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Nov 2, 2007 01:34 AM

ISO best of the keys

Will be visiting the keys in the spring and will be driving from Ft Myers and then returning to Ft Lauderdale.
Will have a rental and plan to spend the day each way travelling through the keys with the other 6 days in Key West.
Looking for:
The best local food. Fresh fish simply prepared; places where the locals dine. Not looking for fine dining but casual fare, especially for lunch and breakfast.

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    1. re: Suzie

      Thanks Suzie - that way my OPing but didn't end up going. I just figured out how to look at my own posts. Took me a while!

    2. Calypso's, mm99 or so oceanside. Service is spotty at best but some of the best food in the Keys. Very casual. Open air dining over looking the harbor in Key Largo. Mrs. Mac's Kitchen on the bay side is also a great lunch spot. Ballyhoo's (mm98) for fresh oysters at happy hour, and at dinner, all you can eat stone crabs for $35. I had the stone crabs Monday night. Excellent.
      Pierre's, a fancy joint at Cheeca Lodge, is fantastic. But the prices are scary.
      Breakfast at Harriet's, about mm95 bay side.
      AVOID- Buzzard's Roost, Tower of Pizza in Key Largo, Pita, Etc...
      Enjoy your trip.

      1. Keysrat has some very good picks that I like and agree with. Bentley's in Islamorada is also a very, very good restaurant where locals and tourists dine. I've been there dozens of times with large and small parties and never a bad seafood meal. Voted Best of The Keys on several occasions. Casual atmosphere, upscale food. The Fish House in Key Largo is reliable but I think a bit pricey but still good. Like Bentley's best.

        2 Replies
        1. re: LargeLife

          I agree with you on Bentley's. I just got back from the keys and went to Bentley's twice - it was so good, we had to go back for a second time. Between me and my 3 travel buddies, we put away florida lobster, lobster chowder, 2 types of escargot, dozens of raw oysters, baked mussels, 5 types of crab, stuffed shrimp, tuna sashimi, and some wonderful key lime pie (we saw a box of key limes that had just come in, so this is definitely the real deal). Drinks were great, service was awesome (not a fluke, we had a different server each night and even the bus boys were attentive), and the atmosphere is nice although exclusively indoor. The list of nightly specials that your server will recite to you is dizzying. Prices were not cheap, however... unless you go there during happy hour 4-6? Oysters were dirt cheap during happy hour, as well as many other happy hour and early bird specials. No complaints on the drinks either. From what I've experienced so far, Bentley's is the best in the keys outside of Key West.

          1. re: LargeLife

            We had a family dinner at Bentley's this week and I am trying to understand what all the fuss is about. It has one of the more ambitious menus in the upper keys but ambition and execution do not meet at Bentley's. First crime: the lobster was overcooked by several minutes. Really, how does a serious seafood restaurant overcook a plain lobster? Second, I had the Chioppino; it had a basic marinara sauce with plenty of seafood. However, they couldn't manage the cooking process and the scallops were like little hockey pucks, the fish was well-done but the lobster, Alaskan King crab and clams were nicely cooked. I admit that I'm a fan of the west coast version of this dish and anyone expecting a tasty Spanish/Mexican influenced dish should stay away as this is a simple tomato sauce with little auxiliary flavour. We complained about the overcooking and were provided a discount on the bill but that didn't fix the food.

            One member of the group had the prime-rib (I don't agree with ordering beef in a seafood restaurant but here's the review) and he ordered medium and got well-done. To be fair, the starters were well executed if not exciting: tuna tartar was lovely, oysters were fine and stone crab was fresh. Another disappointment was that the first two Sauvignon Blancs we tried to order (out of the five on the menu) were sold out. A positive point is that mark-ups on wine are pretty reasonable at roughly 50% above retail on the products I was familiar with.

            Frankly the best thing on the menu was the kiddies’ fish'n'chips: the breaded dolphin (mahi-mahi) was gorgeous, lightly breaded and gently cooked. Everyone loved it except the kid.

            On the other hand, a very good find was the Village Gourmet in Islamorada @ MM82.7, they offer delicious breakfasts (big burrito, blackened grouper omelette), then they flip over to rustic Italian for lunch and dinner. We didn’t have dinner but the lunch was also great flavour for $: freshly made chicken parmesan sandwich and the special of the day was a blackened shrimp wrap. It’s not a formal restaurant by any means, there’s only space for 10-12 inside, everyone else sits on the patio. But there were a lot of locals there on both our visits.

          2. Below is a list I put together for good friends that were honeymooning in Key West. I hope it helps!


            Key West! Here are a few suggestions….

            Fine Dining:

            Square One – Romantic elegance right down to the piano bar; this is one of our favorite places to sneak off by ourselves. I almost always go for local fare but I will make an exception for the New Zealand Lamb at Square One.

            Alice’s – In the heart of the Duval Street hubbub Alice’s is a quirky and fun escape with an interesting balance of Key West kitsch and gourmet cuisine. We shared several of the small plates which I thought were awesome. Alas, some of those were a little spicy for Kathy’s taste. The second time we visited she had a Mahi Mahi dish that she raves about to this day!

            Michael’s – Truly top shelf, this is one of the most popular high end restaurants in Key West, and with good reason. The pastas are awesome and the steaks incredible, with service to match. Don’t overlook the Martini menu!

            Louie’s Backyard - Go early, sit on the outside deck for drinks, watch the sun go down over the Southernmost Point and forget about life for a while. This is what the Keys are really all about. We have yet to have “dinner” here but have enjoyed a light meal of drinks and appetizers several times.

            Honorable Mentions:
   (Nice for Breakfast too!


            Off The Beaten Path:

            Seven Fish – Despite the tight quarters and lacking ambiance Seven Fish remains a favorite for “Key West Comfort Food”. The food is upscale and nearly 100% local, the value is hard to beat in this town. I always hope the Snapper in a Golden Curry Sauce is on the specials list but the Crab Cakes or the Gnocchi will do in a pinch. Don’t go here for the atmosphere…go for the food.

            Ricky’s Blue Heaven – Rustic and Rough around the edges…long before Jimmy Buffett ever played from the rooftop of the outdoors bar Blue Heaven was a whore house and that’s just an inkling of the true Key West history this place has to offer. Sometimes we go for breakfast (the Shrimp & Grits rock!) and sometimes we go for dinner (I almost always order the Fresh Yellowtail Snapper) but we nearly always go to Blue Heaven at least once a trip.

            El Meson de Pepe – I can’t mention Key West history without thinking of El Meson de Pepe. Our favorite place to recommend following sunset at Mallory Square or a visit to the Hemingway House, El Meson de Pepe was a military warehouse before becoming the processing center for thousands of Cuban immigrants as they disembarked at Mallory Square. The Roast Pork is my favorite dish and I always wash it down with one of the best Mojitos around.

            Casual Locals Joints:

            El Siboney – Family owned Cuban food so good you’ll swear they’ve got their Mom in the kitchen. I have tried several menu items through the years but I always gravitate to the “Siboney Steak”. It’s a perfectly seared Skirt Steak topped with a churrasco style chopped onion, garlic, and fresh parsley with lime. I dare you to eat the whole thing!

            Hogfish Bar & Grill – The Hogfish has become our traditional last meal before heading for home. I usually go for the Famous Hogfish Sandwich or the Lobster Ruben…the rest of the menu can be hit or miss. This place is true back roads Key West (even though it’s on Stock Island.)

            Schooner Wharf – All outdoor dining with decent salads, good fish tacos and fries, and a sinful Mahi Mahi Melt. It’s very much a local’s joint.

            B.O.’s Fishwagon – Eccentric and junky looking place with very good food. Caddy corner from here is Kathy’s favorite little shop for clothes and etc so needless to say, BO’s is another place we go to nearly every trip.

            Things To Do:

            The World Famous Conch Tour Train – I know, I know it corny, tacky, and touristy but I always recommend the Conch Tour, especially to newcomers. It really is a great tour and an awesome way to get a feel for the town and its history. It also allows you a good look at places you might want to visit later…places you might not have known about if you hadn’t gone on this corny but fun ride.

            Pirate Soul Museum – I love this place. It offers a fascinating, albeit short, walk through exhibits of genuine artifacts, embellished by videos, sound affects, and even a character or two. For me it’s a chance to revisit my youth when I was glued to the Saturday afternoon Errol Flynn movies or had my nose glued to some Howard Pyle or Robert Louis Stevenson Novel.

            Sunset at Mallory Square – You can’t visit Key West without spending at least one sunset at Mallory Square. There street performers and vendors, boats, planes, and bicycles, an eclectic and enthusiastic crowd and some damn good conch fritters to be had!

            Mel Fischer’s Maritime Heritage Museum – More history…go figure! Kathy puts up with me visiting this and Fort Zachary Taylor so that I’ll put up with her shopping. It’s a nice compromise.

            1 Reply
            1. re: LiveRock

              Thanks for the great list. I can't wait to eat fish, fish and more fish. If we can do it, we would like to eat fish for one meal every day; cheap and fresh and not deep fried (except for some conch fritters).

            2. We always stop at Coconuts on Key Largo on our way to Key West. Sit out on the deck. Very consistent; always good.

              In Key West we ALWAYS go to dinner at Louie's Backyard. The food is fabulous, the service excellent and you can't beat the ambience. Be sure to ask for an outside table to enjoy the view. Close to heaven. Last time I had lobster in a citrus cream sauce over angel hair die for! (It was actually an appetizer, but I asked them to double it and serve as my entree. They are very accomodating.)