The Best Food in Key West and Where to Find It
If we are going to talk about the best food in Key West Florida, we need to talk about what food is unique to Key West and the Florida Keys.
After determining some special things to eat, we can discuss where the best restaurants in Key West are and where to get the best food in Key West.
As an island that has the Gulf on Mexico on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other side, there are some opportunities to get seafood in Key West that is most likely hard to find in other places. The seafood brought to your table should be fresh off the boats.
Commercial fishermen come in everyday with fish, shrimp, lobster and other exotic catches found in these unique waters. We highlight many of these delectable things the sea has to offer.
We focus on the foods most served in Key West and readily available. Being an island, Key West’s most notable food is seafood. We look at the various types of seafood and then ultimately where to find it.
This 2-mile by 4-milie long island serves a lot of food to visitors from around the world. Eventually, the best restaurants come to the surface over time. Those great places on the island you will find here.
Table of Contents
Best Seafood in Key West and Where to Find the Best Seafood in Key West
Best Shrimp in Key West
Let’s face it, Key West is known for its bars, attractions and quirky Duval Street! You rarely hear people talk about the food that is indigenous to this area or the remarkable restaurants in Key West. One of those foods found only in this area is Key West pink shrimp, commonly known as “Key West Pinks”. 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 exceptional shrimp a positive for their willingness to spend a little extra for a special local product.
It is also common for some of the well known bars to serve Key West Pinks. Nothing better than enjoying your favorite refreshment while munching on some fresh shrimp. Note the word “fresh”.
Most shrimp served throughout the country are frozen and then thawed by restaurants and seafood sellers. Most restaurants in Key West who choose to serve pinks can get them from a local fresh shrimp wholesaler.
Best Fish in Key West
Once again, before we know where to eat fresh fish, we need to know what fish to eat in Key West.
The fresh fish you most commonly see in the Florida Keys are grouper, snapper, cobia, mahi and amberjack.
Grouper and snapper has sub species like red grouper, black grouper, gag grouper. Then there is red snapper, mutton snapper, mangrove snapper and several others.
In our opinion, three fish stand out among all the others available in Key West. Yellowtail Snapper, Hogfish and Black Grouper are the best fish in Key West and all of the Keys.
There is nothing wrong with the other species named, except maybe the bony amberjack, but black grouper, hogfish and yellowtail snapper are fresh fish you find in the better restaurants when they are available. All three have a mild, white texture that needs nothing more than salt, pepper and perhaps a grill.
When visiting local restaurants ask for one of these fresh fish often served in Key West. Once again the term fresh is important. It’s all about the flavor.
Best Seafood in Key West
As we stated above, Key West has bars and restaurants all over this island. Most serve seafood of some kind. Not all serve the fresh fish and shrimp we have recommended. Others may serve ethnic cuisine that may not be adaptable to seafood.
Other fresh seafood we generally see on the island includes oysters, clams, spiny lobster and octopus. Oysters and clams are mostly imported from other areas of Florida like Cedar Key and Apalachicola. Some oysters and clams we have seen are part of aquaculture technology in the above areas.
So where do we find the best seafood in Key West? Our suggestions –
On the south part of the island near the Southernmost Buoy, is a candidate for the best restaurant in Key West as well as the best seafood in Key West. We have extolled our experiences at Louie’s many times.
This is one of the oldest restaurants in Key West. An upscale restaurant overlooking Key West Bight Marina.
If you are ready to sit down to a dozen raw oysters and a couple of beers, this is the place to do it. At the east end of Key West Bight Marina.
Hogfish is much like snapper with a small flake, mild taste and pure white color. One restaurant has made a living selling hogfish sandwiches and other specialties over on Stock Island. Hogfish Bar & Grill is the best seafood in Key West for casual dining and the best seafood in Key West with their hogfish sandwich. A little off the island, but a great rustic place to dine.
These aren’t the only places to get good seafood in Key West, but they are the most prominent. Some other choices include;
Best Lobster Roll in Key West
While we are talking about the best seafood in Key West, there is an ongoing debate about who has the best lobster roll in Key West. Three restaurants claim their share of that debate.
The Conch Shack at 114 Duval Street is mainly known for their conch fritters, but their lobster roll is one of the best lobster rolls in Key West.
We mentioned DJ’s Clam Shack earlier. They also have a very good lobster roll that many people say is the best.
The latest entry into the best lobster roll in Key West is The Lobster Shack on South Street at the south end of Duval. We haven’t tried this one, but understand it equals the other two.
Our vote for the best lobster roll in Key West is…. well, maybe we better go back and try all three to make a decision.
Best Italian Restaurants in Key West
It has always been amazing to us that people come hundreds or thousands of miles to an island and then look for the best Italian food in Key West. That was our opinion until we tried going for a week without pizza!
There is something about the blend of red sauce, Parmesan cheese, herbs and good bread that becomes addictive. To that end, we decided to find the best Italian restaurant in Key West. There are many more Italian restaurants in Key West than we thought.
We think La Trattitoria on Duval Street is the best Italian restaurant for fine dining. Not only do they serve exceptional Italian cuisine, but they have a wide selection of wines. La Trattoria has another location on Oceanside that we haven’t tried, but would guess they are very good also.
Antonia’s Restaurant, also on Duval Street, is superb. They have some of the best veal we ever had.
For good casual Italian dining and some excellent wood-fired pizza, Roostica over on Stock Island would be our choice. That is a sister restaurant to Hogfish Grill mentioned in the seafood section.
Best Cuban Food in Key West
Key West history is inextricably attached to Cuban history. There are a multitude of reasons, but most of the heritage in Key West comes from the exiles and immigrants from Cuba who settled and developed Key West.
Looking around Key West and you will see evidence of the Cuban culture everywhere. From the architecture, music, street names and restaurants Cuban influence is distinctive.
The best Cuban Food in Key West is narrowed down to two sources.
The most famous Cuban restaurant is El Meson de Pepe. Located just off Mallory Square, El Meson has a wide range of traditional Cuban dishes. They are always very busy, but the service is excellent.
On many occasions El Meson de Pepe has a crowd watching a Cuban band and the dancers.
The other highly recommended restaurant for the best Cuban food in Key West is El Siboney restaurant located on Katherine Street. Relaxed atmosphere and very good service.
We must give a shout out to the Cuban Coffee Queen. We were out one morning well before daylight looking for much-needed coffee. We stumbled upon the Cuban Coffee Queen behind The Waterfront Brewery and Turtle Kraals (which is renamed). The coffee was authentic and well beyond the more famous brand located on every corner. They do have some sandwiches and other snacks, but the Cuban coffee is the specialty.
The best food in Key West could be one of the Cuban restaurants.
Best Breakfast in Key West
After a night on Duval Street, we have seen people who never eat breakfast decide they really need something to eat early!
For breakfast, you must try Blue Heaven. This quirky outdoor restaurant serves some of the best food in Key West for breakfast in a unique setting. The Blue Heaven is 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.
Our second choice for best breakfast in Key West is in OLD Town, an area of town with classic homes from the days of shotgun homes, cottages, and conch homes built in the early 1900s. 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.
A third idea for breakfast if you are north near 0 Duval Street, is Two Friends Patio Restaurant. This place has been around for 25 or 30 years serving food on Front Street just a block off Duval.
If you have been out enjoying the sights, sounds and pleasures of Key West and end up wanting a good cup of coffee at 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 quaint 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.
If you are looking for the best breakfast in Key West, one of these recommendations will work just fine.
Best Lunch in Key West
If you haven’t already considered some of the above restaurants for the best lunch in Key West, here are a few other choices.
Caroline’s Cafe is a cool place for lunch for several reasons. They do have a good menu, but the artists around the area and the people walking along Duval Street create a dramatic setting. Caroline’s can be found at Duval and Caroline Street.
Over on Whitehead Street, not far from Hemingway’s Home, is a place we love for breakfast and lunch too. It is called Moondog Cafe. The street side restaurant serves fresh salads and piled high sandwiches.
If the view is as important as the food, then head over to the Opal Key Resort near Mallory Square. At the beginning of the channel is Bistro 245. The boat traffic in and out of Key West comes through this wide channel. The food won’t be your focus because the yachts, sailboats, cruise ships, Coast Guard cutters and fishing boats will keep you busy watching the channel and not caring about the food..
Speaking of boats, we mentioned this place before, but Schooner Wharf is a local’s hang out at Key West Bight Marina. They have one of the best burgers on the island served about 10 feet from one of the busiest marinas in the Florida Keys. They are a contender for the best lunch in Key West if you like a rustic fisherman’s bar at the wharf.
These are just a few of the hundred plus restaurants in the Conch Republic trying to serve the best lunch in Key West
Good Food in Key West
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 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. We weren’t looking for Cuban food was the thought with the name and looks of the building.
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. We 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.
Along Caroline Street at William Street about a block south of the Schooner Wharf, is a rustic 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!
These places are all decent choices for good food in Key West.
Best Waterfront Restaurants in Key West
Sometimes we are looking for more to see, rather than what there is to eat in Key West. That’s when you are looking for the best waterfront restaurants in Key West.
We have already offered a couple of suggestions such as Bistro 245 and the restaurants at the marina. Here are a few more where we love the views.
Lagerheads – At the end of Simonton Street there is a little known beach in Key West. The shack on the left as you enter the end of the roadway is Lagerheads. Decent food, great views and plenty of water. Try the fish tacos here.
Southernmost Beach Cafe – Clear at the other end of the islad from Lagerheads, is a patch of sand behind the Southernmost Hotel that has a Cafe we love. The Southernmost beach Cafe looks out at the Atlantic Ocean while you sip on a magarita for lunch.
Hurricane Hole – People always ask, Where can you see manatees in Key West”. The very rustic looking Hurricane Hole just over the bridge on A1A is you best shot on a daily basis. They have a quite pool of water behind the restaurant that seems to always have manatees milling around.
Sunset Pier – Perhaps the ultimate water front restaurant from a view perspective is the Sunset Pier Behind Ocean Key Resort at 0 Duval Street. This long pier is known for awesome sunsets, nightly entertainment and a view of the channel. Food may not be 5 star, but the setting is great.
When looking for the best waterfront restaurants in Key West, don’t forget the ones we have mentioned previously.
These are all known for exceptional food –
The Waterfront Brewery
The Conch Republic Seafood Company
A&B Lobster House
Hot Tin Roof
All of these qualify for the best waterfront restaurants in Key West. There are no bad ones!
Best Dinner in Key West
Breakfast and lunch are covered. Now, as sunset starts in the west we need to plan the best dinner in Key West.
Several of the restaurants we have covered during our journey into the best food in Key West will qualify. However, there are some qualities of a couple of restaurants that stand out when it’s time for that special meal of the day.
If we had to choose just one restaurant for the best dinner in Key West it would be a place called Latitudes. Not only does this exclusive restaurant serve some of the most delicious food in Key West, it is a fun excursion getting there and back.
Latitudes is on Sunset Key. Many people have never heard of Sunset Key, yet it is an island they have seen many times. If you have ever been to the sunset celebration at Mallory Square each evening, you have seen Sunset Key. It is the island just across the channel as you watch the sun sink in the west.
Latitudes is owned by the Opal Key Resort and to reserve dinner there you must make a reservation. That reservation will include the short 15-minute ride over to the island. The ride will result in being greeted with a true Caribbean-style upscale waterfront restaurant.
We could easily make the case Latitudes serves the best dinner in Key West and could very well be the best restaurant in Key West. Reservations take up to two weeks to get.
We have chronicled this old favorite Key West restaurant many times. It is clearly one of our favorites and you can’t go wrong if you are looking for the best dinner in Key West.
Louie’s dinner menu is heavily weighted with seafood, but their steaks are as good as the finest Chicago steakhouses. Make your reservations early for this top restaurant in Key West. We believe Louie’s Barkyard serves the best food in Key West day-in and day-out.
If you are looking for that traditional white tablecloth fine dining experience, A&B Lobster House is the place to go. The service will be impeccable, the seafood fresh and the view stunning.
A&B Lobster House has been swerving Key West upscale dinners since right after World War II. They know how to take care of guests. There is no question many locals consider A&B the best dinner in Key West.
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.
Santiago’s Bodega calls itself a “Tapas” restaurant, but most of these small plates are dinner, not small plates. Try the croquettas, beef tenderloin, pinchos moriunos or brussels sprouts – all excellent. This is another place where you generally need a reservation, and it is worth it.
If you can’t tell, we love this restaurant! You can be assured they will provide the best dinner in Key West on your visit. Make reservations early.
This place is not easy to find if you are not familiar with the Ocean Key Resort at 0 Duval Street. The Hot Tin Roof is up on the second floor at the back end of the resort.
This highly regarded restaurant has one many rewards. Despite being well hidden, locals know about the waterfront view and superb menu. Again, reservations are generally necessary.
If you go for your best dinner in Key West, try the Crispy Whole Yellowtail Snapper. This is the ultimate seafood dinner in our opinion!
The Restaurants of Key West
The Florida Travel Blog cannot claim to have been in every restaurant in Key West since there are almost 200 of them. Over the last 40 years we have found the restaurants that have served great food and provided great service.
Key West is one of the best known Florida destinations. It has become an international favorite as much as a domestic popular spot. Finding the best food in Key West is not always easy without some direction. We hope this guide makes your trip to Key West more enjoyable