Although Key West is a tiny island, its unique and delicious cuisine is comparable to those found in other major cities, a delicious mix of food and culture. The culinary culture has been influenced by the Cuban and the Caribbean cultures because it’s closer to Cuba than Miami.
Seafood forms the foundation of most of the meals prepared in the conch republic. However, you can find other unique dishes outlets in Key West. Similarly, in some outlets, you can still find some Florida-Caribbean meals.
If you’re a visitor, there is a wide range of the best food to sample, and you’ll be spoilt for choices. The following are some of the best meals you can find.
No other dish is identified with Key West more than key lime pie. This popular dessert has its roots in the late 19th century in Key West, Florida. Although limes aren’t cultivated in Florida today, their use has persisted throughout the years in the Florida Keys, Key West, and Stock Island. The citrus is currently sourced from the West Indies or Mexico, and almost every local eatery has this tart, creamy pie on their menu.
One of the main ingredients is the sweetened condensed milk, and it is thought this was adopted because refrigeration and fresh milk were not standard in Florida until 1930. In 2006, key lime pie was named Florida’s official pie and is common in all the best restaurants across the island.
Conch Fritters is a signature dish in Key West Florida, a popular delicacy prepared from meaty pink mollusk extracted from the conch shells. Pink mollusks are common throughout the ocean floors in the region. However, they are now protected across the US. All the restaurants in Key West source them from local farms or import them from the Caribbean.
In 1986, conch harvesting was made illegal because of overfishing. Their meat is typically tougher, and it has to be tenderized by pounding. Once pounded with a mallet, it is dipped in egg wash, flour, and breadcrumbs. In every step, excess flour, breadcrumbs, or egg wash is shaken off. Canola oil is used on medium-high heat and pan-seared until it turns golden brown on all sides. After seasoning with salt, a fish spatula can be used to take them from oil. It has a mildly sweet taste, almost like a clam.
Then there’s Conch Chowder, another classic delicacy in Key West. It is made in a spicy broth of vegetables and tomatoes. Like the fritters, chowder has a long history in the Florida Keys.
It is prepared using a heavy pot on medium-high heat, and the ingredients used include garlic, onions, tomatoes, and pepper. They are cooked until they are soft, and the heat is reduced to low. The grounded conch meat is added. Potatoes and some water are also added to make soup. It’s allowed to simmer for an hour, and salt is added to taste and served in bowl soups.
Key West and the Stock Island are surrounded by water, and it is home to the pink shrimp identified by their red dot on their shells. These crustaceans are in season between March and May, and almost 80% of all pink shrimp caught in the US are from Florida’s west coast.
Pink shrimp is tasty, and if you want to have a taste of fresh local seafood, you can walk into any restaurant in Key West to get a lobster tail for dinner or lunch.
Cuban culinary culture has been part of Key West for a long time. Since the island is only 90 miles away from Cuba, Cuban cuisine has had a considerable impact on Key West food culture. By the late 19th century, almost half of the Key West population was from Cuba, and their heritage is felt to this day.
You can find at least one cafe that offers Cuban meals in any street, such as the Ropa Vieja. Some of the popular places to taste this unique cuisine include El Siboney Cuban Restaurant, El Meson De Pepe’s Restaurant & Bar near Mallory Square, and the Havana Cabana, located on Duval Street. Similarly, Frita’s Cubano Café with a large dining room is among the best restaurants in the old town located a few steps away from Duval Street, where you can have some of the tantalizing meals.
Spiny lobsters, also known as sea crayfish, are among the leading fresh seafood in Key West. This unique crustacean is unique and different from the Maine variety. They are relatively smaller, have long antennae, lack claws, and inhabit warm waters. This variety tastes somewhat sweeter compared to Maine varieties.
Spiny lobsters are abundant across the Key West region. They are also found in regions like the Bahamas, Australia, and California. Their season in Key West comes in late summer. Locals and even tourists can catch their own lobsters. When prepared, they are served with a drawn butter menu. Blue Heaven Restaurant is located in the old town district that offers brunch with decadent lobster eggs. You can also have fine dining of spiny lobster at Eaton Street Seafood Market & Restaurant.
If you’re sampling Key West’s best local dishes, freshly caught fish is a must-have. Perhaps the best way to enjoy it is to have it as a sandwich. Popular fish includes Mahi, snapper, grouper, or even conch fried, grilled sandwiched on a toasty roll.
You can’t talk of the best meals without mentioning a drink, and Key West is a drinking city. There are numerous beverages consumed in Key West, but Key West legal rum is produced on the island. The drink is found on menus as a cocktail in all parts of the island. You can also buy a bottle at Wine-O Shop at Mallory Square to enjoy it at home.
Blue Heaven Cafe is one of the popular outlet that’s open every day between 8:oo am and 2:30 pm and between 5:00 pm and 10:00 pm. Every day between 3:00 and 5:00p is happy hour. Other bars like Sloppy Joe’s Bar often host live music and dancing with a separate watching room, where you can enjoy delicious food or a drink like con Leche while watching your favorite program.
Besides the restaurants, you can buy your best local favorite takeaway from a food truck in town that sells dishes like Cuban bread, jerk chicken, or the delicious Florida lobster in the open air.