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Key Lime Pie
Photograph: Key Lime Pie Company

Six dishes that define the Florida Keys—and where to try them

From fresh lobster to top-notch Cuban sandwiches (and of course, the world-famous Key lime pie), a trip to the Florida Keys is always delicious

Written by Time Out for Visit Florida
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A trip to the Florida Keys is a treat for all the senses, but it’s the things you’ll taste that just might wow you the most. Flavors from some of the world’s most passionate food cultures—Caribbean, Spanish and Cuban among them—inform the cuisine here, merging together fresh boat-to-table seafood with pops of tropical flavors like lime, coconut, papaya and mango. Feast your way through the Keys with our guide to the dishes and ingredients that define this region and where to find them.

Dishes that define the Florida Keys

Key lime pie at Turtle Kraals
Photograph: Alamy

Key lime pie at Turtle Kraals

Rivaling margaritas as the most sought-after indulgence in the Florida Keys, the tart and creamy key lime pie can be found on nearly every menu in the region. Choose wisely. You can’t go wrong with a slice from popular spots like Key West Key Lime Pie Company, but for a side of only-in-the-Keys kitsch head to Turtle Kraals. Relax at a picnic table on the waterfront to enjoy the decadent homemade pie, which is whipped up just the way it should be: with fresh key lime juice, sweet condensed milk, egg yolks and finished with a buttery graham cracker crust. If you play your cards right, you’ll be there during one of the weekly turtle races, which go especially well with one of Turtle Kraals’ key lime pie margaritas. Hey, YOLO, right?

Lobster reuben at Keys Fisheries
Photograph: Alamy

Lobster reuben at Keys Fisheries

The Florida lobster, also known as the spiny lobster, is different from the more ubiquitous Maine variety in two important ways: it doesn’t have claws, and every bit of its meat is in the tail. It’s long been a staple of Caribbean cuisine, where it’s typically broiled in its shell and served with melted butter. For a more contemporary take, check out the finger-licking lobster reuben at Keys Fisheries in Marathon. Fresh lobster meat is scooped out and cooked with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing and served alongside fries and coleslaw on heavily buttered rye toast.

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Mixed Cuban sandwich at El Siboney
Photograph: Shutterstock

Mixed Cuban sandwich at El Siboney

When you’ve had your fill of seafood, it’s time to taste some Latin-inspired grub. There’s recently been a new wave of Cuban restaurants in Key West, and one of your best options is El Siboney, located in a family-style brick abode in Old Town. Most first-timers go for the garlicky and savory roast pork (puerco asado) or the Siboney skirt steak (churrasco), but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more satisfying lunch sandwich than the Cuban Mixto. Sort of resembling a panini, the flat sandwich is stacked and slathered with pork, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard and mayonnaise. Get it with a side of plantains and a chilled glass of sangria and savor your moment of Havana heaven right here in the Florida Keys.

Hogfish anything wherever you can find it
Photograph: Alamy

Hogfish anything wherever you can find it

The elusive hogfish shows up on local menus only when divers—yes, you actually have to dive to the depths of the sea to find it—are able to snatch one out of the ocean that day. As such, you’ll have to be on top of your game if you want to chow down on this subtly sweet, virgin white meat that locals say is the tastiest of all reef fish. Call around to a handful of restaurants to see if they’re offering hogfish that day. You could try the hogfish tacos at the Hungry Tarpon in Islamorada, or order a piece that’s sautéed to perfection at Chef Michael’s in Key West. You’ll really hit the jackpot, though, if the goods are in at Hogfish Bar & Grill. The open-air restaurant in Stock Island incorporates its namesake fish into all kinds of dishes—whether it’s fried on a sandwich or slipped into sliders alongside pico de gallo and lip-puckering Key lime tarter.

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Stone crabs at the Fish House
Photograph: Shutterstock

Stone crabs at the Fish House

When in season—roughly between October and May—stone claw crabs are hauled in by trappers daily to Key Largo’s Fish House Restaurant and Seafood Market. There, the sweet and succulent claw meat arrives on your plate in two ways: piping hot with drawn butter or, perhaps most popular in the region, chilled with a spicy homemade mustard sauce. The meat can also be used to make crab cakes, fritters and as a stuffing in lobster and other fresh fish.

Key West Pink Shrimp pizza at No Name Pub
Photograph: Shutterstock

Key West Pink Shrimp pizza at No Name Pub

Key West pink shrimp is another local sea-scooped delicacy enjoyed by natives. Caught and harvested from the waters of the Dry Tortugas, the large ‘Key West pinks’ are sweeter and more tender than your run-of-the-mill brown or white shrimp, meaning they adapt like champs in any kind of preparation. On the islands they show up sauteed in scampi, battered in coconut and fried, and even broiled and placed atop salads and pastas. No Name Pub, a funky tavern in Big Pine Key, takes a slightly different route by tossing them atop one of its gourmet pub pizzas along with bubbly, slightly salty cheese and a sprinkling of fresh green onions.

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