We may earn income from links in this post. Please read this Disclosure for details.
The state of Florida might be best known for Mickey Mouse, Miami’s trendy South Beach and its Everglades alligators.
But the Florida Keys offer something completely different.
History buff? Nature lover? Water-baby? Sunseeker? The Keys deliver.
But they also offer a smorgasbord of memorable food and drink experiences such as conch fritters, key lime pie and Hemingway-inspired rum cocktails.
So if you’re planning a road trip south, here are some of the best places to eat in the Florida Keys.
Think Caribbean meets the mainland. The Florida Keys are nuzzled by the waters of the Atlantic on one side and Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.
They stretch southwest for nearly 300 kilometres. And there’s plenty of great food along the way.
To help you plan your own culinary road trip, I’m sharing my favourite places to eat (and drink) in the Florida Keys from Key Largo in the north to Key West in the south.
You won’t want to miss these foodie essentials!
There’s cheap eats, seafood lunches, rum distillery tours, fine-dining restaurants, sunset cocktails and more.
1. Order Conch Fritters at (of Course) Key Largo Conch House
I arrive at the first entry on my list of Florida Keys must-dos for foodies a mere five-minute drive from the bridge joining the Keys to the Florida mainland (Google Map).
Welcome to the Key Largo Conch House.
This second-generation family-run restaurant has been featured on the Travel Channel, Food Network and Emeril’s Florida.
It’s well-known for the quality and variety of its seafood and is one of the top places to eat in the Florida Keys when it comes to conch.
Their conch fritters are an absolute must-do.
Nicely fried and boasting just a hint of curry, they’re served with house-made aioli.
When I do the Caribbean, two items always make their way onto my foodie bucket list: conch fritters and piña coladas.
Today they’re serving chilled mimosas on the verandah of this quaint former house featuring peach-painted board-and-batten facades and gingerbread trim.
That’s why I forego the piña coladas.
Don’t forego the fritters.
🌟 Insider Tip: Judging from the activity at surrounding tables, the tacos — fillings ranging from gator to lionfish — are as popular as the fritters.
2. Dine al Fresco with a Side Order of Sunset
During that afternoon’s activities I pump some locals for dinner recommendations.
Food’s a priority tonight but I’m really after a table with a sunset view. I can eat anywhere.
By the end of my appetizer — Maine lobster bites deep-fried in beer batter and served with honey mustard sauce — the sunset’s become an afterthought.
These things were delicious. Even better washed down with a specialty of the house, a Frozen Key Lime Colada.
But back to the sunset.
They advertise the fact that every seat in the house has an unobstructed view, whether you chose the more formal Grand Tiki dining room, the patio sheltered by periwinkle-coloured umbrellas, or the “bar ledge” – a row of seating literally cantilevered over the waters of the bay itself.
With anchored sailboats for foreground the sunset is nothing short of spectacular – everything but the green flash.
It’s almost as delicious as dinner.
3. Bite into One of Peg’s Scones
First the bad news: if you want to sample Peg’s scones – a Key Largo breakfast delight – you must be a guest at Bay Harbour Lodge & Coconut Bay Resort right next door.
The good news? You get to stay at Bay Harbor & Coconut Bay Resort.
Strategically situated on Florida Bay (Google Map), this laid-back property boasts 23 cottages in a 2.5-acre garden setting. Each room (or suite) is meticulously clean, tastefully decorated and screams Old Florida with its décor.
Add a heated pool, a tiny beach, perfect sunsets and free paddleboards and kayaks for a recipe for a great vacation.
This charming resort is also an ideal base to explore the myriad attractions (and restaurants) in Key Largo.
But the most important recipe(s) here have to be the scones made daily under the watchful eye of owner Peg Mullin Laron, retired schoolteacher and resort proprietor.
Get up in the morning and stroll over to the food truck located in gardens and surrounded by an attractive lounge area.
Then grab your scone, fresh-baked that morning.
Years ago a guest complained about the lack of coffee in the resort so Peg immediately responded but she felt that coffee wasn’t enough.
She’d add freshly baked scones to the mix.
The rest is history, in the guise of at least three flavours offered each morning from Peg’s recipe of sixty-five delicious treats.
I recall my morning scone – or should I say my scones? – with affection.
No way you can limit yourself to just one.
4. Feed Yourself then Feed the Tarpon
As much a popular tourist destination as it is an entry on our list of Florida Keys’ must-dos for foodies, Robbie’s of Islamorada is much more than just a great lunch stop.
This is a popular waypoint for booking a variety of watersports, home to fishing charter boats and snorkeling excursions, host to an open-air market, popular bar, and mini mall à la Old Florida.
That’s because when you’ve finished feeding yourself you can feed the visiting tarpon. These are no ordinary fish. Some of them are more than a metre long.
Drop a bit of change and pick up some baitfish then stroll out to the docks and feed these monsters. Some will break the surface and take their lunch right out of your hand.
They are definitely hungry.
Nice backstory here: roughly two decades ago Robbie, the owner, noticed a struggling and injured tarpon just off his dock.
He rescued it, brought in a vet for first aid and released the fish. But it stuck around for lunch. Each time it returned it brought more buddies.
So began a Keys tradition.
But it’s not just the tarpon who enjoy their lunch.
Casual menu with a couple of bright spots. Consider the cracked conch or the black mussels. Check out the establishment’s southern pedigree with a shrimp jambalaya.
Dessert, it might go without saying, is a slice of Key Lime pie.
🌟 Insider Tip: If you’ve gone fishing for the day and could find someone to clean your catch of the day, they’ll cook it up for you – your choice of fried, grilled, blackened or Thai style.
🌟 Pro Tip: Stay and enjoy some of the attractions of Key Largo. Book a glass bottom boat, a private tour to snorkel the reef or just stretch out on the sand at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
5. Raise a Mug at Florida Keys Brewing Co.
Next day we discover another perfect place to raise a mug of beer in salute.
Here at the Florida Keys Brewing Company (Google Map), the suds are more than a welcome addition. They are the entire raison d’etre.
But this is no mere microbrewery (though there’s one onsite).
Hang out in the beer garden behind the tasting room, choosing a pastel-painted picnic table or high-top table nestled in a tropical garden. Add in a stage at one end that would be worthy of Jimmy Buffett himself and the picture’s complete.
The stage isn’t just for show. Considered Islamorada’s premier venue for live music, the Beer Garden at Florida Keys Brewing Company hosts live entertainment every night of the week.
Even better, the garden and the tasting room itself have a more Caribbean vibe than half the beach bars I’ve visited in the Caribbean.
But it’s still all about the beer.
They serve both seasonal brews and rotating drafts – beers with great names and backstories.
I’m torn between a mug from today’s rotating taps. Iguana Bait, Spiny Hopster or Alligator Lighthouse Lager?
Co-proprietor Cheryl McBay (her husband and co-proprietor, Craig, is a Canadian ex-pat) promptly solves my dilemma. She pours me a flight.
So now I raise my mug.
Just one more time.
🌟 Insider Tip: From baseball hats to quirky shirts, you can pick up a great souvenir of your visit. Or just order a growler to take back to your hotel.
6. Raise a Mug at the Pub with No Name
On our first visit to the Keys my wife and I exited the main highway on a quest to encounter the elusive Key Deer.
It’s an endangered subspecies of white-tailed deer unique to Big Pine Key and neighbouring Keys.
Since we met with failure on that first visit, we were even more determined this time.
We venture further down that lonely road on Big Pine Key but still no deer.
On the upside we did notice an attractive whimsical structure surrounded by a garden boasting lounge chairs and picnic tables (Google Map).
Welcome to the No Name Pub.
The building’s exterior is painted lemon and lime. The interior is dark and festooned wherever you look with dollar bills attached to every surface.
Despite its lack of a name this pub is downright famous and is the stuff of history.
Back in 1931 it was a general store and bait and tackle shop until the owners added a small room and it officially became a pub in 1936.
Open seven days a week, it’s a perfect spot to raise a mug of beer. They’ve got 15 different labels and six more on tap. One of which is their very own No Name Amber.
In addition to a traditional pub menu, their pizzas are famous throughout the Lower Keys.
It’s one of best places to eat in the Florida Keys for Key West Pink Shrimp pizza.
🌟 Insider Tip: Bring some dollar bills to join the fun and decorate the place.
7. Support a Healthy Ocean with a Florida Keys Seafood Lunch
If I’d known that buying into the whole concept of sustainable seafood and and environmental stewardship would be as tasty as our lunch at Conch Republic Seafood Company, I would have started years ago.
And it’s not just the admirable goals set by this casual Key West eatery on the waterfront (Google Map) boasting nautical décor from life jackets decorating the ceiling to an old boat suspended overhead.
Sustainable seafood is particularly important given the fragile ecosystems that comprise the Florida Keys.
Protecting the environment is part of the original DNA of this former shrimp processing plant.
Learn more about sustainable fishing methods and seafood choices at Seafood Watch.
Right from the beginning their founders were committed to protecting the environment – right down to the fact that they maintain their own fleet of fishing boats with crews committed tlocal fresh seafood locally sourced.
“Conch Republic Seafood Company was built on conservation and restoration of the local working waterfront,” says marketing manager Casey Arnold, “and we still practice that to this day.”
But back to the food.
While I do like shrimp, I prefer lobster. That is, until I taste their shrimp.
Move over lobster.
Best yet, their seafood offerings were likely swimming at breakfast and each item was processed or filleted onsite.
If you’re looking for one of the best places to eat in the Florida Keys for seafood, make sure to sample a meal at Conch Republic Seafood Company.
Conservation never tasted so good.
🌟 Insider Tip: Though they’ve got an impressive list of signature cocktails and a solid wine list, the vibe calls for beer.
On tap are eight different local brews – order a beer flight to try a variety.
8. Toast Ernest Hemingway with His Favourite Cocktail
Or maybe you’re just attracted by the live music. Tonight’s band is pumping out Jimmy Buffett tunes at a hundred-and-one decibels.
Their famous Sloppy Joe sandwiches do grace the eclectic menu of this restaurant/bar, but tonight’s more about their most famous patron and his favourite drink.
Two big bars dominate Sloppy Joe’s long low-lying room. Hemingway memorabilia and photos are scattered throughout the bar, testament to the fact that the famous author was a regular here during the early 1930’s.
Lot of draft choices on the menu but our server points me in a different direction. “Hemingway’s favourite,” she assures me.
🌟 Insider Tip: A “Papa Doble” is a concoction that’s basically Hemingway’s take on a Daiquiri.
It channels the spirit of “Papa” Hemingway and features Bacardi Rum, grapefruit juice, sour mix and Grenadine. Shake, add soda and fresh lime.
9. Sip a Cocktail with a Side Order of Sunset
Whether you’re foodie or just a fan of this area, an absolute Florida Keys must-do is a sunset at Mallory Square in Key West.
Join hundreds (if not thousands) of other visitors who come to celebrate day’s end.
Down the square a busker thrills a crowd with feats of acrobatics; just behind us a middle-aged fellow plucks tunes on an acoustic guitar.
Perfect evening, complemented by an excellent cocktail to go – a Margarita in a take-out plastic glass, an inspired choice if ever there was one.
Somehow a sunset without a cocktail seemed incomplete to me.
So when we pass the patio of El Meson de Pepe, next to a historic red brick building called Casa Cay Hueso, I immediately step up to the scarred wooden bar and check out their offerings.
Given the fact this establishment is a bit of Old Havana, boasting authentic Cuban food, I nearly opt for one of their mojitos.
But it seems like a margarita kind of night.
The margarita cocktail, sipped at water’s edge, entertained by a bonfire sky, turns out to be as delicious as the sunset.
🌟 Insider Tip: Can’t go wrong with a margarita here. They offer four different signature recipes.
10. Order the Catch of the Day – Today’s Catch!
If the ambiance and fare we discovered at Conch Republic Seafood Company were considered casual, both are uber-casual at Half Shell Raw Bar, a fixture on the docks of Key West’s Historic Seaport (Google Map).
Think picnic tables scattered helter-skelter, bare rafters and unfinished wooden walls decorated by donated license plates from nearly every state in the union.
Housed in a former shrimp warehouse, it’s cottage country meets Key West.
The fare, too, is uber-casual. But no less appealing.
Servers scurry about bringing bowls of fresh oysters. It’s no surprise this place is consistently rated Key West’s best raw bar.
My own entrée, a delicious lobster, is accompanied by potato salad and corn on the cob. When I gaze about the room I realize almost everyone’s ordered the same sides.
My wife goes for catch of the day. It’s Mahi Mahi, yellow tail and red grouper.
I sample a bite of my wife’s Mahi Mahi. It’s just as good as my lobster.
Then again if you want to dress for dinner, you can opt for fine dining without leaving the historic docks.
Do dinner on a balcony at A & B Lobster House (Google Map) with a great wine list and menu items ranging from Oysters Rockefeller to Yellowtail Snapper Meunière.
Or, enjoy coastal Italian fare at Bel Mare, a fine-dining restaurant just around the corner.
🌟 Pro Tip: Check out Half Shell Raw Bar’s onsite market if you’re looking to channel your inner chef. Try their fresh-caught lobster in this easy recipe for Creamy Lobster Fettuccine.
11. Splash Out with a Posh Picnic on the Beach
The next day I go exploring and discover a gorgeous Key West swathe of sand called Smathers Beach. A young fellow is setting up for an impending wedding in paradise.
Probably great spot for a beach picnic too, it suddenly occurs to me.
Early next morning we visit Fort Zachary Taylor State Park the most southerly state park in the continental United States. Along with a visit to the historic fort onsite, this park also features a nice little beach.
While Smathers Beach is nicer than the one at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park the latter has one advantage.
The advantage? Its multitude of picnic tables surrounded by sea grapes and shaded by graceful casuarina trees.
Don’t want to pack your own picnic lunch? Stop at beachside Cayo Hueso Café (Google Map), offering casual fare from Cuban sandwiches to burgers on a delightful patio sheltered by beach umbrellas.
Or take things up a notch. Order from Provisions of Key West and Chef Callie will create a picnic box packed with local flavours from a chilled Key West pink shrimp cocktail to pineapple cake. They’ll deliver right to your hotel.
Beach day and picnic in paradise. An irresistible duet if ever there was one.
12. Have a Slice of Key Lime Pie
Kind of strange that I’ve been putting off sharing the most famous food in the Florida Keys.
Believe me, a slice of Key Lime Pie is worth the wait.
During one trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast I spent time with several travel writers on a mission to sample a slice of Key Lime pie at every meal, at every restaurant.
I couldn’t get past the fact we weren’t actually in the Keys. Kind of like going to France on a quest for the best Italian pizza.
On this trip to the real home of key lime pie it didn’t take me long for my first bite.
An hour in the Keys and I’d already finished a slice.
This iconic dessert was reputedly “invented” in Key West in the 1890’s. It was a partnership between condensed milk (since the regular kind wasn’t readily available) and key limes.
Key limes are a bit smaller than regular limes and more noticeably tart and acidic.
Despite their name, key limes are native to southeast Asia, having been transported to the area by Spanish explorers. They were grown here commercially until early in the 20th century.
Every establishment has their own take on the recipe. But I can attest to one thing.
I felt the love in every single slice I tasted.
Want pie to go? Check out the award-winning Kermit’s Key Lime Shop. Watch for the bright green building on Elizabeth St. in Old Key West (Google Map). It’s one of the best places to eat in Florida Keys when it comes to the iconic dessert.
🌟 Insider Tip: Sample key lime pie on a small-group Jimmy Buffet WalkingTour of Old Key West and see places that inspired songs like Margaritaville, the location of his first gig and favourite hangouts such as Capt Tony’s Saloon.
Check prices and availability of a Jimmy Buffet WalkingTour on Viator.com.
13. Have Another Slice of Key Lime Pie (sort of)
Sometime between my tenth or fifteenth serving of key lime pie, during a post-dinner stroll through Key West I’m inspired to switch things up.
The sun has set but the evening is still warm, if not downright balmy.
That’s when I notice an ice cream shop on Duval Street, main thoroughfare of the Historic Centre (Google Map).
Moments later we step into Mattheessen’s Candy Kitchen.
It’s hard to resist the appealing treats waiting within but I am strong.
I forego the slabs of homemade fudge – chocolate, rocky road, chocolate pecan and peanut butter. I skirt the tubs of twenty-three different flavours of small batch homemade ice cream.
But I can’t forego one particular sweet.
It’s not key lime pie. At least not quite.
Like everything else here it’s homemade, their secret being the graham cracker crust. But that’s just the beginning.
Each slice is frozen then dipped in Belgian chocolate.
I am seduced.
Think a sort of key lime pie fudgsicle on a stick.
I succumb to its irresistible lure: maybe just one more slice of key lime pie.
🌟 Insider Tip: You don’t have to be in downtown Key West to sample their delights. Matheesen’s has three Key West locations to titillate your taste buds.
14. Sample a Ration of Grog
In keeping with an ambiance that almost qualifies the Keys as a Caribbean destination it shouldn’t be a stretch to learn about the primacy of rum here.
Shouldn’t be a surprise to encounter two – not just one – rum distilleries right in Key West.
Not only is the whirlwind tour at Key West First Legal Distillery free, it includes samples of their light, dark, spiced and coffee-flavoured products at tour’s end.
And you’re partaking of a little history along with your spirits.
The distillery’s housed in the former Coca-Cola plant (can you say Cuba Libré?) (Google Map) and one brand is named in tribute to an infamous Cuban prohibition rumrunner.
Learn the story of rum then sample a ration of grog at Key West’s first ever legal rum distillery.
🌟 Insider Tip: Though it’s the opposite of politically correct, First Legal Distillery’s most popular spirit by far is their Bad Bitch Rum Spanish Marie. It’s aged in French oak barrels for seven years.
15. Take a Hemingway-Inspired Food and Walking Tour
To wrap up your Florida Keys road trip, foodies will also want to make a stop at Papa’s Pilar Rum Distillery (Google Map). Named after his boat the “Pilar”, it pays tribute to Ernest Hemingway, one of Key West’s most famous residents.
Sign up for a mixology class, check out the wealth of Hemingway memorabilia and book a guided tour of the Hemingway Rum Co. Distillery.
In addition to sampling his favourite libation, Hemingway fans shouldn’t miss visiting the home where he lived and worked.
Set amid tropical gardens near the Key West Lighthouse, the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum (Google Map) is a National Historic Landmark and Literary Landmark. It’s a must-see in Key West. You can visit independently but it’s a stop on many historic tours.
While there are many walking tours that pass by this designated Historic American Building, the 2-hour Hemingway Food and Walking Tour dives deep into the neighbourhoods where Hemingway once roamed and found inspiration.
It’s not just a journey through streets and landmarks, it’s a chance to step into the very soul of a literary legend, to breathe in the salty air that fuelled his prose.
You’ll see where he watched boxing matches, where he fished and chartered boats and where he finished writing “A Farewell to Arms”.
This immersive Hemingway experience includes lunch, a slice of key lime pie and time to hangout at Sloppy Joes, the watering hole where he spent a lot of time.
Check prices and availability of the Hemingway Food and Walking Tour on Viator.com.
Travel Guide to the Best Places to Eat in the Florida Keys
Official Florida Keys Website: www.fla-keys.com
Perfectly located in the Islamorada area, Amara Cay Resort offers great meals, both poolside and in their more formal dining room.
Rooms are comfortable and offer expansive ocean views. Best yet, you can visit their sister resorts for additional dining and attractions.
Key Largo Hotel
For a dose of Peggy’s scones and a very comfortable resort in Key Largo, book a suite at Bay Harbor & Coconut Bay Resort.
Several suites feature a full kitchen if you’d like to whip up a meal or two of your own.
Key West Hotel
A little outside of the historic centre, The Gates Hotel Key West is an attractive family-friendly property with a great pool and comfortable rooms.
You’ll appreciate its seaside location when you need a break from the tourists.
But it’s easy to get to where the action is with the hotel’s convenient shuttle. You’re just minutes away from some the best places to eat in the Florida Keys.
It doesn’t take as long as you might think to get to the best food in Florida Keys. Key Largo is a 4.5 hour drive from Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando and only 1.45 hours from Miami, Florida.
It takes 2 hours and 15 minutes to drive from Key Largo to Key West via Highway US-1.
Check for the best car rental rates at Discovercars.com.
The best time to go to Key West is March and April. Not only will you avoid the crowds but you’ll be outside the sargassum seaweed season, which can be a challenge in the summer months.
In addition to key lime pie, the Florida Keys are known for spiny lobster, conch fritters, conch chowder, fresh seafood, Key West pink shrimp and rum.
More U.S. Travel Inspiration and Tips
Save to Pinterest!
Mark Stevens and photographer/partner Sharon Matthews-Stevens are a multiple-award-winning team who have provided stories and pictures for outlets from Canadian Yachting to the Washington Post. Together they’ve swum with sharks in Bahamas, dogsledded in the Yukon, cooked in the mountains of Morocco and reported from at least 40 Caribbean islands. Visit their portfolio at Travel Write Click
Learn more about Mark and Sharon.