There is nothing like the Florida Keys: a little bit of mainland Florida, a touch of the Caribbean and a whole lot of laid-back wonderful. The magic begins at Mile Marker 113, where the Florida Keys Scenic Highway begins, offering miles of mesmerizing views and secluded mangrove forests. By the time you reach Key West, you’ll have crossed 42 bridges over water, including the Famous Seven Mile Bridge. Along the way you will encounter a bounty of mouth-watering eats. Whether you crave conch fritters or that perfect key lime pie — here’s your foodie guide to the Florida Keys.
First stop, Key Largo, known as the diving capital of the world, stretches for 30 miles. It’s the largest of the Florida Keys, and draws millions of visitors every year. There are many great options for a quick bite or a relaxing sunset dinner on this island paradise.
A beautifully restored 1930’s Conch house. If you love stone crab and have a good appetite, then go for their ‘all-you-can-eat’ stone crab ($85.00, in season). You can also get snapper, sushi-grade tuna, and of course, conch fritters. Appetizers range from $6 to $16 and entrees $18 to $36.
Fish House Restaurant
While it’s cute and a little kitschy, there’s a pleasant atmosphere and the traditional conch-style food is outstanding. They have a second location called Encore, ‘just a cast away’, with a more extensive menu and a raw bar for oysters, shrimp and stone crab at market price. The mushroom appetizer has three large mushrooms stuffed with a large scallop, topped with a combo of spinach, andouille sausage and goat cheese at $13.99. Appetizers range from $4 to $14 and entrees from $19 to $33.
Key Largo Conch House
This family owned and operated restaurant has been featured on many TV shows including Emeril’s Florida as well as the Food Network and Man vs. Food. The atmosphere in this tropical café is laid back and homey; the best seating is on the front porch or the patio. The Conch Fritters and Crab Cake Appetizers are on the low end at $8.95, the rest of the appetizers up to $15 and entrees are $15 to $32.
Pilot House Marina, Restaurant and Glass Bottom Bar
An island-style ambiance with a casual bar setting greets guests at this Key Largo landmark. Appetizers are $5 to $15, entrees $11 to $28, and sandwiches $8 to $14. The glass bottom bar will surely intrigue children big and small and they even have a feeding tube for the kids to feed fish. The marina is of major interest; you can book a dinner cruise aboard the original steam powered ‘African Queen’.
Islamorada boasts more fishing vessels per square mile than any other vacation destination in the world and is also known as the sport fishing capital of the world. Marinas, boat rentals and dive shops are dotted throughout the island plus lots of entertainment, sports bars and comedy clubs. An interesting stop for ‘tastings’ might be the Florida Keys Brewing Co., where they are infusing local flavors – key lime, citrus, honey – into their brews.
Cheeca Lodge and Spa
The Cheeca Lodge & Spa boasts more than 1,200 feet of palm-fringed beach and crystal clear water. You can dine in one of their three restaurants: Atlantic’s Edge, Limoncello, or Nikai Sushi which all feature great food albeit on the pricey side. Try a lime agave martini in one of the two bars, the Chart Room or the open-air tiki-bar, where a dozen oysters cost $28, burgers $16 and pizzas range from $13 to $19.
Chef Michael’s, located just outside the Cheeca Lodge is more than the typical island seafood restaurant as they also offer prime meats and game. Appetizers range from $6 to $16, entrees from $20 to $38. Cool signage reads PEACE LOVE & HOGFISH. Reservations are recommended.
Beach-side dining and amazing sunsets– that’s what you get when you dine on one of the few natural beaches in the Florida Keys. As is the tradition, since 1967, Marker 88 has been serving some of Florida’s freshest seafood. They have become even more popular since the restaurant was used in the filming of Netflix series ‘Bloodline’. Appetizers range from $12 to $16 and entrees from $26 to $42.
The Lorelei Cabana Bar and Marina
Look for the mermaid at Mile Marker 82, bayside to reach the Lorelei Cabana Bar and Marina. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week with a little pizzazz called ‘Sunset Celebrations’ nightly and is quite reasonably priced for beachfront dinning. Appetizers are $7 to $14, entrees $15 to $24 and sandwiches $15.
Oltremare Ristorante at Amara Cay Resort
For traditional Italian cuisine with a tropical twist, head to Oltremare Ristorante. Guests have been praising this recently opened (after a $10 million renovation) resort and dining room. Appetizers range from $11 to $18, entrees from $17 to $45. Beachside they have a Tiki bar called Sparrows Rum Bar, where you can get an amazing prickly pear mojito.
Marathon is located in the heart of the Florida Keys, approximately 50 miles north of Key West and 50 miles south of Key Largo. Where else can you swim with dolphins, feed stingrays, view turtles and drive the ‘7-Mile Bridge’, made famous by the movie “True Lies.”
Porky’s Bayside Florida Keys
Porky’s is a casual, funky waterside eatery serving great BBQ, seafood and drinks. Appetizers are $6 to $15, Entrees are $10 to $30.
Keys Fisheries Market & Marina
Keys Fisheries is the Middle Keys most popular restaurant-seafood market, located just North of the 7 Mile Bridge. Appetizers range from $5 to $14, entrees from $11 to $27, and sandwiches from $11 to $17.
Secluded and quaint, the Hideaway Cafe is a nice place to escape the masses and enjoy some very good food. Located at the Rainbow Bend Resort, the Hideaway Cafe offers appetizers at $8 to $12, entrees $19 to $39, plus a children’s menu. Inquire about their extensive selection of wine and cigars.
Key West is impossible to describe in a few words as they (locals, know as Conchs) march to the beat of a different drum. It’s a tropical circus with nightly celebrations like the Duval Crawl where you ‘shop-eat-drink-then-repeat’ and the ‘Sunset Celebrations’ at Mallory Square – the best place for people watching. There’s a festival for everything: ‘Hemmingway Days’ and the annual Hemmingway look-alike contest; the multi-themed ‘Fantasy Fest’ in October when everyone parties (costumes are a must) at the ‘Pimp and Ho’ bash or Sloppy Joes ‘Toga Party’ to name a few.
Conch Republic Seafood Company
The historically famous Conch Republic has been serving the daily catch since the 1890’s. It’s a large place where the atmosphere is very laid back, the music live and the staff attentive. There’s a large open seating area on the marina with an ocean breeze. Some of their best dishes include Stuffed Mushrooms, Sesame Crusted Tuna Tataki and Blackened Hogfish. Check to see if the Royal Reds are on the menu– if not you might want to ask for them, they’re great shrimps.
This wonderful restaurant has an unobstructed sweeping view of the Atlantic, serving authentic Italian cuisine. They have a good wine list and a wide range of martinis (Monday is $5 Martini Night). Appetizers range from $10 to $14, entrees from $14 to $37.
Blue Heaven is a fun and funky spot where the chickens and cats have become almost as well-known as the food. You can dine al fresco under canopies of tropical foliage, surrounded by improvised art or inside with the AC. This is considered one of the best places for breakfast or brunch. The popular items are the scrambled eggs with cheese and bacon-potatoes and the Bacon Lobster and Tomato Benedict. Don’t forget to order the Key Lime pie as it’s considered one of the best in the Keys.
This is a unique restaurant experience featuring Mediterranean specialties. You can dine on the shaded terrace or in the comfort of their cool blue dining room. They serve old favorites, some with a new twist, hearty breakfasts and seafood dinners. Appetizers range from $9 to $16 and entrees $15 to $29.
Cuban Coffee Queen
If you’re looking for the best coffee in Key West then make a stop at the Cuban Coffee Queen where you’ll also find great Cuban sandwiches. Give their incredibly popular fruit smoothies a try! Sandwiches are $5 to $8, Breakfast $4 to $7 and beverages, including coffee, are $1 to $4.
Latitudes at Sunset Key
Latitudes, is an upscale restaurant on tranquil Sunset Key, just 500 yards off the bar-hopping scene of Key West. You can dine in luxury in the Ernest Hemingway Room or outdoors overlooking the Gulf of Mexico where tiki torches illuminate the night sky. You access this little Paradise by motor-launch from the Westin Key West Resort Marina, it’s just a 7-minute ride away. Appetizers range from $9 to $28 and entrees $30 to $44.
For information about Florida Keys Food Festivals – and there are quite a few throughout the year – visit the Key’s Events page.
About the Author: A consummate traveler from an early age, Parm Parmar, lives to explore the world. Anything to do with history, culture and food peeks her interest. Her stories appear on her blog Planet Blue Adventure, in print and on popular online travel sites. Parm is a member of North America Travel Journalists Association and Travel Massive.