Florida Keys / Unique Eats

Eight Key West restaurants for authentic local flavor

Key West has so many restaurants that it’s hard to make a decision where to eat.  Next time I go, though, I have an intriguing list of restaurants filled with local color and character– and I’m sharing it with you.

My list comes via a terrific blog — http://chibbqking.blogspot.com – produced by Titus Ruscitti (aka KingT), a Chicago foodie who loves to explore in a style Florida Rambler approves. Ruscitti writes: “I’m the type who starts looking at fun local places to eat and drink before I even start looking at where to stay when planning a vacation. When time allows in summer I really like to get around by car and explore the different regional eats of our country.”

So when Ruscitti visited Key West, one of his first stops was the Hogfish Grill, which he discovered via Florida Rambler. His verdict:  “So good I went there three times.”

Fortunately,  Ruscitti continued to eat  his way through Key West.

He posted an extensive story about Key West, including his favorite attractions and things to do, on his own blog. And he agreed to let Florida Rambler highlight eight restaurants he recommended for true Key West flavor. (There’s a lot more on KingT’s blog, so if you like this, visit it.)

Here’s KingT’s take on the best local food and restaurants in Key West:

 

Best Happy Hour:  Alonzo’s

Happy hour eats at Alonzo’s

Happy Hour is a big part of the lifestyle down here so you might as well embrace it.

Key West always has that chillaxed vibe going for it and there are quite a few places to take advantage of food and drink deals.

The best of the bunch is Alonzo’s Oyster Bar. The entire appetizer page, as well as drinks, are half off. I tried them all. Their famous Key Lime Martini isn’t a bad way to end a meal of their addictive beer steamed shrimp and mussels in marinara, which were my faves. I prefer cold water oysters and their $2 ones from Vancouver and Martha’s Vineyard were really good. Get there early to take advantage of the bars seats.

Right next door to Alonzo’s is a place that serves ice cold bottles of beer for $2 for three and freshly shucked gulf oysters for 50 cents apiece, all day everyday.  Just be sure to tip your shucker. We had some great chats about his homeland Jamaica, another favorite Caribbean getaway of mine.

 

Great grouper sandwich:  B.O’s Fish Wagon

BO's Fish Wagon: That funky Key West feel

BO’s Fish Wagon: That funky Key West feel

This place has long been a popular spot run by a longtime Key West character.

It’s a no-frills open-air bar where they make a mean grouper sandwich. It comes perfectly fried with a light cornmeal breading served on some really fresh bread.

Their hand-cut fries show you they don’t mind taking the little extra time to serve a superior product even though Key West is a place where you can get away with doing half-assed things as far as food goes. (Though I was told it’s getting a lot better.)

 

Late night eats: Sandy’s Cafe  for medianoche

Sandy’s Cafe: 24 hour eats

If you find yourself hungry after a few too many rum runners and it’s 11 p.m., you need not worry.

Sandy’s Cafe, attached to a laundromat with a walk up window and a few seats outside, is open until midnight.

I had a very tasty medianoche (midnight) sandwich that hit the spot. A medianoche is a close cousin of the Cuban sandwich with the difference being the bread. It uses a soft, sweet egg dough bread not too different from challah.

Medianoche Sandwich at Sandy’s

Kim’s Kuban: Great take-out Cuban sandwich

One morning and early afternoon was spent on my friend’s yacht.  Instead of getting stuffed before setting foot on the boat, I ran over to Kim’s Kuban, which isn’t far from the harbor. They make a tasty Cuban sandwich and some very good toasted bread with butter. In the pic you can see the pepperoni , which isn’t all that unusual. In Tampa (where the sandwich was born) they add salami. These were perfect for a snack later on the water.

Kim’s Kuban for Cuban sandwich

  • Kim’s Kuban (No website; here’s the Yelp reviews)
  • 2300 North Roosevelt Boulevard
  • Key West, FL 33040
  • (305) 296-2878

 

Garbo’s Grill: Memorable mahi fish tacos

Garbo’s Grill is ranked on TripAdvisor  as one of the top rated place to eat in Key West. This is the type of spot you’re going to remember eating at in the Keys. Nothing fancy here but the mahi mahi fish tacos with mango and jalapeno are some of the most amazing fish tacos you’ll ever have. This is what Key West food is all about: Nothing fancy, but oh so fresh and so good.

It’s a little hard to find, you can expect to wait in line and seating is limited. But folks say the good is worth it.

Mahi fish tacos at Garbo’s Grill: Almost worth the trip to Key West by themselves

Seven Fish: One of the best dishes I ate all year

I had read and been told by my boss to get to this place located just off the chaos of Duval street. Even though I had just eaten an hour before and wasn’t all that hungry, I squeezed it in on my last night in town. It’s small and reservations are usually required. We didn’t make them, but were able to get a seat around 9 p.m. after putting our name in. The menu focuses on simple fresh good food with an emphasis on fish.

The folks running this place, from the waitresses to the owners, were really warm and welcoming. We started with another excellent example of a fish taco, this one made with local cobia fish. The plan was to share a seafood dish made with some homemade pasta, but our waitress asked if we were sure we didn’t want to try their signature dish. It wasn’t hard to convince us.

Holy shit, am I glad she did! One of the best dishes I ate all year. It was snapper sauteed with fresh garlic and ginger and served with a creamy curry coconut sauce over sticky rice with fresh local veggies. Fan-flipping-tastic. On top of that, she split our plates up for us and I would have been satisfied with the portion I got as a whole serving. Well worth the few extra bucks in my book. Don’t miss this place.

  • Seven Fish
  • 921 Truman Ave.
  • Key West, FL 33040
  • (305) 296-2777

 

The Conch Shack: Fantastic fritters

Conch Shack in Key West

On our last night before the fantastic dinner at Seven Fish, I realized I hadn’t even tried two of the signature local eats on the island. So while we waited for our table at dinner I over- indulged in some conch fritters from the Conch Shack.

We chatted with one of the owners who started this place in 2009. He and his partners worked in catering and use the same recipe used by the 90-year-old Bahamian grandmother of one partner. The old family recipe is a fantastic rendition and brought me back to the Abaco Islands, where we went on a family vacation years ago. These seemed to be the most popular conch fritters in town, and I could taste why.

 Hogfish Bar & Grill: Where locals eat

Specialty of the House: “Killer” Hogfish Sandwich at Hogfish Grill

While on the road, I take great pleasure in finding the spots where locals like to eat and drink. The Hogfish bar is a perfect example why.  This Florida Rambler-recommended bar and restaurant was so good I went there three times.

Located on Stock Island, which is where the local commercial shrimp boats used to moor, it’s off the beaten path past some trailer homes. (Hey if you’re going to live in one, might as well be here.) Hogfish is near the beginning of town and well worth finding. (Not all that hard either, if you have a GPS in your car or phone.)

This is a great local watering hole with some stereotype- fitting Key West characters lurking inside, especially during the night. They had a great mom and daughter bartending team and they specialize in hogfish. It’s spear-caught and available when they have it, so when they do, make sure to get some. The house sandwich was sensational: Blackened hogfish smothered with Swiss Cheese, Onions and Mushrooms on fresh Cuban Bread. So good I had it twice.

 

If you’re intrigued by KingT’s reviews, you’ll want to read his roundup of South Florida restaurants. While staying in Boynton Beach and venturing to Miami Beach, he visited a few places we know and love (La Spada for Hoagies; Southport Raw Bar) and few places we’re now going to try (Sheila’s Famous BBQ, Conch, & More in West  Palm Beach and Big Al’s Steaks in Delray Beach.) Here is KingT’s foray into South Florida, including Little Haiti, Little Havana and Miami Beach.

Resources for planning a Florida Keys vacation

 

Special places to discover in the Lower Keys and Key West

Camping and lodging

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5 Comments

  1. Great article! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hit the nail on the head with this one, Bonnie! Great article!

  3. Bonnie, what a great article. We must have similar taste, these are some of my most favorite spots in Key West. All the best, Kim

  4. Mike oneill says:

    In the 50s the beach at the Zachary fort was called
    Patio beach and was mostly pebbles and coral on
    The littoral.navy maintained a food/drink shack back in
    The trees.delightful spot.In key west.

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