Last updated on August 5th, 2019 at 12:03 pm
It may be a tiki bar for the first rum-runner of a Keys weekend, a margarita or simply a bowl of conch chowder capped with Key Lime pie.
It’s a Keys tradition.
We’re not offering a critical review of food or service, although survival and fame is testament to their quality. These are landmarks, venerable roadside cafes that have served locals and Keys visitors with good food for many years.
Is your favorite on this list?
This article also appeared in the Travel Section of the South Florida SunSentinel on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019.
SENIOR FRIJOLES, Key Largo — MM 103.9
Did I say something about your first margarita? For those who can’t wait after the 20-mile crossing from Florida City, this popular landmark may be your first stop. Doesn’t get much better than Mexican cuisine with a view of serene Blackwater Sound. And if the fajitas don’t strike your fancy, more choices can be found next door at Sundowners or Cactus Jack’s Pub. www.senorfrijolesrestaurant.com
HOBO’S CAFE, Key Largo — MM 101.5
My wife and I have been stopping at Hobo’s since it’s railroad-car origins on the southbound side of the Overseas Highway. Today it’s bigger and better. The larger kitchen feeds a bigger menu. Their New England clam chowder is among the best to be had, ever, and every one should try the dolphin (mahi mahi) reuben just once. In fact, you can’t go wrong with any of their fresh fish, most of it local. But the real reason we stop here is for the burgers. (What?) On a nice day, sit outside on the patio. hoboscafe.net
MRS. MAC’s KITCHEN, Key Largo — MM 99.4 and 99.0 (Mac II)
One Mrs. Mac is not enough, so the proprietors of Key Largo’s favorite eatery have opened up Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen II just a hop and a skip down the highway, making Mrs. Mac’s legendary chow accessible to both sides of the divided Overseas Highway. Fresh fish and grits is a standard, possibly outdone only by the blackened lobster and grits for breakfast. Moderately priced, the lunch menu runs the full gamut of Keys dishes with several takes on the fish of the day. Mrs. Mac’s dinner table is set with a variety of fish dishes and fried baskets, from cracked conch to alligator bites. Mrs. Mac lays claim to the best Key Lime pie anywhere, but so does everybody else in the Keys. You be the judge. mrsmacskitchen.com
HARRIETTE’S DINER, Key Largo — MM 95.7
After the divided Overseas Highway rejoins in Key Largo, there’s an unpretentious yellow shack on the right that is practically world famous and a favorite of locals. Some will tell you that there is no better place in the Keys for breakfast than Harriette’s. Everything they serve is homemade. Try their Key Lime muffins and their traditional southern breakfast offerings. Service is great, and the prices are budget-friendly. Goes to show that you can’t always judge a diner by it’s paint job. TripAdvisor Reviews
TWISTED SHRIMP, Islamorada — MM 87.7
A fairly recent addition to our roundup, this new Keys roadside eatery has quickly racked up a reputation for its fried shrimp, shrimp tacos and shrimp ’n grits. We’ve granted it landmark status. The moderately priced menu features some “Good Ole’ Jambalaya” with sausage and mahi mahi (optional). For a killer desert, try the chocolate-dipped Key Lime on a stick! The Twisted Shrimp is a shrimp-heavy adventure in Keys cuisine and a welcome newbie with instant Keys karma. twistedshrimp.com
LORELEI, Islamorada — MM 82
If you are driving by at sunset — or any time, really — pull off the Overseas Highway at the mermaid sign on the bay side near Mile Marker 82. Beyond the parking lots, Lorelei’s decks, chickee huts, palm trees and sandy waterfront create an expansive sunset view over the mangrove-lined bay. The menu is typical Florida Keys, but at sunset, with a band playing seven nights a week, the Lorelei is anything but typical. It’s the “pulse of Islamorada.” loreleicabanabar.com
ISLAMORADA FISH COMPANY, Islamorada — MM 81.5
This is the original Islamorada Fish Company, which has now aligned itself with Bass Pro Shops with locations all over the country, including Fort Lauderdale. A popular seafood market is out front, and the restaurant and sunset tiki bar are out back, part of the neighboring Worldwide Sportsman, the temple of fishing owned by Bass Pro. The restaurant has its own fishing fleet, so the fish is fresh off the boat. islamoradafishco.com
GREEN TURTLE INN, Islamorada — Mile Marker 81.3
The Green Turtle is the classic Keys roadside cafe, a survivor of multiple hurricanes dating back to 1947 when turtle soup was indeed on the menu. Although the restaurant has attained a little “class” since being rebuilt after 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, Keys casual is still the standard. Even if you don’t stay for the fresh catch of the day, you’ll still be welcomed at this port of call to join a brigade of barstool sailors. www.greenturtleinn.com
THE ISLAND FISH CO., Marathon — MM 54.5
Having undergone post-hurricane remodeling, the Island Fish Co. is no longer home to the longest tiki bar in the Keys. Taking it up a notch, this fabulous open-air eatery is now open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We found the prices reasonable, not to mention quite tasty. We loved the Indian River Steamers, a baker’s dozen (we got 15) littleneck clams served in its own broth. (Ask for fresh bread to dip.) You’ll want to try everything on the menu, from the Jalapeño corned beef hash for breakfast to the Dolphin (mahi mahi) Pico de Gallo at lunch or dinner. And you’ll love the open-air views of the marina from every table. islandfishco.com
WOODEN SPOON, Marathon — MM 51
One of my two favorite breakfast stops in Marathon, the other being The Stuffed Pig. A variety of tasty breakfast dishes include Oatmeal with raisins, banana and blueberries, tasty omelets ranging from veggie to meat lovers, French toast with fruits and nuts. Don’t skip the biscuits! Best biscuits in the Florida Keys. 7007 Overseas Hwy, Marathon. TripAdvisor Reviews
THE STUFFED PIG, Marathon — MM 49
The Stuffed Pig is my other favorite breakfast stop in Marathon. I’m always on the lookout for restaurants that serve flaky, battered fish fillets with my eggs, which is why I love this place. (Grits and Grunts). But if you’re a hog, try the namesake Pig’s Breakfast: 2 pancakes, 2 eggs, 2 bacon, 2 sausage, home fries and toast, accompanied by . I also have to admit to a weakness for their country fried steak and eggs (sorry, Porky). thestuffedpig.com
PORKY’S BAYSIDE BBQ, Marathon — MM 47.5
A funky open-air BBQ joint on the bayside just before the 7-Mile Bridge, Porky’s has been around since the 1950s and still holds its own as a classic Keys eatery. Besides a variety of pork BBQ dishes (smoked daily), try the Pina Colada Coconut Shrimp for an appetizer. In addition to Porky’s excellent BBQ, you’ll find a pleasing selection of fresh local seafood on the menu. If you don’t have time to linger through Porky’s famous Happy Hour, grab a mo-ho marinade Cuban sub for the road. porkysbaysidebbq.com
7 MILE GRILLE, Marathon — MM 47
This landmark eatery is at the foot of the Seven Mile Bridge in Marathon. I wouldn’t necessarily tag it as having the best road food, but it is good enough “Keys food” with fresh local fish and the moderate (to a point). The entrees can get pricey, considering it’s road food, but the sandwiches and burgers are priced right. At the 7 Mile Grille, the appeal is the ambiance and view, and with the beautiful world-famous bridge stretching ahead of you. The view is a winner. 7-mile-grill.com
SQUARE GROUPER BAR AND GRILL, Cudjoe Key — Mile Marker 22.5
Square Grouper is Keys lingo for a floating bale of marijuana, and more than a few have been fished from these waters. While the restaurant has only been on Cudjoe Key a few years, casual gourmet offerings have propelled this bar and grill to landmark status. Wiped out by Hurricane Irma two years ago, owner Lynn Bell climbed back with “My New Joint” upstairs as she rebuilt the Grouper. Today, a satellite Square Grouper has opened in Islamorada. www.squaregrouperbarandgrill.com
MANGROVE MAMA’S, Sugarloaf Key — MM 20
I would be remiss not to include Mangrove Mama’s on this list, although I honestly have never stopped here. However, everybody else in the world has dined here, and they keep going back, so it must be good. This restaurant is as Keysy as it gets, serving cracked conch and conch chowder, blackened dolphin bathed in blue cheese, coconut-encrusted grouper and a variety of fried seafood baskets. No meal here is complete without Mama’s famous Key Lime pie. mangrovemamas20.com
BABY’S COFFEE, Saddlebunch Keys — MM 15
If you’re not drinking Baby’s Coffee, then your just drinking coffee. Still recovering from near-destruction after Hurricane Irma, Baby’s is a survivor in the Keys tradition. You can still buy their fresh-roasted beans from a nondescript shack on the ocean side at Mile Marker 15. There are two locations, the other being in Louisiana. Once you’ve had a taste, you’ll be back for more. And more. In fact, you can order online and they’ll ship it to you. babyscoffee.com
Our readers have also suggested these noteworthy eateries:
Alabama Jacks, Card Sound — Just before the bridge on the mainland side of Card Sound Road, an alternate route to North Key Largo. Popular with day cruisers and bikers.
Keys Bites, Key Largo — MM 99 — Where the Overseas Highway splits. Reasonable prices.
Habano’s, Islamorada — MM 73.5. Cuban diner popular with locals and reasonably priced.
No Name Pub, Big Pine Key — MM 30.2. Off the highway but worth finding.
Pizzaworks, Big Pine Key — MM 30.2. Cozy NY-style pizzeria in the Big Pine Shopping Center
If you have a recommendation, let us know in the comments below.