- Sasha Frost
Lobster, prawn, shrimp, and crab dishes are staple favorites in Florida‘s Key West. But this city’s dynamic dining scene offers much more in terms of variety. We profile 10 of the best restaurants here.
Café Marquesa forms part of the luxurious Marquesa Hotel, and offers diners the opportunity to enjoy the award-winning cuisine prepared by Chef Susan Ferry and her team. The menu changes with the seasonal availability of the produce, though fresh local seafood is naturally a constant feature. Situated in the center of Old Town Key West, the cafe’s dining room is adorned with a row of mirrors. These reflect not only the diners at their tables, but also give a glimpse into a kitchen hard at work. A dish of almond, ginger, and coconut-crusted mahi is emblematic of the kind of fusion of flavors offered on a menu dedicated to contemporary American cuisine.
Cafe Marquesa, 600 Fleming Street, Key West, FL, USA, +1 305 292 1919
A table booked at Pierre’s means an evening of fine-dining along a stretch of beach lined with palm trees. The restaurant forms part of the Morada Bay retreat, an old colonial-style residence, which was once a two-floored plantation house. The restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating perfect for watching the Florida Bay sunset. Inside, a dark-paneled room, The Green Flash Lounge, is fully equipped to serve those pre-dinner cocktails. The carpets, furniture, and numerous artifacts come from as far afield as India and Morocco. The kitchen offers mouthwatering dishes, such as Pierre’s Oystafellar: a plate of Blue Point oysters, chorizo, baby spinach and Gruyere cheese. The seafood is mainly local, but Pierre’s sources global ingredients to meet the breadth of the menu, with imports such as Australian lamb and Norwegian salmon.
Morada Bay,Overseas Highway, Islamorada, FL, USA, +1 305 664 3225
Blue Heaven is Key West’s place to go for live music, eclectic art and classic seafood dishes. Apart from seasonal catches, the menu doesn’t change, as the kitchen has perfected a series of recipes that have, over time, become local favorites. The Caribbean BBQ shrimp comes peppered with jerked seasonings and a Red Stripe beer glaze, and is served with freshly baked corn bread muffins. Combining delicious ingredients is what Blue Heaven is all about, taking inspiration and flavors from any cuisine that brings something to the table: Mediterranean, Caribbean, and contemporary American cuisine all get a showing. The restaurant is surrounded by tropical trees and lush greenery. It has an outside area for diners to enjoy the music from the little wooden stage.
Blue Heaven Restaurant, 729 Thomas Street Key West, FL, USA, +1 305-296-
Conch Republic Seafood Company
The Conch Republic sits on the historic site of the Key West docks where sponges used to be brought ashore in their thousands. In the early 1900s, the area became known as the Sponge Capital of the USA, and was bustling with all manner of cargo ships and merchants. The Key West Bight, where the Conch Republic can now be found, continued to be a prime fishing port, later on becoming popular for pink shrimp. The restaurant hasn’t forgotten its history: it was built with parts of the shrimp processing plant, and contains salt water tanks displaying invertebrates native to the Florida waters. The menu naturally features fresh produce in signature dishes of conch fritters and fried calamari.
Latitudes is a little more ‘out there’ than most of the restaurants in Key West — about 10 minutes across the water by shuttle, to be precise. The restaurant is on the little island of Sunset Key, with tables looking out over the Gulf of Mexico. Dining indoors means sitting in the Ernest Hemingway Room, where the author and former Key West resident gazes at the diners from the many photos mounted on the walls. Alternatively, dinner can be taken on the beach where the tables are lit by tiki torches. Chef Todd Holender is forever at work creating fusions with fresh seafood and tropical fruit. Lime, papaya and mango give color to both the fruit salads and grilled fish dishes.
Latitudes, 245 Front St, Key West, FL, USA, +1 305 292 5394
Santiago’s Bodega offers diners dozens of Spanish tapas to choose from, and about as many bottles of wine to pair with all the Iberian flavors. Santiago’s is to be found in the center of Bahama Village, a laid-back area that forms part of Old Town, making it a great place to stop for a bite to eat after visiting The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, which is just a few steps away. The author of Death In The Afternoon would likely have approved of the array of tapas available so close to his residence. Diners have a choice of hot and cold tapas: shrimp and chorizo, seasoned grouper; beef carpaccio, and yellowfin tuna ceviche, to a name but a few.
Santiago’s Bodega, 207 Petronia Street #101, Key West, FL, USA, +1 305 296 7691
Nine One Five
Dining at Nine One Five involves stepping into a Victorian mansion from the 1850s. The large veranda faces onto Duval Street, and is a perfect place to view the evening’s comings and goings. The kitchen strives to combine distinctive flavors to create memorable dishes such as its crispy whole yellowtail snapper, and the ever so moreish braised pork tacos. Nine One Five has definitely struck upon a combination that works just right in Key West: contemporary American cuisine and an international wine list, all served in a white-beamed, historic setting. Upstairs, Point5 Lounge can be found, where smaller dishes and cocktails are served.
Nine One Five, 915 Duval St, Key West, FL, USA, +1 305 296 0669
A&B Lobster House
Alonzo & Berlin’s Lobster House has been a fixture in Key West since 1947, and is worth the visit just to soak up the seaside atmosphere. The restaurant specializes in seafood caught off the coasts of Florida and Maine, though the kitchen also serves up a mean Black Angus NY steak. Located across from the historic Key West Bight, A&B’s Lobster House has an outdoor balcony from which to enjoy views of the water at sundown. Broiled Florida lobster tail, served with coconut pecan rice and baby vegetables, is the kind of well-honed dish diners have come to expect and love. For an after dinner drink, Berlin’s Martini & Cigar Bar next door offers guests cognacs, cigars, and dessert wines.
A&B Lobster House, 700 Front St, Key West, FL, USA, +1 305 294 5880
2 Cents Key West is a little gastro pub serving up big flavors in a welcoming setting. Paintings and murals cover the walls, and the high wooden chairs running the length of the bar are a perfect place for an afternoon cocktail. With names like My Bitter/Sweet Clementine, Mama’s Long Gin&Juice, and Hibiscus Jalapeno Margarita, the drinks are crying out to be tasted. The menu is all about upmarket pub food, with local clams and mussels combined with more international ingredients like chorizo to create hearty dishes that pack a punch of flavor, enough to contend with those cocktails.
2 Cents, 416 Appelrouth Lane, Key West, FL, USA, +1 305 414 8626
Hot Tin Roof
Hot Tin Roof forms part of the Ocean Key Resort & Spa, which overlooks Key West Harbor. A mural from a local artist adorns the main dining room, and the rest of the interior is full of bright, tropical colors. The real draw of the restaurant, however, is the view from the wooden deck which diners flock to for the sunsets. The cocktail list is varied and extensive, but drinks aren’t all the bar has to offer — a Southernmost Mixology Class is available for enthusiasts who want to get involved. The course gives mixers a chance to make and taste a series of cocktails, some of which have histories going back hundreds of years. Fortunately, the excellence of the drinks does not come at the expense of the dishes, and Executive Chef Jason Westphal offers delicacies such as crab-stuffed lobster on his award-winning menu.
Ocean Key Resort & Spa, Duval St, Key West, FL, USA, +1 305 296 7701