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Photograph: Nick DollHot Tin Roof outdoor seating

The 17 best restaurants in Key West

While seafood is a staple, the best restaurants in Key West are serving up everything from authentic Cuban fare to sweet slices of key lime pie

Megan duBois
Written by
Megan duBois
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Key West has always been known for its laid back vibes, where time moves slow and the drinks are strong. But the southern-most island in the United States is also becoming known for its growing restaurant scene. No matter which direction you take, you’re bound to find tasty menus filled with fresh fish and seafood, burritos, and Cuban sandwiches. And some of the best restaurants in Key West can be found right in the heart of downtown – if you know where to look. 

Luckily, Key West's famous beaches also factor into the food scene. Dine alfresco anywhere on the island for scenic ocean and gulf views; where you can even see a fresh catch being offloaded from boats and taken right into restaurants. While fried fish and conch fritters will always be an island staple, there’s a lot more to the Key West culinary scene than fried food and rum runners. Chefs across the island are using invasive species like lion fish to create scrumptious dishes that also help the fragile ecosystem.

To help you navigate the small but mighty island, we’ve rounded up our favorite restaurants in Key West that are worth leaving the bar on Duval Street for.

Best restaurants in Key West

When you’ve had enough seafood to last a lifeteime, head over to Blue Heaven, where the menu is filled with the likes of carrot-and-curry soup, miso-marinated eggplant salad, and sweet blueberry pancakes for breakfast. The restaurant is known for its mashup of American and Caribbean food while paying special attention to vegetarian options. Blue Heaven is also a great spot to snag a table for Sunday breakfast; Try the avocado omelette, filled with cheese, avocado, salsa, black bean and ginger sauce and served with your choice of toast or banana bread.

Diners, Dive-Ins and Dives fans will remember Guy Fieri visited Garbo’s Grill when he filmed in Key West. The permanent location for the food truck is just behind Hank’s Saloon, but it’s worth navigating the side street to find the outdoor sitting area and walk-up window for the truck. Garbo’s Grill is dishing out fusion food like Korean barbecue tacos, kimchi-topped hotdogs, and Korean-style shrimp tacos. No matter what you choose to order, you’ll quickly be on a one-way ticket to Flavortown.

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Lobster fanatics should seek out The Lobster Shack Key West, which is just steps away from the southern most point on the island. The lunch and early dinner spot serves up a few variations on fresh lobster salad, including a spicy sriracha and jalapeño version, and Key West-style with butter and key lime juice. Each of the lobster salads are then nestled into a buttered and griddled New England-style hot dog bun. Even those who don't enjoy seafood can find bliss here with a slice of Kermit’s key lime pie.

Just a few blocks away from tourist-filled Duval Street is Azur Restaurant. The restaurant serves brunch and dinner every day to locals and visitors in the know. The brunch menu is filled with sweet and savory options like decadent key lime French toast with wild berry compote, and mouthwatering crab cake benedict with grilled tomatoes and hollandaise. When the bell rings for dinner time, the seafood risotto is filled with mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp, fish, and chorizo, then topped off with garden-fresh veggies.

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The neighborhood restaurant that locals and visitors always seem to stumble into is Little Pearl. The restaurant has a distinct coastal vibe with fish, mermaids, compasses, and Edison lights all over the dining room. The Old Town spot is currently only open for dinner and has three seatings throughout the evening serving only a chef-curated, four-course menu with a variety of options. A few favorites include the savory miso-and-clam soup, sweet and spicy Key West shrimp, and a fish of the day prepared to suit the chef’s fancy.

Inside the Marquesa Hotel is the Marquesa Cafe. But don't let the white tablecloths and dark wood furnishings scare you into thinking this is another high-end spot with unapproachable food. The 50-seat restaurant is serving fresh Key West seafood and expertly cooked meats along with housemade breads and desserts. The entire menu is friendly and approachable with a distinct Southern twist. Think: spiny lobster with fried green tomatoes and topped with blue crab, basil and citrus-bacon vinaigrette.

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Southern Most Beach Cafe is just 90 miles from Cuba and the restaurant overlooks Key West's stunning beaches and bright blue waters. The boat-to-table restaurant serves dishes that combine Caribbean and Asian flavors and are made with locally sourced ingredients. Do not leave the table before you try the signature dish, drunken scallops. The entree combines freshly caught scallops with crispy salty bacon, and a glaze that’s made from a local beer. The dish is served with lobster mashed potatoes and glazed baby carrots. Yum!

While Duval Street is often known for its bars and tourist traps, the famous thoroughfare is also home to Hot Tin Roof at the Ocean Key Resort and Spa. (Yes, inspired by the Tennessee Williams play.) Breakfast and dinner are served daily, and brunch is served on Sundays. The menu is small but mighty with dishes like seared local grouper served with coconut curry, chorizo and jasmine rice, and lobster bisque with lemon-chive creme friache.

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First Flight Island Restaurant and Brewery is located in one of Key West’s most historic buildings – the location where Pan American World Airlines was launched and sold its first tickets in 1927. The restaurant is appropriately themed with kitschy decor that nods to the building's previous occupant. Take a seat on the outdoor patio, which exudes island charm, and try one of our favorite dishes: the street corn and avocado bowl, which mixes fire-roasted corn salsa, avocado, and chipotle aioli served in a flour tortilla bowl.

Grab-and-go breakfast is an elevated experience at Glazed Donuts. The specialty donut restaurant is open Wednesday through Sunday starting at 7am and until they sell out or 1pm – whichever one comes first. The creative donuts are all handmade with options like key lime pie, blackberry frosted with artisan sprinkles, and pineapple upside-down brulee. Kids will love picking out the biggest donut on display and enjoy the mural of a giant robot, which also makes for a great photo backdrop.

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El Siboney Restaurant has been serving hungry customers in Key West since 1984. The restaurant specializes in Cuban food, paella, and local seafood with dishes like ropa vieja, lightly breaded grouper, and scrumptious bowls of conch chowder on the menu daily and weekly specials like red bean soup and chicken enchiladas on Tuesdays. If you decide to dine here, order via the menu number (that's how the local do it). 

It doesn't get fresher than Eaton Street Seafood Market, where cases of freshly caught fish sit just steps away from the on-site restaurant. The lunch and dinner menu include items like crab cake sandwiches – with cakes that are barely holding it together because there’s more crab than binders – fish tacos with fish that was likely still swimming that same morning, and fried conch strips that have become an island favorite.

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Since 1909 Pepe’s Cafe has filled up hungry patrons with hearty breakfasts, lunches and dinner. Breakfast is the standard fare with big portions and old-school diner hospitality. Lunch and dinner are casual, where flip flops and t-shirts are welcome. The menu includes items like a classic BLT sandwiches and savory black bean soup for lunch, and delectable baked oysters and perfectly cooked NY strip for dinner. The unassuming spot is easy to miss while walking down the street, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the small sign sitting on top of the white building.

Nestled inside the Perry Hotel you’ll find Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen and Bar. The restaurant is serving up coastal comfort food using fresh catch and locally sourced ingredients. Sunday brunch is worth the hassle of getting a reservation to savor items like tropical guava cream cheese French toast, pork belly benedict with tomato and onion marmalade, and chocolate toast with peanut butter custard and bruleed bananas. It's worth the calories – trust us. 

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Cuban food is a staple in Key West, and one of the most popular restaurants is Cuban Coffee Queen. There are three locations around the island, but the original is on Margaret Street. The menu is filled with variations on the classic Cuban sandwich including one with pork, ham, chicken, Swiss cheese, pickels, mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Do not leave without getting a cup of piping hot Cuban coffee with steamed milk. If you get to the restaurant early you can also get the breakfast special, which includes  half a breakfast sandwich and a 12-ounce cup of coffee for just $6.50.

Antonia’s Restaurant is a Key West staple serving fresh Italian food with handmade pasta and sauces, along with an award-winning wine list. The pasta menu is filled with classics like gnocchi with savory gorgonzola cheese sauce, linguine with clams, and Antonia’s signature lasagna made with spinach pasta. Save room for a few bites of dessert; The restaurant boasts a perfectly balanced, and not-too-sweet amaretto coconut cream pie that is sheer bliss.

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Thirsty Mermaid is known for its rotating menu of East and West Coast oysters, full raw bar, and local seafood. The sharable appetizers are worth ordering a few, like the steamed little neck clams served with leeks and smoked bacon, fried oysters with chipotle remoulade, or sautéed Bahamian conch with marinated artichoke salad. For those who don’t enjoy seafood, there’s a few items like homemade gnocchi with spicy short rib ragu, and burgers that are piled high with all types of toppings, too.

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