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Where do the locals eat in Florida Keys?

I am going to the Florida Keys in May and would like to eat at some really great restaurants... any suggestions? Also best conch fritters and mojitos?

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  1. And just where in the Keys will you be going?

    6 Replies
    1. re: Suzie

      going to each Key probably... not destination in mind.

      1. re: missmojito

        Each Key??!! You realize there are dozens? Basically the Keys are broken into 3 parts - upper, middle and lower. This link might help you decide where you might enjoy spending your time. http://fla-keys.com/
        From there it wil be easier to help you with your original question.

        1. re: Suzie

          Well I'll actually be there for 3-4 weeks in that area and was wondering if there was a particular place to eat that " you cannot miss" , therefore I would make an effort/specail trip to go to that particular place... regardless of driving time or which Key. My intentions when I go there is not to stay on one Key( like most people probably) but to explore all or most. You can see all the keys in that time right.... I don't think it's that big?

          1. re: missmojito

            Well some people spend weeks/months a year in the Keys and still never get to see it all. It is that big and it is that diverse. There is lots to see, do and eat. The are over 120 miles long. On your way down a must stop is Alabama Jacks. It is on Card Sound Road. They close at dusk so get there for lunch. Its a very neat old place. Around Mile Marker 25 there is a placa called Fish Cutters. Get the any of the sandwiches. No Name Pub is also worth search out. Theres a start for ya. Have fun.

            1. re: Suzie

              I lived on an island of 200 miles long for 20 years, they are not that big..lol. We're talking islands here not countries.

              1. re: missmojito

                They really are very diverse. It fools people all the time. The other problem is things change hands a lot. I lived down there for years and years and still get back there all the time and there are still places I haven't seen or found the time to get to. The fun part about the Keys is just laying back and doing whatever comes to mind but if you are looking to explore as much as you can, you will want some kind of game plan. Especially with all of the construction going on in the Upper Keys. That traffic can be a nightmare.

                Here is a link to another thread that has some good info in it. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/348447

    2. Miss Mojitio, I haven't been down in a couple years (headed down to Key West in May - can't wait!) but the last time I was in the middle keys my favorite places were Laura-Lei for the best Key Lime Pie, Uncles for amazing Tuna and the Green Turtle - the quality of places in the Middle Keys tends to change frequently - I also love the grouper sandwich at the World Wide Sportsman in Islamorada. Ziggys was great at one point but the last time I went it wasn't as special.

      In Key West from what I've read on these boards for low-key fare, BO Fish Wagon has the best grouper sandwiches, the Half Shell is like New England fish shack, Blue Heaven is quintesential Key West. For a bit more restaurant experience it sounds like 7 fishes, A&B Lobster House and the Back Deck (I think) are tops in the area. For Cuban I've read alot about El Siboney.

      5 Replies
      1. re: wingman

        Thanks for your straight forward answer ! I always like to know what people have enjoyed in certain places and if I'm in that area and see it I could stop in. I have heard about BO Fish Wagon from a couple of people.

        1. re: missmojito

          hopefully you'll be able to fill me in on where the best mojitos are in the keys!

            1. re: missmojito

              If you are into Mojitos, try the ones at the Conch Republic or Alonzo's. Yummy!

        2. re: wingman

          7 Fish in Key West is terrific, but reservations are absolutely required.

        3. In the Marathon key try Fish Tales Market and Eatery. It has changed hands since we first started going there but they have kept it relatively the same. It's on the Atlantic side just north of Vaca Cut next to Capt Hook Dive shop. I remember stopping in and this guy, the owner, was standing in tall white rubber boots cutting fish at a stainless steel table. The door behind him was open and the boats were unloading fish from the morning haul. They have great turn over so fish doesn't stay in the cases long. They have a small restaurant and one of the best yellow tail sandwiches around. We would eat there but also pick up fresh fish to take back to the condo and cook. I like to travel to the keys with a few kitchen essentials. The seafood is so fresh it's like a kid in a candy store for me. I can make a pretty good mojito as well. Have muddler will travel.

          2 Replies
          1. re: scubadoo97

            Last May we were staying in Marathon which is the farthest up we have stayed. We went to Fish Tales to "" Fish Out "" the saying for the last night in the Keys blow out. Got a lot of everything, very fresh and helpful advice

            Fish Tales Market & Eatery
            11711 Overseas Hwy, Marathon, FL 33050

            1. re: ianmac

              Glad you liked it. It's a tradition for us to pick up fish from Fish Tails and it stays a tradition if it stays good.

          2. My favorite place in the keys is in Islamorada. It is called Bentley's. Try the "dolphin in the weeds" or the oysters upside down. If you want all the seafood you can eat try Whale Harbor in Islamorada.

            3 Replies
            1. re: kimocorb

              Is Whale Harbor good again????? I must have been about 14 the first time I went and was a hefty 14 year old at that, god that place was amazing, but when I tried it again when I was 16 or 17 it wasn't as good as I remembered - That's about a dozen years ago so I'd love to know if it returned to its old glory - may be worth a drive up from Key West if it did.

              1. re: wingman

                I guess it depends on what your definition of good is? Were the crab legs good "YES", so was the poached salmon and raw oysters. I would have to say some things were really worth going for and some things were just average. If you get to eat great seafood all the time I am not sure how impressed you would be. If you eat at a chain like red lobster you will think it is "awesome"

                1. re: wingman

                  I would skip Whale Harbor. It has not returned to its former glory.

              2. Calypso-Upper Keys
                Square Grouper-middle keys
                Ricky's Blue Heaven-Lower Keys

                1. Thank you (most of you..lol) for you straight answers on where you like to eat in the Keys.... I'll makes notes of your suggestions and stop by if I'm in the area. Thanks again.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: missmojito

                    Be sure to report back! Have fun!

                  2. Thanks... I'll keep you posted !

                    1. back from Florida.... whilke it's fresh in my mind, the ones I can remember right now...

                      Morada Bay Beach Cafe... had dinner there, the grouper, very good (Islamorada)
                      Blue Heaven - disappointed, grouper sandwich, dry bun and dry sanwich, really nothing on it to make it delicious... good Mojito though. Bird crapped on our table...lol.
                      Blond Giraffe for Key Lime pie... tasty.
                      Bob's Buns - good breakfast, coffee was good.

                      i asked where BO fish wagon was and NO ONE knew this place, i thought I was on the wrong key, wasn't though.

                      Notes on Keys...
                      DO NOT stay at Cheeca Lodge and Spa Resort
                      DO NOT eat at Islamorada Fish Compnay... OMGosh, people call that food?

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: missmojito

                        "DO NOT eat at Islamorada Fish Compnay... OMGosh, people call that food?"

                        Years ago when they first opened it was okay. Kind of an extension of the fish market next store. Then the big sports store opened and the last time we went there I could tell it was going to be bad when you had to check in at the booth like you were going to an amusement park. Not only was the food bad but our waitress was the worst I have ever had in my life. I'll never go back and always try to warn people at every change to stay away. I knew I would get no where speaking to the management. The place is packed with poor unsuspecting tourist.

                        1. re: missmojito

                          Thanks for reporting back! Did you find B.O.'s. He makes a great fish sandwich.

                          1. re: Suzie

                            No didn't find BO's, went to Blue Heaven instaed.

                            1. re: missmojito

                              Well that sucks you didn't find B.O.'s. He makes a great grouper sandwich. You will just have to try it next time. : )

                        2. B.O.'s Fish Wagon is on 801 Caroline Street in Key West. We arrived at B.O.'s on a hot day in July hoping to get out of the heat and sample one of their famous fried grouper sandwiches. It is basically a fish shack with an old pick up truck parked along the side. We decided to stay and enjoyed our sandwich and a cold drink and were amused by the Key West decor.

                          1. Suzie mentioned the Conch Republic for mojito. If you should be lucky enough to go fishing, the Maui Maui should be in season. If you catch a bunch, you can take them to the Conch Republic and they'll fix them for you. We had a pretty good crowd and had platters of fried, grilled and blackened fish caught that very day. It was wonderful. We're also kinda fond of The Wreck and Crew on Grassy Key for grouper sandwichs.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: SonyBob

                              the Maui Maui should be in season.

                              I think you mean mahi mahi.
                              Down here we call them dolphin. The restaurants call them mahi so the tourists don't think they are eating Flipper.
                              LargeLife, I know all about Keys disease. I have been trying to get my house built for three years, can't get anybody to come to work.
                              Bentley's is quite good, as is Mrs. Mac's. I eat there once a week.
                              Best wings are at Ballyhoo's. Great oysters at happy hour, too.

                              1. re: keysrat

                                I always mis-spell the darn things and I call them mahi mahi for the same reason. I had a really good snapper dinner at a place just up the street from the marina. I think it was called Pepe's (not the Cuban place). It was a little casual but I thought my meal was great. It's supposed to be one of or the oldest eatery in Key West.

                              2. re: SonyBob

                                Went to the Wreck last May to watch a game during the Stanley Cup finals, had very good monster size dinners and cold beer, no rush to sit there all night watch the game and enjoy the food and drink

                              3. I visit the upper to mid Keys fairly frequently and thre are some very good restaurants.....Bentley's in Islamorada is very, very good....if not excellent....Always rated among the best in all the Keys....Very imaginitive menu and the escargot there is to die for....In Key Largo...The Fish House is always reliable and very good...a bit pricey for what you get but the place stays packed....Mrs. Mac's in Key Largo is also a reliable destination and the chili there is very tasty.....Hobo's in Key Largo is another solid, reliable stop.....with a varied menu....like the BBQ wings there.....

                                There are alot of different places to eat in The Fabulous Florida Keys....One thing to watch out for is service...some places are better than others....but these folks down there have what's called "The Keys Disease"....And that mean's they're in 'Manana-Ville"...and they take their time and things are slow-n-easy.......Businesses come and go in The Keys...and if the place looks older and a bit worn...chances are it's probably at least decent and perhaps better.....

                                1. FWIW, except for obvious tourist traps like Kelly's, the locals and tourists eat in the same places. My parents have a home in Key West and eat at BOs, Blue Heaven, Louis's, Outback Steakhouse, Seven Fish, Meteor BBQ.

                                  It would be difficult for a restaurant in the keys to stay in business if it didn't court the tourists.

                                  1. I have to say I am really disappointed in the recommendations from the locals on this board. I've been in Key Largo for almost a month, walking distance from Calypso, and think their food is just OK. Very heavy breading on fried items for one thing. A glass of house wine for $4 is a bargain though. I will get back to try their tuna taco. Next door the Garden of Eatin is a good place to hangout if you like draft beer and again huge portions of mediocre food. How you can ruin a grouper sandwich when you are right next door to a fabulous fish purveyor is beyond me. Ballyhoo's has gone downhill since we first tried them just last year. They seem to be into pushing people through and give less attention to the food quality. Once again, extreme breading on things and so-so fries.
                                    The Fish House...friendly service, huge portions of average food. Tuna was not really fresh, Overpriced. Biggest regret was the margaritas. They wow you with about a 10-oz glass with one shot of tequila so it's like drinking lemonade. We like the Hideout very much for breakfast but hold out for a seat on the porch to appreciate the old keys atmosphere. Home fries are the best! Blueberry pancakes a specialty, and when you make the mistake of ordering three, the friendly waitress warns you, "they're as big as a plate, !" Agree with Alabama Jacks , great back country ambiance, best to stop on your way into the Keys as it is almost in Dade County. Their conch fritter is good but different...it is one big fritter with a sweet dough, more like a corn fritter dough with conch in it. Other conch fritters in Largo have been awful...Calypso's is all filling little conch, Garden of Eatin is a strange pink extruded thing.
                                    In Islamorada I went to Cafe Morada and thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Devine beachfront location, tables right on the sand if you wish, gorgeously prepared tasty food. The lunch portions are so large I recommend sharing...like one salad and one entree and maybe 2 desserts...unless you have a huge appetite. Lovely desserts, genuinely home made. Not inexpensive but well worth it. Speaking of price, their dinner restaurant Pierre's is probably wonderful also but the prices are New York City. We're talking $17 appetizers and $36-$42 entrees with everything a la carte. For a special dinner I would try it.
                                    As I write I am enjoying takeout from Athens Cafe and Grill, mm82.2 . What I've tasted is some of the best Greek I've had since I moved away from Chicago. Seems homemade. The proprietess said she was Czech. For some reason they also serve Squeeler's mesquite smoked BBQ and it's terrific. Served with a Mediterranean style potato salad with peas, olives and a vinaigrette type dressing. Nice puffy pita, not that flat dry kind. They also have a nice selection of imported cheeses, greek olives and Romanian wines. You can eat in a small informal seating area.
                                    If I find some other places worth reporting on I'll get back.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: sherrylr

                                      I'm back already. First a correction...the fritters I dissed were not from Calypsos but from Ballyhoo. Next, Keysrat's recommendation of Mrs Macs was a real winner. This Key Largo roadside diner provided the best lunch we've had not counting cafe Morada which is a "whole nother thing". My grilled wahoo was delicious, far better than the swordfish at The Fish House. In fact I am now a Wahoo fan. The key lime pie was really fine, creamy and tangy with a delicious crust, and they won't share the family recipe :-( Another "best" in my opinion. For such an unassuming place they have some nice touches like Perrier on the menu along with the Coke for only $1.50, and Champagne Brunch every day but Sunday. We'll be going back.

                                      1. re: sherrylr

                                        I'm a native, and I just wanted to elaborate a little on your post. Unless you are going fishing yourself, the best way to find the freshest food in the Keys is to start with the fisherman and work your way back to the restaurants. We used to ask the guys in Stock Island which restaurants bought stuff every day, or the people at the larger wholesalers. At the time, they recommended the Rusty Anchor and the Hungry Tarpon (and Publix if you have cooking facilities) but that was years ago and, as someone above said, consistency is not something you get in the Keys. Insanely enough, the last decent Keys meal we had was at the Islamorada Fish Company. I know, I was shocked, too. It was really ok.

                                        1. re: sherrylr

                                          A couple of disclaimers on the recs I make on dining in the Keys-
                                          I don't eat fried food or order dessert. If you want fritters, fried fish, fried shrimp, KLP, etc... I'm the wrong guy to ask! Ditto for blackened anything. All blackening does is cover up the taste of whatever you are eating.
                                          Conch is supposed to be a Keys staple, but it is illegal to harvest here. Most of the conch sold in restaurants came for the Turks & Caicos, but they halted commercial harvest there. God knows where the conch currently being sold comes from, so I won't touch it.
                                          BTW, a fairly new place is open on Jewfish Creek- Marleys. I have only had sandwiches there, but the tuna steak sandwich is top notch, and they make a sandwich they call pescado cubano that is excellent.

                                        2. Ziggy & Maddogs is the best restauant in the Keys (outside of KW). Marker 88 is good as is Bentley's.

                                          Marathon has Franks Cafe and then little else to offer, perhaps The Butterfly cafe...Maybe Castaways for a weird combination of tourist and local.

                                          KW: Louies is done. Margaritaville is yuck. Michaels is great as is 7 Fish. Prime is supposed to be good (haven't personally been). Hogfish Bar and Grill on Stock Island is worth it.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Keysmickey

                                            Havn't been there for quite a while but the Stuffed Pig had the best breakfast I had down there. Your basic sausage eggs and pankakes. I'm pretty sure they're still there in marathon. A place that good dosn't go out of busine

                                            Stuffed Pig in marathon. Best breakfast in America after an all night binge.It's the most important meal.

                                          2. In Marathon try Keys Fisheries or Burdines for lunch. Neither are much to look at and you should avert your eyes while driving in to them, but that is where locals go. Ask anyone in town for directions. Everyone knows. Breakfast - Stuffed pig or The Spoon.

                                            If you are in Sugarloaf round dinner or lunch go to Mangrove Mamas. It is more about the atmosphere and it is a longish way to KW if you are starving.

                                            KW - Good dinners - Cafe Marquesa, Louies Backyard (for the view and the food's pretty good too), Azure, 7 Fish if you are feeling lazy. Rooftop Cafe.
                                            Breakie - Blue Heaven (unless you do not dig chickens scratching about), Pepe's, Camilles.

                                            Lunch - I guess BO's Fish Wagon, Pepe's (again), Schooner Wharf - you will go, but it is not a locals place anymore - not for like 10 or more years in fact. Sibonay's is local.

                                            There are places that locals just don't really go to, but they are good - like Prime or 1/2 Shell. We take tourists there though because they want to go there. Sometimes locals go to places simply because the tourists are not there or they have been going there for 20 years and can't stop. We are a weird bunch.

                                            But the rec's I gave here are good. Don't miss the wharf. Who gives a rip if it is touristy. On your way down stop at Robbies Marina and feed the tarpon. Trust me. Very Keysie and if you have kids, that and the fire eater or the man that does dog tricks in KW will be what they remember.

                                            If you go to no-name pub do not be put off by the bad service. it is what they do. Order the pizza. It is what is good on the menu. The key over the bridge from the pub is off the grid. if that interests you, you might go have a look.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                              I am visiting my brother and his wife in Key West, both locals...they try to avoid any restaurant on Duval St., for the most part. There is a cuban restaurant that they love - I can't remember the name right now - but it is mentioned in other posts. Authentic food at great prices. They also took me to one of their faves, Thai Island, on Garrison Bight marina. Amazing, amazing thai food, and not a tourist in sight. We went to Hogfish on Stock Island and had the WORST experience ever, service-wise. The waitress really didn't give a crap that we had been sitting there for an hour and still had not received our chicken wing appetizer. Absolutely ridiculous. My brother did mention that he has never had that kind of problem there before, but it was horrible. I am pregnant and unfortunately cannot stomach fish right now, so I ordered a caesar salad for dinner and it took them 90 minutes to bring it out. Chopped romaine with shredded cheese on top. 90 minutes. Do NOT go there!

                                              Square Grouper on Cudjoe Key was DELICIOUS! We went for lunch. Loved the Square Grouper Sandwich. Loved the decor, too. Great service.

                                              1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                                On our way from FLL to the Keys Robbies is our second stop. Alabama Jacks on Card Sound road is first for lunch. We stop at Robbies to feed the tarpon, get a couple of beers sit in the lay back chairs with our feet in the water and enjoy watching the boats coming in , off loading their catch or cleaning their catch for the day trippers

                                              2. About 18 months ago we stopped at the Conch Town Cafe for a drink (it was VERY hot). The 2 young lads running the place asked us to try the jerk chicken with rice and beans. Lucky us! It was amazing! Can't vouch for it now of course but you might want to check it out. It's across from Blue Heaven. P.S. There is a you tube video of Anthony Bourdain eating their Conch Fritters.

                                                1. Many locals in the upper keys enjoy The Old Tavernier Restaurant.

                                                  1. Go and try Hogfish Bar & Grill on Stock Island - just before you get to Key West. It is a little difficult to find as it sits off the main road back where the shrimp boats dock. You cannot go wrong with any of the food there especially the "Killer Hogfish Sandwich". It is all open air so make sure you are dressed casual and cool.

                                                    Hogfish Bar & Grill
                                                    6810 Front St, Key West, FL 33040

                                                    1. El Siboney is the best Cuban in KW
                                                      Bagatelle on Duval near the wharf is a really, really good spot and their conch chowder is NOT to be missed
                                                      Hogfish on Stock Island is the go to for any meal.

                                                      1. Paseos. It's counter service. try the grilled corn

                                                        1. When in the Keys you have to go to "The Stuffed Pig" or "The Cracked Conch" both in Marathon for Breakfast......there is also Sparly's Landing in Key Colony Beach and also I just discoovered "Cabana Breezes" also in Key Colony Beach...$5 Margaritas all day Monday!!!