The Best Restaurants
Let’s face it, Key West is known for it’s Bars! Most bars aren’t known for their food. Sloppy Joe’s is a slight exception, since they serve Key West pink shrimp. These shrimp are only found in certain deep waters around the Keys. The pinks have a mild, sweet flavor and a pink shell. Once you have tried them, you will know the flavor. Many restaurants serve Key West pinks, but ask to be certain. I consider a restaurant’s choice to serve an exceptional shrimp a positive for their willingness to spend a little extra for a special product.
Other than Sloppy Joe’s shrimp choice, the most prominent bars like Captain Tony’s, Hogs Breath, Irish Kevin’s and the Green Parrot serve little food or food we suggest is not as good as other choices on the island. Another partial Exception is the Schooner Wharf along the waterfront at Key West Bight Marina. Somehow this dilapidated, gravel for a floor bar serves a very good hamburger – and it is on the waterfront!
Below are some of Florida Travel Log’s favorites on the rest of the island.
Upscale Restaurant Choices
For the best formal food on the island there are only a couple places we note as exceptional. Louie’s Backyard at the south end of Duval Street, near the southernmost point is my favorite. Louie’s has been serving Caribbean style entrees for over 50 years. The restaurant is in an old Victorian home with a magnificent ocean view. I am told the same award-winning chef has been there for 30 years.
On the other end of the island at Key West Bight Marina you will find A&B Lobster
House. Not many restaurants can say they have been around since right after World War II, but A&B has been serving exquisite seafood that long. They overlook the marina and offer white tablecloth service nightly. Reservations are recommended.
Just Good Food
If you want good basic food that covers all the bases, try Jack Flats in the middle of Duval Street. They have a large menu and the quality is above average. Nothing fancy, but Jack Flats has a sports bar feel with better food. They are easy to miss and don’t let the small door fool you, it opens into a huge space.
For breakfast you must try Blue Heaven. This quirky outdoor restaurant serves some of the best Key West breakfast food in a unique setting. They are in a tropical setting
with plenty of birds and chickens roaming the grounds. The menu is large, but they are known for their pies in addition to the early morning offerings. Blue Heaven is located over on the west side of the Key West, a couple blocks from The Hemingway House on Petronia Street. By the way, if you don’t like chickens, you won’t like Key West – they are everywhere. Walking either way on Whitehead Street you will find a lot of hens and their chicks roaming the streets.
The fame of the Hogfish Bar & Grill over on Stock Island comes partly for their exceptional food. It is possible our first taste of Hogfish came from this bar 20
plus years ago. Now their Hogfish Sandwich has such fame, people stop at the Hogfish as they drive into Key West from points unknown. However, don’t be fooled – this is a BAR with a reputation for food. Finding the Hogfish Bar & Grill can be a little tricky – use a good GPS and look for Front Street along the waterfront on Stock Island which is across the small bridge as you leave Key West. It’s worth the stop and even more fun if you stroll the docks with a beer in hand. Some of the craftsmen have their shops open. They do everything from marine woodwork to art objects from junk! You may even see a manatee or two along your walk. We can also recommend Roostica. This wood fired pizza restaurant is located on the way to Hogfish Grill. The owner of Hogfish started this pizza restaurant in 2016.
In OLD Town, an area of town with classic homes from the days of shotgun homes, cottages, and conch homes built in the early 1900’s, you must give Sarabeth’s a try. This quaint little place is located in a colorful remodeled home on Simonton Street. Sarabeth’s started making marmalades from an old family recipe and eventually turned that into a healthy restaurant business. Known for Key West classic dishes with plenty of fruits and pastries, their breakfast is excellent. We haven’t tried lunch, since long lines kept us from joining the waiting crowd.
For the first dozen visits to Key West we avoided a place called Pepe’s. It was in a ramshackle looking building on Caroline Street that we passed when leaving the docks from the Key West Express. I wasn’t looking for Cuban food was my thought. As with everything else in Key West, nothing is what it seems to be. There is nothing Cuban or Spanish about Pepe’s menu. This is a popular local’s hangout. I think they refuse to paint and fix up the exterior to keep the tourists out! Breakfast, lunch or dinner – never had a bad experience here.
Over on the edge of Bahama Village, near Truman Annex in the upper Duval corridor on a little street called Petronia is a small restaurant called Santiago’s Bodega. This place is great for dinner even if it is hard to find! The decor may be old stuff gone vogue as a style. No matter, the food is really good. They call themselves a “Tapas” restaurant, but most of these small plates are dinner, not small plates. Try the croquettas, beef tenderloin, pinchos moriunos or the brussels sprouts – all excellent. This is another place where you generally need a reservation, and it is worth it.
Along Caroline Street at William Street about a block south of the Schooner Wharf, is a rustic ramshackle building called BO’s Fish Wagon. Yes, it was a wagon at one time , but now it looks like a hurricane dropped some scrap material there. Go ahead and click on the link to BO’s Fish Wagon. We can’t describe the dog friendly BO”s, but they have a great grouper sandwich!
Handhelds Along Duval
Most people spend a good part of their day roaming Duval Street shopping, drinking or looking for something to eat. A couple places of note to curb your
DJ’s is known for their Ipswich Clams. These whole belly morsels are the favorite of anyone who has been in the northeast United States. DJ’s menu also includes shrimp, chicken fingers and fish. A couple years ago Guy Fieri and the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives show visited DJ’s and sent business through the roof! DJ’s is about the middle of Duval at 629 Duval.
The Conch Shack is at 114 Duval Street just a block from Sloppy Joe’s and the Hogs Breath Saloon. You can imagine how hungry patrons mob a place like the Conch Shack when the bars close. They advertise the best Conch Fritters on the island, but we would suggest they also have one of the best Lobster Rolls! The buttery roll they serve with exceptional amounts of lobster makes this a favorite when walking Duval. Their quarter pound, bacon wrapped hot dog is also worth the money. Visit the Conch Shack and you will find some handheld food to your liking.
A Few Notable Restaurants
It’s hard not to mention the Half Shell Raw Bar for food. They have the best place to get fresh oysters and clams on the half shell. The Half Shell is along the Harborwalk at the Historic Seaport. The Seaport is a name for the area around Key West Bight Marina. There is a Harborwalk around the perimeter from A&B Lobster House to The Half Shell Raw Bar.
Ifyou start from A&B Lobster House, about 100 yards away along the waterfront is the Conch Republic Seafood Company. This large bar and restaurant maintains their own boats and offers some of the freshest fish you will find in town. The Conch Republic sometimes has fresh yellow trail snapper that is excellent.
If you have over indulged in seafood and want to try Italian, we would recommend the La Trattoria on Duval. This white table cloth traditional Italian
restaurant will please you with their food and wine selections. Another popular ethnic food is Cuban. The proximity to Cuba and the Spanish heritage in Key West make Cuban food a choice of the locals. El Meson De Pepe is an excellent Cuban restaurant that is next to Mallory Square. Not only is the food good, but they make the best mojitos on the island!
And finally, one of our favorites! If you have been out enjoying the sights, sounds and pleasures of Key West and end up wanting a good cup of coffee about 7 in the morning, get over to 429 Eaton street to Glazed Donuts. We found this little shop about three years ago on a quest to find something open at that time of the day with coffee. We found this little shop producing some great java, but homemade donuts as fresh as minutes old will find you at their counter picking out one of these soft, warm pastries. Try their apple fritter for something that will stick with you all morning and cure whatever ailments Duval Street produced the night before.
That’s our thoughts on Key West’s best food and restaurants. Send us your best Key West restaurant suggestions. We are always adding new places, but, of course, we must sample the goods!