The Keys’ location and heritage played a big part in the development of the islands’ cuisine. Their remoteness and saltwater surroundings meant residents historically relied on the ocean’s bounty for their foodstuffs, while multicultural settlers brought recipes and flavors of their homelands with them. From upscale to fast-casual and everything in between, each distinct district of the Keys has enticing and memorable eateries.
Among them are the following standouts:
Key Largo Conch House. Hidden behind native trees and shrubs at mile marker 100.2 oceanside, Key Largo Conch House offers both indoor and outdoor seating, nifty décor and a menu featuring fresh local seafood and delicious desserts. Popular items at the family-owned and -operated spot include conch fritters, coconut macadamia hogfish, lobster and conch ceviche, crab-stuffed mahi-mahi and lionfish — with separate menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner and specialties for kids. There’s also an extensive wine and beer list with vintages and brews to complement any meal. Visit keylargoconchhouse.com or call 305-453-4844.
Chef Michael’s. Islamorada’s extraordinary Chef Michael’s, owned by the chef for 10 years, serves a variety of quality freshly caught seafood that typically includes hogfish and lionfish. Diners can choose to have their fish prepared in one of several ways, such as blackened and crawfish-topped in Creole cream; sautéed with crabmeat and shiitake mushrooms; nut-crusted and served with mango sauce; or simply grilled, sautéed, fried or blackened. The always-busy eatery also serves up exceptional steaks. Chef Michael’s is located oceanside at mile marker 81.6, just steps away from the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District. Visit foodtotalkabout.com or call 305-664-0640.
Keys Fisheries. This casual waterfront favorite in Marathon shares its location with the Keys Fisheries Marina and seafood market, a leading fish exporter — so mouthwatering seafood specialties are literally “fresh off the boat.” Renowned for its iconic lobster Reuben, the restaurant features offerings like stone crab claws during season (Oct. 15 to May 1), peel-and-eat pink shrimp and savory conch chowder year-round and melt-in-your-mouth key lime pie for dessert. The rustic waterfront landmark, located on 35th Street at mile marker 49 bayside, is also a hotspot where locals and visitors gather to enjoy the sunset. Visit keysfisheries.com or call 305-743-4353.
South of the Seven. South of the Seven at the historic Sugarloaf Lodge specializes in fresh locally caught seafood, Mediterranean-inspired dishes and prime steaks and chops, complemented by classic cocktails and sunset views of Sugarloaf Sound. The menu is a creative blend of land and sea with a focus on freshly sourced ingredients. Popular dishes include the 40-ounce bone-in “Tomahawk” ribeye steak and the Thai-style whole fish with a saki-infused Thai chili sauce. Sugarloaf Lodge is tucked along the Florida Keys Overseas Highway at mile marker 17 gulfside in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. Visit southoftheseven.com or call 305-741-7115.
El Siboney. Key West, the southernmost island in the Florida Keys, lies only 90 miles from Cuba and is rich in Cuban heritage. A perfect example can be found at El Siboney, a family-owned and -operated restaurant that has served the Key West community since 1984. Located at 900 Catherine St. in the Old Town neighborhood, the eatery offers traditional Cuban favorites and house-made sangria in a casual, family-friendly setting. Authentic Cuban dishes include roast pork, picadillo and ropa vieja served in ample portions with black beans, yellow rice and sweet plantains. Visit elsiboneyrestaurant.com or call 305-296-4184.