 Simonton Street) for a sampling of locally handcrafted rum, it’s always rum o’clock in Key West.
Cuban Food and Coffee
Key West is only 90 miles from Cuba, and great Cuban food has made its way to the shores of Key West. Whether it’s a Cuban sandwich made with braised pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard pressed on crispy Cuban bread or a full-on feast of ropa vieja (stewed beef), black beans, yellow rice and sweet plantains, there’s plenty to choose from. Head to El Meson de Pepe (410 Wall Street) on Mallory Square for an authentic Cuban dish paired with a freshly mulled mojito. Made with extra-strong Cuban espresso, steamed milk and lots of sugar, the Cuban coffee tradition has also prevailed in Key West. Pair yours with Cuban toast with melted cheese, just like the locals do. Some classic Cuban coffee counters include Five Brothers Grocery & Sandwich Shop (930 Southard Street), Sandy’s Café (1026 White Street) and Cuban Coffee Queen (284 Margaret Street).
Key West is sometimes known as Margaritaville for the Jimmy Buffett song and the musician’s time spent on the island in the 1970s. Whether you head to Margaritaville (500 Duval Street) itself or to the top of the La Concha Hotel & Spa (430 Duval Street) for gorgeous views of Key West Harbor and Duval Street from the sixth-floor bar (it’s the tallest on the island), there are plenty of great places to enjoy a margarita in Key West.