First-time visitors to Key West arrive with certain expectations about what’s on the menu at restaurants, literally. While there’s certainly an abundance of seafood, frozen cocktails, and Key lime pie as far as your oversized sunnies will allow you to see, the city’s food scene is now a far more inventive one. The culinary renaissance that took over Miami several years ago has migrated to this southernmost city, where the unique cuisine draws on Caribbean and Cuban influences with a large emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.
While most restaurants are seafood-heavy (we’ve got nothing against a perfectly prepared plate of fresh hogfish, grouper, spiny lobster, or Key West pink shrimp) there are also plenty of new establishments that are serving up everything from tropical fruit-filled artisanal doughnuts to plates of tender pulled pork topped with Southern-style slaw. Of course, you can’t leave without trying a Cuban coffee, or a slice of that famous Key lime pie. So that you don’t miss any of it, from the classics to the surprises, we’ve compiled our editors’ picks of the best restaurants in Key West.
When your dinner plans call for a bit of romance, there are few better choices than Latitudes. Located on Sunset Key, a private island that can only be accessed by boat, your dinner at Latitudes begins with a scenic (albeit quick) boat ride to the eatery. It’s a fantastic way to set just the right mood for the rest of the evening, which is secluded enough to make you feel like the only two people on Earth. This is fine dining all the way, so do it right and order a bottle of wine to get started. As many of the ingredients are locally sourced, the menu changes often and features a number of seafood dishes like grilled lobster tail and seared grouper with coconut cracked conch salad. If you’re feeling more turf than surf, Wagyu beef is a menu staple.
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It would be easy to walk right by El Siboney without ever giving it a second look, what with its plain red-brick facade that looks more like a post office than one of Key West’s true culinary gems. But one taste is all it takes to realize what all the fuss is about. Everything about this Cuban eatery is old-school, right down to the pictures on the menu. The whole fried fish and garlic chicken are favorites with restaurant regulars, but it’s hard to go wrong with much of anything on this menu, which includes such Cuban staples as ropa vieja and picadillo. It’s a great place for small groups, both for its easy-on-the-wallet prices and its pitchers of homemade sangria.
A doughnut shop may not be the first place that pops into your head when you think of a city’s dining hotspots, but that only goes to show that you’ve never been to Glazed. What began in 2012 as a locals-only secret has morphed into a dining must for anyone visiting Key West. The secret? Husband-and-wife owners Megan and Jonathan Pidgeon take a traditional culinary approach to their creations, which is how you end up with a Key lime pie doughnut topped with torched meringue and other fresh fruit-filled delicacies like a peach blessed dossant and pineapple upside down brulée. A full coffee bar completes the experience, even if these doughnuts aren’t made for dipping.
If you enjoy the laidback vibe of breaking bread in what feels like your own backyard, with live music as your soundtrack and the occasional rooster or cat strutting by your table, Blue Heaven, an ultra-romantic restaurant that’s popular with couples, will feel like, well, heaven. Whether you’re ordering off the breakfast, lunch, or dinner menu, the eclectic cuisine fuses classic techniques with Caribbean spices and Keys flavors. You’ll find lots of seafood and jerk seasoning, as well as dishes like filet mignon and pork tenderloin. Just make sure to leave some room for a slice of their famous “Mile-High” Key lime pie.
Cuban Coffee Queen is a lively counter-service joint with three locations (all within one square mile of each other in the heart of town), any one of which makes an ideal spot for enjoying a bit of sunshine with your morning coffee. But don’t let the name fool you: Sure, they serve one of the best cups of joe in town—break away from your same-old caffeine fix and opt for one of their classic Cuban specialties, like a café con leche—but they serve up a whole lot more. Give the pressed Cuban bread with guava and cream cheese or one of their homemade sammies a try.
This chic wine bar and seafood eatery offers a fun take on the nautical theme that honors the restaurant’s surroundings without overwhelming diners with chintzy pirate gear and SCUBA seats as far as the eye can see. Where it does over-deliver is with its tasting menu, where you put yourself in the hands of the chefs and let them do their thing. If you’re lucky, their “thing” will include a serving of Japanese baby back ribs with Daikon slaw.
Though it’s located just off Duval Street in the bustling heart of Key West’s historic district, Cafe Marquesa feels worlds away from it all with its lush garden that offers a bit of privacy smack dab in the main tourist drag. The 50-seat restaurant’s simple yet elegant interior is the perfect match for a menu of classic dishes that have been reinvented and elevated in the process, making for a meal that feels familiar but tastes like nothing you’ve ever had before. Don’t skip the starters, either: the restaurant’s shrimp and grits with andouille sausage and country ham makes the perfect start to any meal, and the crispy pork osso bucco is one of those stick-to-your-ribs meals that you’ll be thinking (and talking) about for months to come.
When you’re looking for a meal on the go in Key West, you’d be hard pressed to find a better spot than this Bad Boy. Given the dearth of Mexican restaurants in the area, they could easily just serve up the basics and call it a day. But Bad Boy prides itself on crafting innovative cuisine with fresh, local, high-end ingredients, which is how you end up with dishes like the ground Kobe beef or zucchini and squash burritos. Choose from a wide array of sauces (we love the spicy sweetness of the fresh pineapple habanero), and if you can’t find a space at one of the handful of tables, take it to go and find a spot to plan an impromptu picnic.
Key West certainly isn’t lacking in seafood restaurants, but the A&B Lobster House is much more than that—it’s a fine dining institution that’s been serving up some of the area’s most decadent dishes since 1947. While the dining room is charming and has an upscale steakhouse feel, the wraparound balcony with perfect marina views is where you want to be. Watch the sun set and embrace the slower-paced life as you dine on customer favorites like Caribbean lobster thermidor with cremini mushrooms, grouper Oscar with crabmeat and leek mashed potatoes, or the strip steak au poivre with a gorgonzola potato gratin. In addition to an impressive wine menu, the restaurant—keeping with its timeless style—offers a full menu of classic cocktails like the Hemingway daiquiri (which seems appropriate, given where you are).
When you’re surrounded by water, it can be easy to gravitate toward a fresh helping of seafood at every meal. But the city has got some surprisingly great BBQ, too—and as the name suggests, it comes with a water view. The addictive “back country spring rolls” are a double-rolled and deep-fried mix of pork and collards served with sweet BBQ sauce and spicy mustard that will have your taste buds firing on all cylinders. While a pulled pork sandwich might sound like the most standard thing you can order, this one is anything but ordinary (it’s probably their signature rub, which they sell for you to take home, too). There’s a kid’s menu, which also makes it a great spot for the whole family. While it may put on a no-frills front with its red-and-white checked tablecloth-covered picnic tables, the food says otherwise.
Read the original article here: https://www.cntraveler.com/gallery/best-restaurants-in-key-west
Read Condé Nast Traveler’s complete Key West travel guide here.
Photo credit: Tamara Alvarez