Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dining in Key West - An Amateur Food Critic's Guide

Dining in Key West

(An Amateur Food Critic's Guide)

January 2011 and January 2013

       First, a disclaimer: I am not a food critic, but I do like to eat.  My wife and I like to try new restaurants when we are on vacation and prefer to try places the locals recommend rather than chain restaurants which are the same whatever city you are in.  We have been to Key West for two separate weeks in January 2011 and 2013 to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  The first trip we used a guide book for help and the second time we returned to some favorites and tried new places recommended by the concierge at our hotel (The Sourhternmost House), some fellow travelers and several tour trolley drivers.  There are hundreds of restaurants in Key West and this is in no way a comprehensive list or even a "best of" list.  It's just where we ate and what we thought of it!   We would hope that this might help fellow travelers to Key West enjoy their vacation.

    First a few tips.  Key West is an expensive place to vacation.  It can be very expensive to eat meals in restaurants.  We have found that early January is before the peak season.  Even though the weather is quite good, the prices haven't skyrocketed yet.  Secondly, we tried to eat our big meal in the middle of the day.  Some restaurants will serve their lunch menu until as late as 4 o'clock and the food is still great and the prices are lower.  We also found that many restaurants have Happy Hours with reduced food and beverage prices which we tried to take advantage of.  Finally, we often got an appetizer and split an entree which helped keep cost down some.

OK, here we go:

Banana Cafe  
     This restaurant is most known for it's wonderful breakfast menu.  It is located on the southern end of Duval Street (about a three minute walk from our hotel).  We have eaten here twice and enjoyed it quite a bit.  It is a bit pricey for breakfast, but, it's Key West!  The crepes are wonderful (I had the pineapple ones which were superb) and the oatmeal and fruit was also very good.  The coffee had a chicory flavor.  The waitress told us it was Neighbor's brand coffee.  The dinner menu looked good, but we never got back there for dinner.  My only criticism is that I watch my cholesterol and they do not use any egg substitutes so we didn't try any of the traditional breakfast dishes (omelettes, etc...). 

Banana Cafe

Louie's Backyard
     Louie's Back yard is located right on the ocean.  The "Back Deck" is a great place for a drink before dinner and to  watch the sunset. This restaurant was recommended by our concierge for our anniversary celebration dinner and it did not disappoint.  The views were spectacular and the food was even better.  The waiter was very knowledgeable about the menu and very helpful with the wine list. This was the most expensive place we have eaten in Key West, but for a special occasion it was well worth it.  The cost is really not more than you would expect from a fine restaurant in any big city such as Washington, D.C. or New York.  It was a very short walk down South Street from Duval.

Louie's Backyard

Your Blogger and the Mrs. on Louie's Back Deck Before Dinner
The Sunset from Louie's 

Blue Heaven Restaurant
     This restaurant is located in a building which has been a brothel, a cock-fighting ring and a boxing arena.  Hemingway used to box and also referee boxing matches here.  It has an interesting ambiance with roosters and chickens wandering around the outdoor tables.  The lunch menu is fairly broad and is served until late in the afternoon.  The food was fresh and well prepared.  The best part of the meal here is their key lime pie which is baked on the premises.  The meringue is something else.
Blue Heaven on Thomas Street

Grilled Mahi Mahi lunch plate at Blue Heaven
Oh my!  Key Lime Pie!!!

Mangia Mangia Pasta Cafe
      This restaurant wasn't open for lunch so we went for an early dinner.  The menu is full of fresh pasta dishes and the seafood dishes are amazing.  The wait staff was very nice and the whole experience was delightful.

Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville
     This is the original Margaritaville and is on everyone's list of "go to" spots in Key West.  The menu is fairly routine bar food, although the conch fritters were better than average and I got a Mahi Mahi sandwich which was very good.  Go here so that you can say you did, but not necessarily for the food.
The grilled fish sandwich at Margaritaville

The Conch Fritter Stand at Mallory Square
     We asked around about who had the best conch fritters on the island and the most frequent answer was this little stand on Mallory Square.  The price is right: 6 conch fritters for $6.50.  The coconut shrimp are very good as well.  We enjoyed eating these while watching the sunset from the Mallory Square pier.

Thai Island Restaurant
     We love Thai food and Thai Island may be our favorite Thai restaurant ever.  The food is very authentic and not too spicy.  The second floor outdoor deck overlooks the Garrison Bight Marina.  It is a little bit off of the beaten path on Palm Avenue.  We stopped there both trips on the way to the airport to have one more "Thai Island fix" before we left Key West.  The highlight this time was that we tried their key lime pie which is served with coconut sauce!

Thai Island Restaurant is on the second floor.
This bar was featured in the James Bond movie
"License to Kill" in 1989.

Us again.  We get around, you know?

Oh my, more Key Lime Pie!  (With coconut sauce!)

The Conch Republic Seafood Company
   This restaurant is located on the historic Key West Bight and has fantastic views of the charter fishing boats and yachts.  The fish tacos (which were recommended by the waite) were outstanding and everything was moderately priced.

The view from our table at The Conch Republic Seafood Company

The Southernmost Beach Cafe
     This cafe and bar is located on the southernmost end of Duval Street across the street from The Southernmost House.  They have great happy hour prices on daught beer and hors d'oeuvres.  Their menu ranges from burgers to specialty seafood dishes.  The Ahi tuna was particularly good here.  This is a great, causual and not too expensive place to relax at the end of the day.

Ahi tuna with pickled ginger and wasabi sauce

Not a bad view, eh?

Southernmost Beach Cafe at night

The Hogfish Bar and Grill (Stock Island)
     This is a fantastic place on Stock Island.  It is a bit difficult to find, but it's worth the trouble to find it.  You are seated directly next to fishing docks and the Atlantic Ocean.  The fish could not be fresher.  We did not go here on our last visit because we did not rent a car this time and felt like it would be an expensive cab ride from Duval Street where we were staying.  During our first trip to Key West we stayed at The Inn at Key West which is closer to the airport and  it was a short drive to The Hogfish Bar and Grill.  As a bonus there was live music the night we went (I don't know if that is only on certain nights).

View from our table at Hogfish Bar and Grill

Jack's Seafood Shack 
     This restaurant is located on the first floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Duval Street.  The hotel is notable for being the tallest building in Key West and a place where Hemingway would put up his friends and family when they came to visit.  The restaurant was nearly empty at lunch and there was only one waitress who was not particularly happy with her place of employment.  Despite that, her service was good, the lunch menu was diverse and the food was really good.  They have their own "secret recipe" steak fries which were tasty.

Old La Concha Hotel.  Jack's is on the
first floor.
Lobby of La Concha Hotel

Finnegan's Wake Irish Pub and Eatery
     We found this wonderful place by accident.  It is on Grinnell Street, across from the public parking deck (about four or five blocks from Mallory Square).  On our first trip we rented a car which we parked in the deck.  On this trip we figured out that this is very near Stop 7 on the Old Town Trolley Tour.  As an aside, of the two trolley tour bus companies, this is probably the best because they let you get on and off at 8 different stops for the whole day.  Back to Finnegan's:  They have a fantastic Happy Hour with unbelievably low prices on beer and food.  They serve authentic Irish fare and have Guinness on tap.  What more do you need?

Finnegan's Wake from the Old Town Trolley

       Well, I'll add to this list after our next trip to Key West (which hopefully won't be two more years in coming).  I hope this amateur guide to dining out in Key West has been helpful.  Enjoy!

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