Hidden Foodie Favorites Flavor the Florida Keys & Key West
In the Florida Keys & Key West, fresh seafood is a must for just about every meal and, with the abundance of fish and seafood in Keys waters, it’s no wonder the island chain’s indigenous cuisine relies on it. Keys restaurants range from gourmet hotspots to dockside seafood “shacks” and trendy food trucks where guests can choose from a wide variety of options.
Many excellent restaurants along the historic Florida Keys Overseas Highway provide tasty temptations. But if diners venture into less-explored areas, the possibilities become virtually endless.
Local fisherman offloading their catches, boats creaking along the dock, pelicans looking for treats, lobster traps neatly stacked and fishing nets being prepared all set the scene for a delicious meal at The Backyard Café at Key Largo Fisheries. This 50-year-old spot remains family-operated with the third generation working the business. Key Largo Fisheries was opened in 1972 and has blossomed into the full-fledged wholesale, retail and cafe emporium it is today.
Fresh locally caught seafood is on the menu at this working waterfront eatery. Diners can enjoy stone crab claws (when in season of course), Florida lobster, shrimp, snapper and more. Whether it’s lightly grilled in a delicious sandwich or battered and fried on a platter, the freshness of Florida seafood comes through — and diners might even run into the fisherman who caught their meal.
Continuing south to Islamorada leads visitors to another local favorite: Bad Boy Burrito. Located off the highway, it’s a worthwhile excursion for people seeking authentic Mexican food combined with fresh local seafood.
Standouts include Cayo Hueso Fish Tacos, grilled local fresh fish served on handmade corn tortillas with special verde sauce and a choice of toppings, and Baja Fish Tacos, fried local fish served on flour tortillas with freshly made pico de gallo and chipotle mayonnaise. Meat lovers can sample one of Bad Boy’s signature burritos with either pork carnitas, ground Kobe beef or skirt steak complete with a choice of toppings. Patrons can pair their meal with a refreshing watermelon agua fresca or limeade.
The emporium has been featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” — and as show host Guy Fieri can attest, a visit to Bad Boy is well worth it.
Hidden away on the Boot Key Harbor Waterway in Marathon stands the Chiki Tiki Bar & Grille at Burdines Waterfront. Locals who frequent the restaurant just call it “Burdines” and its reasonable prices and delicious food make it a popular stop.
The Chiki Tiki is up a flight of stairs, which means diners can enjoy a lovely breeze and a great view of the Florida Keys’ famous sunsets. Delectable dishes include fresh dolphin (mahi-mahi) sandwiches, certified Angus beef burgers and the signature tower of fries.
And while Key lime pie can be found on almost every menu, the Chiki Tiki’s version is fried! Rolled in a tortilla and then deep fried, this unexpected take on Key lime pie keeps locals and visitors alike coming back for more.
Journey further south into the Big Pine and Lower Keys region and discover an oasis tucked away just off the highway. Kiki’s Sandbar Bar & Grille is an easygoing beachfront eatery doling out pub grub and seafood favorites. Attractions include a patio, boat dock and beachside seating.
A locals’ hangout and popular wedding locale, Kiki’s serves up blackened shrimp tacos, a grilled snapper filet sandwich and other down-home Keys favorites. Anglers coming in from a day of fishing can have the chef cook their catch and grab an ice-cold refreshment. Kiki’s also offers nightly live music in a relaxed, pet-friendly and laid-back atmosphere.
Rounding out the list of foodie favorites is Pepe’s Café in Key West. The oldest restaurant on the island (a Cuban fisherman opened the place in 1909), Pepe’s is worth a visit for the history alone — though it’s the food that keeps people coming back again and again.
The restaurant serves everything from mouthwatering classic breakfasts that include hearty omelets, pancakes and homemade granola to burgers and blackened fish sandwiches at lunch and juicy pork chops and steaks for dinner. The eatery’s motto is “a fairly good place, for quite a long while,” but that’s far too unassuming to describe a visit to Pepe’s.
With a range of options for even the most discerning diner, it’s easy to see why taking the road less traveled in the Florida Keys can lead to some truly outstanding culinary experiences.
Bon appétit! Or Buen provecho!