In the Florida Keys, restaurants range from gourmet hotspots to dockside seafood “shacks” and trendy food trucks offering a wide variety of options. And while many great restaurants along the historic Florida Keys Overseas Highway provide tasty temptations, venturing into less-explored areas reaps mouthwatering rewards for diners. In this week’s column, Ashley Serrate shares five places that top her “don’t-miss list.”
For example, tucked among the trees off the Overseas Highway in Key Largo is the family-owned and -operated Key Largo Conch House. Opened by Ted and Laura Dreaver in 2004 as a coffee house, it now serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Though best known for its conch fritters, the restaurant also offers a Keys spin on traditional breakfast fare, like cracked conch eggs Benedict or Key lime macadamia pancakes — light and fresh pancakes topped with Key lime juice and coconut milk. A visit to the Key Largo Conch House is like sitting in the Dreaver family’s living room, and that’s exactly the way they intended it.
Standouts include Cayo Hueso Fish Tacos (grilled fresh local fish served on handmade corn tortillas with special verde sauce and a choice of toppings) and Baja Fish Tacos, (fried local fish served on flour tortillas with freshly made pico de gallo and chipotle mayonnaise). Patrons can pair the meal with a refreshing watermelon agua fresca or limeade.
Hidden away on the Boot Key Harbor Waterway in Marathon stands the Chiki Tiki Bar & Grille at Burdines Waterfront. Locals simply call it “Burdines,” and its reasonable prices and delicious food make it deservedly popular.
The Chiki Tiki is up a flight of stairs, so diners can enjoy a lovely breeze and a great view of the Keys’ famous sunsets. Delectable dishes include fresh dolphin (mahi-mahi) sandwiches, certified Angus beef burgers and the signature tower of fries.
And while Key lime pie can be found on almost every restaurant’s menu, the Chiki Tiki’s version is fried! Rolled in batter and then deep fried, this unexpected take on the beloved pie keeps people coming back for more.
Another great “off-the-beaten-path” spot is the No Name Pub on Big Pine Key. Opened in 1931 as a general store and bait-and-tackle shop, the pub has evolved into a Keys landmark known for its signature pizza and walls decorated with dollar bills.
The cozy restaurant also serves fresh seafood and silver dollar fries — round potato pieces fried until they’re golden and delicious. Other well-liked dishes include the pub’s tasty chicken wings and a selection of stacked “pub burgers” with a variety of toppings.
Customers who’ve discovered the hard-to-find No Name Pub often salute their achievement by writing a message in ink on a dollar bill and hanging it from the ceiling or a wall. It’s definitely one way to leave a mark in the Florida Keys.
Rounding out the list of foodie favorites is Michaels Restaurant in Key West. Opened by Michael and Melanie Wilson in January 1997, the restaurant stands on a picturesque street in the island’s Old Town and offers a traditional steakhouse menu with island flair.
Classics include the filet al forno with roasted garlic and Roquefort cheese, and a house-made meatloaf with a blend of Wagyu and USDA prime beef. Among the seafood options are Key West pink shrimp with sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach and Key lime parmesan sauce.
The cuisine and Old Town atmosphere make Michaels a wonderful treat for those who venture off Duval Street.
So next time you’re heading for the Florida Keys, wander down “the road less traveled” — because it leads to some truly outstanding culinary experiences. Bon appétit!