29 Sep Best restaurants: Key West
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Our favorite places to eat in Key West
Key West makes our “favorite places to visit in the world “short list. Where else can you see Elvis riding a bicycle while street performers swallow swords or balance atop a unicycle?
Our favorite things include being on a boat of any description, fishing, snorkeling, bicycling, people watching, listening to live music (while enjoying a cold beer) and witnessing the spectacle called “normal” Key West life. It’s super laid back with a “weird” vibe that adds to the fun. It feels like we’ve left the U.S. and entered a strange yet fun new land when we cross the bridge from Stock Island to Key West.
Tourist destinations often suffer from expensive, mediocre food served in chain restaurants. Not so in Key West. Many Key West restaurants are locally-owned and run by top chefs who chose to make the island their home. It’s impossible to write about the best restaurants in Key West without creating a book, because the list is long. Our article where the locals eat in Key West is wildly popular with our readers so we’re doing a new installment of best restaurants in Key West.
Editor’s note: We’re collaborating with B’s brother, Don, for this article. He’s a hard-core repeat Key West visitor like us, and shares our passion for unique dining venues. If you have a favorite Key West restaurant not mentioned, please let us know. We’re always anxious to try new places. The list is in no specific order … our “favorites” vary by what we are in the mood for on a particular day.
For “best restaurants in Key West,” the winners are …
- Blue Heaven
- La Trattoria
- Smokin’ Tuna Saloon
- Willie T’s
- Conch Republic Seafood
- Two Friends
- Harpoon Harry’s
Blue Heaven gets our vote for #1 Key West restaurant. It embodies everything Key West … a very eclectic vibe, cats and roosters wandering the courtyard, history and great food served breakfast through dinner. The building once housed a brothel and later became a boxing ring with Ernest Hemingway serving as referee. Blue Heaven does not take reservations except for large groups and long lines are the norm, so plan to grab a cold beverage and soak in the Bahama Village neighborhood while you wait. Few tourists venture to this part of town. Blue Heaven closes six weeks annually during peak hurricane season (September/October) so the owners can get some R&R. Our food favorites vary by breakfast, lunch or dinner. Your server will be happy to educate you on the most popular dishes.
For a restaurant to survive for 35-plus years, you can bet the food is delicious. La Trattoria delivers on food, atmosphere and service, consistently ranking among the best restaurants in Key West. They serve dinner only, opening at 5 p.m. from two Key West sites. La Trattoria is billed as a “high-end, white tablecloth restaurant,” but don’t let that turn you off. “High-end Key West” means throw on a decent looking shirt over your shorts and sandals. The patio has a nice ambience if the weather allows. After dinner, visit Vigilio’s bar behind La Trattoria for great live music and craft cocktails.
Smokin’ Tuna Saloon
Smokin’ Tuna Saloon sits just two blocks from the Mallory Square cruise ship docks. While thousands disembark and flock to neighboring Hog’s Breath Saloon or Sloppy Joe’s Bar, most overlook Smokin’ Tuna because it’s a wee bit tucked away. This is fine by us. It’s less crowded and easier to have a conversation here than some of the popular neighbors. We first visited Smokin’ Tuna for a wedding rehearsal dinner. Now it’s our go-to place every visit. Set in a picturesque courtyard, they feature two bars, live music from a large covered stage and a fun vibe. We go often for drinks and music, but don’t overlook the food … it is worthy of best restaurants in Key West. While enjoying the music and atmosphere, the bartenders keep you lubricated with tuna-theme drinks like Charlie Tuna, Tunarita or Key Lime Smokin’ Tuna.
Located directly across Duval St. from La Trattoria, Willie T’s cranks up live music at 11 a.m. and continues to closing. The food is definitely worthy of its best restaurants Key West ranking. Lunch is “island” theme: Conch chowder and fritters, salads, pizza, burgers, etc. Thinking you won’t get a nicer meal here for dinner? Wrong. Dinner entrees include steak, seafood and Willie T’s chicken pot pie. Beyond the awesome eats, this is a fun place to pull up a stool and enjoy an island drink. Willie T’s makes mojitos 30 ways! Not a fan of mojitos? How about 10 different frozen drinks from Frozen Key Lime Pie to X-Rated Peach Bellini. Still not convinced? The beer menu is impressive. Add a dollar bill to the collection and immortalize your visit.
Conch Republic Seafood
Conch Republic Seafood sits dockside where the fishing boats tie up. There is some outdoor seating, but most is under roof with protection from sun and rain. Not to fear, the walls open when weather is decent, so breezes blow through and you hear ocean waves lap against boats. You’ll go for the oceanfront location. You’ll come back for the food – good quality and always fresh. Order local seafood and it likely was caught that day! I am a big fan of the Key West Pink Shrimp. Mahi mahi and snapper are also local favorites. Save room for key lime pie.
Two Friends Patio Restaurant
Two Friends combines history with its designation among best restaurants in Key West. A bar has operated from this location since 1886. The Two Friends name appeared post-World War I. They serve three meals a day, but we love it for the breakfast, featuring omelets, pancakes, benedicts and more. The locals love the specialty drinks, voting People’s Choice awards for “best bloody mary” and “best happy hour in Key West.” More than just a great place for breakfast and drinks, Two Friends also holds awards for best family-owned restaurant and best overall restaurant in Key West. We plan to return soon and sample lunch and dinner fare. Daily live music is a plus.
Harpoon Harry’s is a no frills, old school diner that attracts locals and tourists alike. Ten dollar daily blue plate specials feature a meat and two veggies. Head over for breakfast and try the lobster and crab omelet or key lime pie French toast. If you go here once, you’ll likely return. The servers are friendly and give diners a great experience. Sorry, cash only. No credit cards.