When planning a trip to the Florida Keys, anyone who has been there will likely make you a long list of recommended places to eat. The coastal cuisine features fresh seafood and Caribbean influences. There are many must-eat dishes, but these are just a few that visitors can’t miss. What is your favorite dish in the Florida Keys? Let us know in the comments!
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Key Lime Pie
Is there any dish as quintessential to the Florida Keys as Key lime pie? The dessert is made up of Key lime juice, egg yolks, and sweetened condensed milk put in a pie crust. It creates a chemical reaction causing its tart flavor and dates back to the 1930s. From there, a topping of meringue or whipped cream can be added, depending on preference. Key limes are a small variety not commonly found anymore, so limes from Mexico are generally used.
The annual Key Lime Pie Festival started in 2002 and celebrates the dish. The pie is also the official one of the state of Florida. It’s gone on to inspire cocktails, Key lime Hollandaise sauces, and other dishes that use similar flavors.
Where to Eat It: Key lime pie is found throughout Florida and the Keys but not all pies are created equally. Key Largo Conch House and Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen II in Key Largo have deliciously tart versions with light whipped cream. In Key West, Kermit’s is well-known for its namesake that can be found at the shop on most days. They also sell other Key lime goods and ship nationwide. Blue Heaven has the most photogenic version, topped with a massive meringue.
Conch is a type of shellfish found in Florida and the Caribbean known for its big pink and tan shells. In fact, Key West is called the Conch Republic. While fishing for conch is no longer allowed in the Keys, the conch found in restaurants is generally sourced from the Bahamas.
The meat can be prepared a number of ways but is best when lightly fried and tender. All parts of the conch can be eaten. There are also conch fritters, crack conch, conch burgers, and conch chowders.
Where to Eat It: Sundowners has delicious crack conch, which is made by pounding thinly and frying in the batter.
The Florida Keys have access to incredible diversity of seafood that isn’t found elsewhere in the country. One such is hogfish, a type of wrasse that lives in the Atlantic Ocean. They have a sweet flavor and flaky texture that is a favorite of diners.
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, the spear-caught hogfish are the most sustainable. Hogfish season is from November to April, so only eat it during this time of year for best quality and sustainability.
Where to Eat It: Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen II not only has Key lime pie but also a great lineup of seafood dishes. Their hogfish hoagie is delicious, best paired with a Key lime freeze. Chef Michael’s on Islamorada even features the hogfish on their sign, serving it alongside other types of fish with creative sauces and sides.
Florida stone crab is a type of crab found in the Atlantic Ocean. Known for its hard shells, their claws actually can be taken off and grow back so the crabs aren’t killed in the process. In fact, it’s one of the most sustainable crab options. The meat is slightly sweet and is typically served chilled.
Where to Eat It: The Stoned Crab is the best place to enjoy sustainable seafood in Key West. Start with a shared plate of stone crab claws or add them into your steamer pot. They also have an eco bar with environmentally friendly ingredients and a seafood market.
Originally found in the waters of Asia, lionfish has become an aggressive invasive species, especially in the Atlantic Ocean. They have no natural predators and eat smaller fish. They are caught using traps or by spearfishing because of the dangerous nature of their venomous spines.
It is one of Seafood Watch’s Best Choice fish, especially after a campaign began in 2011 to help fight the invasion. Little meat can be taken off of the small fish, so it is ideally used for ceviche and in other dishes. REEF even created the Lionfish Cookbook to show consumers how to prepare lionfish.
Where to Eat: Castaway on Marathon is the original restaurant to prepare lionfish and feature it on their menu. Owned by a sports fisherman, it can be enjoyed in lionfish sushi, their King of the Jungle roll.
The Reef Environmental Education Foundation has an extensive list of other restaurants that carry lionfish but call ahead to be sure.
Looking for a hotel in the Florida Keys? Baker’s Cay Resort and Parrot Key Hotel and Villas are two of our picks. Check out the area’s culinary scene with a Key West Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour (book here). Check out our weekend guide for more suggestions.