Ten Historic Florida Restaurants
Traveling Florida is like opening a history book. No state has more storied origination than Florida. At various times the Spanish, British and French inhabited and claimed parts of Florida. Those nations clashed with various native Indians. After the American purchase of Florida, the Civil War and three Seminole Wars, Florida forged the population and growth we have today. Many of the restaurants below are part of the state’s history for the last dozen decades. All can be visited today.
The Colombia Restaurant – Ybor City (Tampa), Florida. We couldn’t have a list of Florida’s Historic Restaurants without the Columbia. While we don’t dispute their origins back to 1905, their growth and evolution don’t exactly leave a picture of history in your mind. They are a modern large restaurant chain serving Spanish themed food.
With seven locations in west central Florida, they are a destination for many people looking for an upscale experience. Our experience at the Columbia have always been pleasant, but we wouldn’t consider them today a picture of history.
Kelly’s Fish House – Naples, Florida
This southwest icon restaurant has been around for almost 70 years. Located on the Gordon River, just a couple blocks from Naples’s ritzy shopping district, you can eat some of the freshest seafood you can find. Having dinner or lunch there can be entertaining watching local fishermen unload their catch on Kelly’s dock. During stone crab season, the crab claws are literally from boat, to dock to plate.
Kelly’s Fish House Dining Room is just across the river from Tin City, another shopping and dining experience. Kelly’s is an easy daytrip from Fort Myers or Miami. It’s easy to find on the Tamiami Trail (Rt. 41) as you enter Naples.
The Yearling – Cross Creek (Hawthorn), Florida
No list of historic restaurants in the country should be without The Yearling. Cross Creek was the home of author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings who wrote the book The Yearling. Rawlings settled in area in the 1880’s and wrote many of her books here. The Yearling serves southern cuisine with a flair. Plenty to see and do in the area including the old home of Rawlings.
The Yearling is just a few miles from Gainesville and Ocala, Florida. Great Florida day trip from Orlando, Jacksonville and even Tallahassee. Located on SR 325 just southeast of Gainesville, Florida, The Yearling is surrounded by state parks and historic landmarks.
The Seminole Inn – Indiantown, Florida
You won’t find The Seminole Inn on many restaurant lists. How can you ignore a restaurant (and Inn) that since 1926 has endured hurricanes, depressions, wars and economic revival? They are survivors! The Inn is worth the visit and their restaurant has that southern charm you can’t resist. In fact, The Seminole Inn’s Sunday brunches are by reservation only!
The Seminole Inn is located between Port Mayaca and Arundel. Haven’t heard of those towns? Neither had I until heading to Indiantown, but Indiantown is east of Lake Okeechobee and northwest of West Palm Beach, Florida. Port Mayaca is actually on the lake. No, the Seminole Inn is not easy to find, but a day trip from West Palm Beach, Miami or Jupiter would be relatively easy.
The restaurant in The Seminole Inn serves tradition southern food. The address is on Warfield Blvd. in Indiantown which originally was a trading post for the Seminole Indians.
No Name Pub – Big Pine Key Florida
We have written about the No Name Pub before. In our post Key West, The Journey, The Experience we relate our travels that include the No Name Pub. Big Pine Key is an island a few miles north of Key West in the Florida Keys. Big Pine Key is also home to the unique miniature Key Deer species of white tail deer.
The No Name Pub has been around since 1936 when the bait shop added a room as a pub. We have seen the No Name change over the last 30 or 40 years. Our first visit 20 or more years ago found a rustic old pub with a quaint island mixture of locals and fishermen. Today, fame has brought hoards of tourists and management has taken advantage of their newfound publicity. The No Name still has thousands of one-dollar bills plastered all over every square in of walls and roof. They also have added a new kitchen and modern menu, dramatically higher prices and fewer colorful locals.
Taking a detour on your way to or from Key West is worth the few extra minutes. If you are fortunate you may catch a glimpse of the Key Deer roaming Big Pine Key. If you are in Key West it would be a good day trip north on A1.
Cabbage Key Inn – Cabbage Key, Florida
The island of Cabbage Key hosts an historic restaurant and much of the allure is the fun of getting there. Accessible by boat only, the Cabbage Key Inn in located on Pine Island Sound. The Sound is a waterway that includes Cabbage Key, Sanibel, Captiva and Cayo Costa, all of which are famous locations. You can catch a ferry from Pine Island, Ft. Myers and numerous other locations that serve all the islands.
It’s a fun boat ride to the Cabbage Key Inn where you can be served one of the best burgers you can find anywhere. Visiting the island will let you explore the grounds while you wait for a table. For over 50 years people have made the passage to pin a dollar bill on the Dollar Bill Bar walls – a tradition since it opened over 50 years ago!
Howley’s Restaurant (Diner) – West Palm Beach, Florida
Howley’s is a staple of southeast Florida restaurant scene for over 70 years! Open from 7 AM to 2 AM, they serve a variety of patrons. Late night finds an interesting group of locals. Their menu is an upscale version or traditional diner fare. Howley’s crab hash is a must have along with any selection of over a dozen different desserts.
Howley’s is easy to find along US Highway 1, known as the Dixie Highway running from Maine to Florida. This West Palm Beach icon was established in 1950 and continues the diner style of the era. Howley’s is a must visit for the traveler in south Florida.
Pepe’s Café – Key West, Florida
For at least a decade we walked by Pepe’s on Caroline Street in Key West before stopping in. Frankly, the exterior doesn’t represent the interior or food. Of course, if you have been around since 1909 you may have some wear and tear on the building. Pepe’s may be the local’s favorite for breakfast and lunch. Much of the menu has a slight Spanish influence, but the quality is superb.
Pepe’s has been around for just under 125 years. Can you imagine what they have endured? Hurricanes, including the 1935 record breaking hurricane, the depression, a couple of wars and, most recently, Covid-19. Through all the challenges Pepe’s survived and thrived! The interior walls feature some of the famous patrons including presidents, stars and the numerous authors from Key West.
Caroline Street location is a main thoroughfare running from Whitehead Street to the old railroad terminal. Many other famed places on Caroline Street include The Bull (at the corner of Duval), BO’s Fish Wagon, The Curry Mansion and just one block north is The Schooner Wharf, Half Shell Raw Bar and Turtle Crawls – all well-known Key West haunts.
Cap’s Place – Lighthouse Point Florida
The history of Caps Place is like a movie script. A retired ship captain and young runaway meet and open a supper club on an island during prohibition days. Cap’s was known for a little rum running, gambling and staying one step in front of the law before becoming an institution for good food over the next 90 years. Cap’s Place history is just as colorful and closely follows the proposed script above.
Cap’s is located on Lighthouse Point just north of Pompano Beach, Florida. The old Florida atmosphere and fresh seafood can be enjoyed inside or on the dock. Spending an afternoon watching the boats go by while sampling local brews and fresh caught seafood, can give you a glimpse of days long gone by.
Cap’s has been a destination since 1928. Frequented by gamblers, scoundrels, politicians and presidents, Cap’s continues a tradition of southern hospitality. You can easily find Cap’s off US 1 as you transition from a traffic laden south Florida highway to laid back waterfront charm.
Deals Oyster House – Perry, Florida. Ok, this restaurant has only been around for about 61 years (1962). We include them because they are historically unique because they haven’t changed a thing. They didn’t bend to popular ways to buy and sell new processed foods, pre-breaded seafood, frozen everything and real hospitality.
When you walk in the door you will hear, “The finest people in the world walk through that door!”. Genuine southern charm on a north Florida restaurant located along US Rt. 98 at the beginning of the bend in Florida’s panhandle is the theme. They serve fresh oyster caught just a few miles away. We contend they have the best oyster stew anywhere. Meals are served with pain soft white bread, an old southern custom. It’s a busy place with catfish, blue crab claws, grouper and bay scallops on the menu. You could visualize your parents eating grits, swamp cabbage and hush puppies that haven’t changed in 60 years.
If you are heading to the panhandle, Deals is a must visit for good food served with a helping of Florida cracker charm.
Other notable historic restaurants-
Old Key Lime House – Lantana, Florida. Claims to be the oldest waterfront restaurant in Florida. On Florida’s Atlantic coast.
High Tides at Snack Jack – Flagler Beach, Florida. Near St. Augustine. Claims a local favorite since 1947.
Chattaway – St. Petersburg, Florida. Since 1947 they have been serving in a tropical atmosphere.
Café Alcazar – St. Augustine, Florida. This café is in the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine. Was a former Flagler Hotel.