The Florida Keys offer miles of tropical paradise stretching from Key Largo to Key West. The Daily Meal rounded up some of the most interesting and unique places to eat, drink and soak up the amazing views, weather and lifestyle of the Florida Keys.
Planning a vacation is serious business, as the joy of looking forward to the trip and the memories of a successful holiday can sustain you for months. The Florida Keys are a popular destination; not just for tourists but also in pop culture, as it’s been memorialized by music and movies alike. Adding to this unique area’s mystique, excitement and romance is its early history of being a haven for smugglers, pirates and other fringe members of society. Toss in a perfect year-round climate and you can see why locals fiercely love these islands and why so many people make the pilgrimage to experience paradise for a few days. To know the Florida Keys is for many to also know the frustration of not being able to make a permanent move there.
Part of what the locals call the Conch Republic, the lifestyle in the Keys revolves around taking it easy. The best way to put the brakes on life is to immerse yourself with the indigenous cuisine, as it will force you to take your time.
There’s no way to rush through a perfectly roasted cup of Cuban coffee and not a single valid reason to not meticulously savor a plate of oysters on the half shell. The culinary influences of the Florida Keys takes cues from its tropical climate, along with being the gateway to the Caribbean Islands. Fresh seafood, tropical fruit and citrus-based desserts are ubiquitous along the Florida Keys, but a number of chefs are putting their own touch on these ingredients; like the Asian influence at Kaiyo Grill and wildly innovative and playful flavors of Glazed Donuts.
The Daily Meal found 10 great places for you to enjoy traditional Florida Keys cuisine (like conch fritters and hogfish sandwiches) while taking in the unparalleled ambiance of this island paradise. Take a look at our slideshow and be prepared to have beach-filled daydreams turn into serious vacation planning.
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1. Blue Heaven, Key West
The Florida Keys are an eccentric place, so the absolute must-see restaurant should reflect that nature. Blue Heaven’s ambiance is full of art, tropical trees and its unofficial mascots: chickens and cats roam the restaurant. The menu is Caribbean-inspired and features items such as jerk chicken and Red Stripe deglazed shrimp.
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2. Half Shell Raw Bar, Key West
Among the many obligatory must-do’s when in Florida is the raw bar experience. Sit down on one of the Half Shell Raw Bar’s picnic tables, lose yourself staring off at the ocean, and enjoy oysters, clams and shrimp fresh off the boat.
3. Key Largo Conch House, Key Largo
You will undoubtedly hear about conch (pronounced “konk”) while you are in the Florida Keys. They come prepared in myriad ways and everyone will tell you their favorite style. But why leave it to guesswork? The Conch House has a sampler so you can try the conch ceviche, fritters and cracked conch.
4. El Siboney Restaurant, Key West
It would be a shame to come this close to Cuba without experiencing authentic Cuban food. The menu at El Siboney is complete with traditional items like oxtail with rice and plantains. This family-run eatery aims to end the embargo on home-cooked Cuban meals.
5. Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen, Key Largo
Littered with license plates all over the wall, Mrs. Mac’s has people across the world talking about its key lime pie. The dessert even has garnered national attention, getting a nod from Cosmopolitan Magazine.
6. Kaiyo Grill & Sushi, Islamorada
Kaiyo is the place where the island life meets Asian influence. You’ll find fusion dishes like fried grouper cheeks served with kimchi dipping sauce or hogfish stuffed with crab meat prepared with sake butter and paired with jasmine rice. The entire menu is traditional, with playful, delicious nods to Asian cuisine.
7. Keys Fisheries Market & Marina, Marathon
Sometimes when you have the freshest ingredients at your doorstep, the best way to prepare the food is with simplicity. At Keys Fisheries you can take in the view of the Keys Fisheries Marina, shop at the market and then watch the sunset while enjoying scallops, shrimp, stone crab and lobster. If you get a hankering for fresh seafood when you get home check out the online store; they deliver conch, crab and more.
8. Glazed Donuts, Key West
Part of the experience of being in Key West is taking it slow. There’s no better way to do that than taking your time to enjoy a fresh roasted cup of coffee while savoring unique, handmade donuts. Glazed Donuts uses its geography as inspiration for flavors, as key lime and pina colada donuts are often featured.
9. M.E.A.T. Eatery and Taproom, Islamorada
It’s not all about seafood in the Florida Keys. M.E.A.T. provides a break from aquatic-based cuisine with a massive roster of amazing burgers, house-smoked sausages and pulled pork. And there’s also The Home Wrecker: a 1/2 pound Wagyu beef hot dog. The menu certainly lives up to the restaurant’s name.
10. Boondocks Grille & Draft House & Miniature Golf, Ramrod Key
Everyone has to play at least one round of mini-golf when vacationing in Florida. When you’re done, check out the playful menu at Boondocks, featuring fun items like crab-covered soft pretzels, seafood-stuffed mushrooms and crab-infused mac and cheese.
READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE: 10 unique restaurants in the Florida Keys
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