Key West, and the Keys in general, have some really great places to eat. From street carts to 5 star snooty restaurants, the islands have got you covered for some good vittles. Yeah, a lot of them can be a bit pricey, but if you take the time to look around, ask the locals, or if you feel adventurous, you can find a good deal just about every day of the week.
The local cuisine is the best. That big watery thing which surrounds the islands is full of good things to eat. Key West pink shrimp, Florida lobster, mahi mahi, grouper, snapper, stone crab, and conch fritters can all be had. Hint: Stay away from the fried stuff for the best eatin’…except the fritters. If land based food is more to your liking, well, most everything has to be shipped in but occasionally you can find locally grown mangoes, pineapple, tomatoes, coconuts, the occasional watermelon, and of course, Key Limes. It’s all here and you would be doing yourself a big favor by seeking out some of these dishes at the local restaurants, diners, and other spots. Need some recommendations? Here are some of my favorites:
Pepe’s…the oldest restaurant in Key West. Located on Caroline Street across from the Harbor, this is a great place for breakfast. The outdoor seating is really cool. You sit under trees, and don’t be surprised to see the occasional cat, dog, or chicken wander under your table.
B.O.’s Fish Wagon…across from Pepe’s at the corner of Caroline and William. From the outside it looks like a pile of junk. Looks can be deceiving. Remember, the more rundown the place looks, the better the food.
Harpoon Harry’s…on the corner of Margaret and Caroline, a basic diner serving everything from breakfast to dinner. Good food and decent prices. Daily specials but try the Monday meatloaf.
Half Shell Raw Bar…right on the Harbor at Margaret Street. A bit touristy but if you go in during happy hour you can fill up on some good appetizers without breaking the bank.
Turtle Kraals…across the street from the Raw Bar. More of a formal sit down type place but some really good dishes. Good place to take a date or family.
Hog Fish…on Stock Island at the marina on Front Street. Anyone who has come to visit me knows this place. Great sammiches, real Keys decor, located next door to the shrimp boats. Take a walk around the marina and see all the little artisan shops and cool boats. Locals complain about the prices but mainly because the owner never gives a mythical locals discount. Well worth the price. Grab a table on the south side next to the windows overlooking the harbor and chances are one of the local marina cats will stop by to say hello. They love shrimp.
Big Johns…in Key Plaza on North Roosevelt. I eat here about once a week. Real good pizza, some other good entree’s, very good prices.
Some other good spots:
Roostica for Italian, El Siboney Restaurant for Cuban although they have other things on the menu., Chico’s Cantina for Tex Mex, if you like that sort of thing. I don’t. Hurricane Hole, for very casual outdoor dining. And for something quick, cheap, and easy, like my ex girlfriend, try Viva on Duval. They have a happy hour special every day….come to think of it, so did my ex girlfriend. My favorite is Thursdays, $5 steak burger. And there are dozens of smaller venues all over the place. Lots of little hot dog wagons, a cool little seafood cart sets up over on Flagler next to the city offices. They offer a nice selection of local seafood dishes.
There are spots all over the island. Sometimes a walk around a corner will reveal a new place. All you need to do is take the time to seek them out. They are not hard to find, you can probably find just about anything to suit your tastes and budget, and you’ll get to eat in some really unique settings, some overlooking the water, some with rather unusual decor, some with other species joining you. Eating out in Key West is more than just a meal, it can be part of the experience. Which is why what I have to report next makes me a bit sad…and pissed off.
A new ‘restaurant’ has opened on the island. I use the term ‘restaurant’ loosely because as you will see below, it’s not a real restaurant. Don’t read any further if you have just eaten. The pictures below will make you sick. Ready? Ok, I warned you. It ain’t pretty. This is our newest place to eat:
Warned ya. That’s right. On an island full of some of the most eclectic and unique restaurants around, we have a shiny new Taco Bell. A fucking, sterile, cookie cutter, same as every other one, craptastic Taco Bell. And as you can see in the pictures, business is booming. In fact, when this shit hole opened, they damn near declared a holiday on the island. People came from near and far to sample the umm, whatever this shit is they call food. Although, if you read the FB page in the link, the reviews are less than flattering. Long waits, undertrained staff who don’t speak English. But flocking to it they are, to enjoy this poisoned crap.
Really? What the fuck is the matter with you people?
This is not dining. This is not a Key West restaurant. This is slopping hogs at a trough. This is assembly line cooking. There is nothing unique about this place. The ‘food’ is exactly the same here as in any other location around the country. It comes from the same factory, is processed the same way, prepared the same way, served the same way. What you get here you can get in any town anywhere else all the way to Alaska, and I’m sure, Hawaii. The staff is rigidly trained to work from a script. They are not allowed to vary from said script. You won’t find a sassy waitress in a faded t-shirt who jokes with you and tells you where to find the best place for sunset after you eat. You won’t find a cook who will prepare your catch from your fishing charter, just the way you like it. Nope, here, it’s follow the rules. If one of the worker bee’s strays from the hive, they are fired. Another is rolled into place to keep the assembly line going. The bottom line here is profit, not good food nor a memorable eating experience. Get ’em in, take their money, shove the shit down their throat, move ’em out. Assembly line cooking.
Yet, with all the cool places to eat on this rock, a dump like this brings in the crowds. And it’s not the only one. There are other fast food and chain places on the island and they too bring in a lot of people. And yes, I have been guilty on occasion of partaking. (No, not this shit hole. Even I have standards.) Be it convenience, or with someone else who insisted on going there, but I am breaking the habit.
It can’t be the prices. These place usually wind up being pretty expensive when you start adding things up. Oh sure, there are the specials, but still, it’s no bargain. And the crap they pass off as food, is nothing more than a conglomeration of lard, salt, and sugar, laden with chemicals to make it look like real food. It has more preservatives than a funeral home convention. And judging by the size of the some the people who waddle into these places day in and day out, it’s not a place for losing weight.
Really folks, we should be ashamed of our selves. All the tasty options for eating down here and we go apeshit for this garbage. I can understand if you live up in the hills of Bugtustle where local surf and turf consists of carp and groundhog. Anything would be an improvement. But to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to come to Key West, and go eat at a chain restaurant? No, don’t do it.
Be adventurous. Try something different. Not just here, but anywhere you go to visit. Seek out the local spots. Find out what the local cuisine is and give it a try. You may not like it and that’s ok. At least you tried it. On the other hand, you may find you have an exotic taste for say….Manatee Fritters??? The places I mentioned above don’t even begin to give you an idea of what you can find down here for dining options. There are many more spots to seek out and it would take a lot longer than a week vacation to try them all. Which gives you an excuse to come back.
But please, when you come here, don’t go to the chain/fastfood assembly line places. They are not island fare. They don’t fit in the Keys. They are not unique nor worth the expense. Come here seeking adventures in eating as well as other activities. It will make you appreciate the islands a lot more.
And if you have a favorite place down here in Key West or elsewhere in the Keys, drop a name in the comments. As long as it’s a local spot, I’ll pass it on.
Go ahead. Ask the sassy waitress if they have Manatee Fritters. Dare ya.