Conchs and gulf shrimp and grouper, oh my!
The food in Key West is downright delicious. Once upon a nighttime walk with my parents, we stopped at an information booth and inquired about the very best restaurant on the island. The woman working merely shrugged and told us it was all good. At first, I was a little peeved about her response. I want to experience the very best, dammit!
After one week of snacking and dining in Key West and nary a poor meal in sight, I have to agree; this place has some fantastic food, especially when it comes to sandwiches. While I’m sure there are tourist traps serving subpar dishes, it’s worth saving room for the foodie havens below.
Best Lunch: B.O.’s Fish Wagon
801 Caroline Street
The best fish sandwiches with a beachy attitude.
This humble counter looks as if it were plucked right out of Bikini Bottom. I was lucky enough to stay so close that I could see the specials from the veranda, and boy did I take advantage. Owner Buddy Owen began his seafood serving skills with a wagon on Duval over 25 years ago. This place had the very best conch fritters I’ve ever had, crispy but not at all greasy. They sold fish in both platter and sandwich form, with grouper, soft shell crab, fried shrimp, conch and a fish of the day, served with key lime sauce which is as awesome as it sounds. This place is an absolute must for fish lovers.
6810 Front Street
Fantastic fish-based bar food right on the docks.
It’s a bit of a trek out to Stock Island, but if you have a car or a bike I suggest heading to Hogfish for one of the most awesome lobster rolls. I suggest sitting by the water near the docks where you can watch the pelicans and boats while enjoying supremely fresh seafood. While the drink list is pretty average, this local-favorite is worth the trip.
1111 Eaton Street
Deli style sandwiches on freshly baked bread: simple but killer.
If you find yourself tiring of seafood, then head over to Cole’s Peace for an island take on deli sandwiches. Before we even get to the fillings, let’s talk about the bread. It’s not easy to achieve a nice crust with that much humidity, but Cole’s rises to the challenge, using all-natural wheat flour. Their wholegrain mango sandwich bread is filled with endless sandwich potential. All of their sandwiches look fantastic, but I’ve a fancy for the Cobba Lotta, stuffed with roast turkey breast, smoked bacon, bleu cheese, avocado, a boiled egg, lettuce, tomato, red onion and a drizzle of raspberry vinaigrette on Ciabatta Bread. If you can’t give up your seafood kick, than go for the day boat special sandwich! They also serve pastries, baguettes and an awesome array of cheeses. The best beer selection on the island is next door at The Restaurant Store.
801 Eaton St
Fresh seafood in the heart of old town
We were lucky to stay a mere block away from this market. The display case selection is gorgeous, with crab claws, lobster tail, shrimp and other locally caught fish. You’re also able to select any thing on display, and they’ll fry it up and put it on a ciabatta bun with fixings. We went to town on a snowy grouper sandwich with a side of plantain chips. It’s certainly in the running for one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had, if only for that buttery grouper. The store also has a pretty decent beer selection.
900 Catherine St
The best Cuban food on the island for those “in the know.”
I have been avoiding Cuban food in Chicago, as I’m always disappointed with a plate of dry, boring meat, but at El Siboney I even enjoyed the sangria. Everything is delicious, but the roast pork #1 is awesome. I also adored the garlic shrimp and the plantains. The food is simple, straightforward, and budget friendly. If you’re smarter than me you’ll call an hour ahead and order their paella.
223 Petronia St
Southern style kitchen with some awesome breakfast cocktails
Southern food is best at brunch. Their breakfast cocktails are great, especially their super spicy michelada. Some of the dishes were much better than others, however. The shrimp and grits and pulled pork were both great and the biscuits and gravy were super tasty, though the biscuit was more of a bread-y mountain in its gargantuan form. One of my favorite brunch treats, chicken and waffles was pretty bad. The waffle was soggy and cold, the chicken was dry and the maple sauce lacked any maple flavor. Furthermore, the service was friendly but very slow. It’s pretty hit or miss over all, but I’m happy I went.
Best Date Night: Seven Fish
632 Olivia Street
Simple, comforting bistro serving simple meals and plenty of local seafood.
Located near the graveyard, Seven Fish is the ultimate island bistro, with large portions, reasonable prices and food so good you’ll need a cigarette and a nap afterwards. We began the meal by indulging in an incredible grouper sushi roll and a fresh plate of conch ceviche for appetizers. For an entree, we went for the scallops with mashed potatoes. This dish came with 6 huge, juicy scallops on a mound of incredible mashed potatoes and pea puree. I actually hate mashed potatoes, but this savory mountain rocked my biases out of sight. We also enjoyed the yellow tail snapper wrapped in red thai curry with vegetables abed with the most aromatic, risotto-like jasmine rice. Both dishes are served with a fluffy, velvety focaccia bread they make in-house, which is not to be ignored. It’s a big meal but you have to save room for dessert. We indulged in the strawberry and whipped cream pie with a layer of dark chocolate ganache ont op of a walnut graham cracker crust. Simple, comforting and entirely delicious! Reservations are highly recommended.