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Eating in the Keys

Heres the facts: wife and I are going for a week. staying in key west, renting a car for about 3 days and definately plan on hitting no name pub on big pine and BOs in key west. we are NOT fancy shmancy people. we're looking for great dumps, dives and mom & pop shops. great food and cold beer. we are not opposed to driving just to get a cold beer in a great unpretetious bar. if you know some great local spots let us know we really appreciate it. if we could stay away from the tourist traps that would be great, thanks

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  1. While you are in Key West you absolutely MUST go to the Chart Room bar in the Pier House resort. This bar has been around for years and when someone wanted to buy up the land around it to put in a resort, they were told okay as long as you leave the Chart Room untouched. It's a tiny fun dive bar. While you're there, make sure to check out the drilled holes in the bar at the end near the entrance with plaques underneath them. The ashes of some of the patrons are actually in the bar! The open holes are for those who plan to end up there but are still living.

    1. Sounds like you're looking for fun so be sure to hit the Schooner Wharf Bar for a beer and some of the best rock and roll on the island (between 10 and midnight is best). Just head toward the water from BO's. Across the street from BO's is Harpoon Harry's where you can get a really good breakfast. Just NE on Caroline from BO's is a really neat used musical instrument store that has some interesting stuff if you're in to that. By the way, renting a car in Key West can be a pain in the a.. 'cause there's no place to park. If you're inclined, you would do better to rent a MoPed. Does anyone agree?

      1. We like Eat it Raw on the docks for oysters, conch chowder and such. Run up the road a little ways north to Mangrove Mama;s, a little yellow and green Dive on the right as you're headed north-excellent. Favorite bar in Key West is the Green Parrot. VERY local color.

        1. Don't forget the keys are a long chain of islands. if you are flying into Key West and renting a car there , you have to drive north to the other keys on US 1. Big Pine is 30 miles from Key West.

          9 Replies
          1. re: eimac

            i keep hearing rave reviews about a place on Stock Island..Hogfish Grill, I believe? Anyone been?

            1. re: HabaneroJane

              While in Key West last may we had lunch at the Hogfish Bar and Grill. Enjoyed our hogfish sandwiches immensely. We liked the place much better than B.O's fish wagon. In fact having been to both places I can't recommend B.O.'s even if you can't make it to Hogfish Bar. Hogfish was great, we'd go back in a heartbeat.


              1. re: janniecooks

                ok we'll definately have to check this joint out

                1. re: HabaneroJane

                  The Hogfish is great! I haven't been in a few years, but there's nothing like a good hogfish sandwich. Imagine the tastiest grouper that you've ever had, then double it. It's on the water at the marina, so lots of nice views.

                  Across the dirt parking lot is the place that the shrimpers sell their catch, so you can pick up some Key West Pinks for bargain prices!

                  1. re: HabaneroJane

                    We just went to Hogfish yesterday and I was a bit underwhelmed. I enjoyed the shrimp a lot, but was told they were out of Hogfish?????when I ordered the hogfish sandwich. They substituted blackened grouper and it was a bit bland. The atmosphere is great and the portions huge(You could almost split the sandwich with someone) and my husband enjoyed his fried shrimp po boy. I was just upset that I did not get to try the one thing on the menu that I went there for. Next time I will try the Shrimp Shack or the Rusty Anchor.

                    1. re: ScarlettNola

                      I went over Memorial Weekend for the first time and lo and behold they told us the same thing--JUST missed the last hogfish....grrr...we had some shrimp and fish dip instead--both mediocre..not worth a trip back , especially to that ramshackle neighborhood which didn't find charming in a fishing village kind of way at all. i felt dirty!

                      1. re: ScarlettNola

                        Scarlett, if I recall correctly from your past posts, you're from NOLA, right? Did the shrimp po boy really compare with a NOLA po boy? I usually won't order one anywhere else because the bread never seems right, but if y'all liked it, then I'd reconsider.

                        1. re: Niki in Dayton

                          It was okay. I believe that they use cuban bread. You just never get the exact consistency with the bread. From what I have found-po boys can be ordered outside of NOLA and they are served on a hoagie roll which is just not the same. He tends to stick with what he knows, and I tend to try new cuisine dependent on the enviroment. If you have tried a po boy in NOLA, I would not recommend this one- to me it was simply a sandwich.

                  2. We always have to hit Blue Heaven for breakfast great homemade breads and El Siboney for dinner which is a little Cuban restaurant. Also Finegans Wake is an Irish Pub but people weer super friendly and food was good and beer was cold. Have fun.

                    1. Sounds like fun. B.O.s Fish wagon is perfect. Search out Shrimp Shack on Stock Island. Schooner Wharf Bar is another goodie and go when Micheal McCloud is playing. Stop in a Dons in Key West.

                      1. Just got back from 10 days in the Keys . Here are a few places we went to that I would highly recommend:
                        1. Most of the bars on Duval are good. People are very friendly. We liked in particular Green Parrot (Caroline Street), Hogs Breath and Irish Kevins. See who is playing at various places. We heard some very good music.

                        2. The Bight area - Schooner Wharf Bar was our favorite. Also has happy hour and drink coupons are in various tourist books on the island.

                        3. Turtle Kraals has an excellent happy hour. Go to the tower bar, have a few discounted drinks and some good food.

                        4. Also for food -- if you are driving down I highly recommend Key West Fisheries in Marathon. Go to the window and order very fresh seafood. Sit right on the dock and enjoy. Has full bar as well.

                        5. Dante's on the Bight has live music on the weekends. Had an excellent Cuban sandwich here. Discount drinks during happy hour as well.

                        6. If you enjoy fishing, nothing like a few cold beers while catching some fish. We got about 50 fish in less than 2 hours. There are several restaurants that will cook your catch.

                        7. Conch Republic had really good shrimp. Not a dive, but good seafood.

                        8. Pepe's (kind of across from BO). Order the steak smothered with 2 pork chops, onions. Enough to feed 3 people!. Excellent margaritas (they make their own juice for all their drinks).

                        9. If you are coming through Key Largo on Saturday or Sunday, definitely stop at Alabama Jacks on Card Sound Road. Live country music from 2-5 Saturday and 2-7 Sunday. Good food, cold beers, lots of locals. They close at dark. It reminds me of a Southern honky-tonk kind of place.

                        The only place we were really disappointed in was Half Shell -- although people next to us got oysters that they said were very good. Had seafood skewers that were way overcooked, underseasoned, and the shrimp were tiny. Sides were not great either.

                        Have a great time. Wish I was there now!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: SheriS

                          The Green Parrot is at the corner of Southard and Whitehead Streets (601 Whitehead), not on Caroline.

                        2. If you are driving this is my routine from Ft Lauderdale:
                          Alabama Jacks is a MUST - just the ride there is cool especially if you do not live in Florida. http://www.alabamajacks.com/
                          Dennys Latin Key Largo - Get a cafe con leche.
                          The Fish House - Key Largo - http://www.fishhouse.com
                          ISLAMORADA RESTAURANT & BAKERY - BEST Key lime pie!
                          Squid Row in Islamorada - http://keysdining.com/squidrow/dinner.... A bar with GREAT food.
                          Do not miss Cracked Conch Cafe - 4999 Overseas Hwy - Marathon. I never do! Unbelievable conch!
                          By all means The Hog Fish bar & Grill - http://www.hogfishbar.com/menus.htm
                          Rarely go to Key West as it breaks my heart that is has become such a tourist trap however My Blue Heaven is a MUST! http://www.blueheavenkw.com

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Lovthebluz

                            Unfortunately, Squid Roe "sleeps with the fishes"... so to speak. Closed more than a year ago.

                          2. I posted this on a different forum, but if you have not already been to the Keys and back, some great info........And remember, the drive from Key West to Big Pine or Marathon is not that bad. We found better food and prices outside of the tourist trap, but Key West does have some fun places. For future reference.......we spent two months in the lower keys last summer so I think I can safely say, we can rate the good and the bad. Most of our time was spent at Rob's Island Grill, US1, Big Pine, MM31. Great food, great happy hour, full bar. It's more like a sports bar, not on water. But very pleasant. We were there almost every day and never had a bad meal. We always sat at the bar. Seared ahi-tuna was excellent. Rob had it up for sale, so if there are new owners, who knows. Favorite for breakfast was Big Pine restaurant, MM30 or Cracked Egg, MM30.5, both on US1. There is also a place in Marathon in a strip mall that has killer eggs benedict and serves mimosas/Marys...think it's called Farella's Village cafe. We didn't make it there that visit, but was always good in the past. It's on US1 bayside. Also in Marathon, the Castaway, MM47.8, turn on 15th street. Really good. Hubby had raw oysters, biggest we have ever seen and I had hog fish to die for. Best besides Rob's, when we felt like driving, was The Island Fish Co. MM54, Marathon, bayside. Fab, fun, open air. They have Mexican Sundays that are unbelievable. Monster, delicious fajitas, and delish shrimp rancheros. Lowe Key Tiki bar, US1,MM27.5. Local hangout, not so good food, bartenders with attitude unless you are a local. Just past there bayside is another huge tiki bar & putt putt golf. Great open air place for drinks, pretty good appetizers. Parrotdise Bar and Grille, great place for cocktails, decent appetizers, good chowder, friendly staff. Off US1 on Little Torch Key. Don't know the MM, but you can see it from US1, going south. Oh, back to Big Pine.....best pizza in the Keys......No Name Pub. Harder 'n hell to find, but worth it. Turn at the only light on Big Pine and meander back toward Old Wooden Bridge. It's on N. Watson. After you eat, cross the bridge and drive thru No Name Key till the road ends. Beautiful scenery. We always fish the Old Wooden Bridge and caught our share of nice Yellowtail snapper. Yum. The Square Grouper, MM22.5, US1....way over priced.....keep going. Bobalu's Southern Cafe, MM10, US1. Thought I had died and gone back to Georgia. The best southern food I have ever eaten out. I had fried okra, sweet tater casserole, greens, blackeyed peas...you get the idea. But hubby had a seafood wrap that was very, very good, so a nice variety. OK, Key West......you gotta hit Schooner Wharf when Michael McCloud is on stage. He's usually there lunch time into early afternoon. Some days not at all, so check. Decent food for the most part, but more fun than ever. Michael is a hoot. Just remember, he's not very "tactful" sometimes. :) Turtle Krawls is OK, but there are other better places. A&B seafood or ALonzo's Oyster Bar....can't remember which is the casual downstairs, but excellent. Best ahi tuna. Half price appetizers at happy hour. And last but not least.....Roof Top Cafe in Key West. We had our 25th anniversary dinner there. Pricey....pretty much....but I had rack of lamb that could beat any in the country. Hubby had a seafood combination, expecting a nice broiled platter, but it was served w/ pasta in a sauce. Not bad but not very good. Disappointing, I guess more than anything. They have an appetizer with gnocchi (sp) in a sherry cream sauce, mushrooms, etc. And it was excellent. Lovely decor and great ambience. Sorry this is so long, but hope it helps. We are venturing to the south west coast of FL this year. Trying Matlacha (pronounced Mat-la-shay). Hear the fishing is good. Anyone been there?

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Monasmenagerie

                              Based on your comments above you are going to love Matlacha, the quiet little drinking village with a fishing problem.

                              Pine Island Sound is spectacular and quite pristine compared to the Keys. Lots of fish, easy to catch. Snapper, tripletail, snook, mullet (not my favorite), grouper, etc. This time of year the Boca Grande Pass is full of tarpon, they look like mirrors flashing if you fly over. The Tarpon Tide fishing tournament has boats from all over the world come to fish Tarpon.

                              Pine Island mainly has dumpy places: Ragged Ass Saloon (started by Hooters girls) and Bert's Bar are just two places that are very popular. Bert's has food but all I've tried there were wings (ok) and the house made potato chips (good). Both have entertainment at night. Bert's has a million dollar view and looks terrifying from the road.


                              Best dinner: http://www.tarponlodge.com/dining/

                              No trip to this area is complete without Cabbage Key Inn

                              I might just cut and past this as a separate link to make sure you see it. LMF, who used to live at Burnt Store Marina and still lives nearby.

                              1. re: Monasmenagerie

                                ok, really sounds like we got our work cut out for us. thank you for the descriptive locations, should really help us out!

                                1. re: Monasmenagerie

                                  We have been to Pine Island the last three years. Love it! We stay and eat at Tarpon Lodge. Great place to escape. The same people own Cabbage Key which is a boat ride away. There is a Lazy Flamingo on Pine Ils. near Booklia and in St. James City is another place ...forgot the name. Have fun

                                  Tarpon Lodge Restaurant
                                  13771 Waterfront Dr, Bokeelia, FL 33922

                                2. Love the Conch chowder at the A & B Lobster house in Key West!

                                  1. Went to Key West this past weekend and were really impressed with all the food suggestions!

                                    On the way down, we stopped at Sundowners in Key Largo. Boyfriend ordered coconut crusted grouper with wild rice. Very tasty and fresh. I ordered the all you can eat Friday Night FIsh fry, which for $16 couldn't be beat. It included fried mahi, french fries, corn and cole slaw. Our server kept it coming! Also, the bread at this place is to die for. They bring you a loaf of sweet bread that tastes like the best Hawaiian roll you've ever had. The server told us that they bake it with coconut and pineapple.

                                    Once in Key West, we had lunch at the Half Shell Raw Bar. Half a dozen fresh HUGE oysters, conch fritters and a fried grouper sandwich. Everything was great. Their tartar sauce is house made and tastes really delicious!

                                    Dinner at 915 Duval...EXCELLENT!!! They are running a special..."Party like its 1929" A three course prixe fixe with a glass of champagne for $29. GREAT deal. Similar to Miami Spice. I ordered the devils on horseback (bacon wrapped dates) as my app, "Steak Bruschetta" as my entree, and mango sorbet was the dessert. Boyfriend ordered thai lettuce wraps for app, whole fried thai yellowtail snapper as entree and mango sorbet (the dessert of the day). We also ordered a side of fried polenta for $3. Everything was incredibly fresh and delicious.

                                    Breakfast on Sunday at Sarabeth's. Above-average, good quality food on the pricey side. I learned that its the same as the ones in New York. The manager told us that the owner let him open one in KW after he had been manager for 20 years.

                                    Lunch at BO's Fish Wagon. Wanted to compare the fried grouper sandwich and conch fritters to Half Shell's. I liked Half Shell's conch fritters better and BO's sandwich better.

                                    Overall a great weekend, food-wise. Can't wait to go back and explore more!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: jessicam29

                                      ok so all the suggestions were spot on and the wifey and i had our fill of great food! the only place i will reccomend is the conch fritter stand in mallory square for sunset. he apparently gets his conch from some other source because you could actually see and chew it. plus they are not perfect round little doughy ball like BO's. definately brave the tourist trap just for those and a little sunset by the reggae guy outside the hotel.

                                    2. Just got back from Key West . . . had great conch fritters and fried shrimp at The Conch Shop. The conch salad is the best, they make everything as you wait. It's not always open, so check first before you get your heart set on eating some authentic local food in a very casual setting. We just regret that we found it so late. It's on Patronia Street.

                                      Key West Cafe
                                      2413 S Highway 77, Lynn Haven, FL 32444