Florida is known for its beach getaways, and famously, Key West! Located at the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys, Key West is a vibrant and eclectic island paradise, known for its stunning natural beauty, lively atmosphere, rich history, and fantastic Key West food.
The island offers breathtaking views of crystal-clear turquoise waters, pristine beaches, and swaying palm trees, which make it a real tropical paradise among the beaches in Florida.
Beyond this perfect beach escape, Key West is known for its unique and bohemian charm, which has attracted a diverse community of artists, writers, and free spirits. It was even famously one of Hemingway’s favorite spots to escape. With everything going for it, Key West food is also spectacular in its own right.
What’s Special About Key West Food?
The food in Key West is special due to its unique blend of influences from various cultures and the availability of fresh seafood. Key West’s location and history have resulted in a cultural melting pot, incorporating influences from Caribbean, Cuban, Bahamian, and Southern cooking. This creates a diverse, flavorful food scene that is very special to the area.
If it weren’t obvious, Key West cuisine makes full use of its location, surrounded by the pristine waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
Because of this, Key West has access to an abundance of fresh seafood, from succulent pink shrimp to spiny lobster. These aspects come together to create a distinct culinary experience in Key West, where visitors can indulge in the flavors of the tropics, fresh seafood, and a mix of influences.
Definitely take advantage of the special Key West food tours available to both sample the various cuisines and soak in the scenery.
Most Famous Food In Key West
Key Lime Pie
What food is Key West known for if not Key Lime Pie? The dessert originated in the Florida Keys, specifically Key West, so it’s a must-try for anyone in Key West! Its smooth and refreshing qualities are the sweetest compliment to the warm weather.
It consists of a smooth and tangy filling made from the juice of small and tart key limes. The filling is traditionally mixed with sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, and sometimes a touch of lime zest for added flavor. This luscious filling is poured into a buttery graham cracker crust and baked until set.
This Key West food is typically served chilled and garnished with whipped cream or meringue, offering a delightful balance of sweet and tangy flavors in every creamy bite. You can find this dish in restaurants around Key West. If you want to make sure you don’t miss out on this or any of the other great foods in Key West, check out the Key West Southernmost Food and Walking Tour!
Tasty Appetizers In Key West Foods
Conch fritters are a beloved specialty from Key West and throughout the Caribbean, known to be enjoyed by Hemingway on his travels.
They are made by combining diced or ground conch meat with a flavorful batter made of flour, eggs, onions, peppers, herbs, and spices. The batter is often seasoned with ingredients like garlic, thyme, paprika, and hot sauce to add depth of flavor.
This Key West food is deep-fried until golden brown, resulting in crispy and savory fritters with a tender, slightly chewy texture. Conch fritters are typically served as an appetizer or snack, accompanied by a dipping sauce such as spicy remoulade or tangy cocktail sauce. This flavor is truly unique to the area and worth a try during your visit!
Pink shrimp, also known as Key West pink shrimp, is a prized seafood ingredient found in the warm waters of the Florida Keys or the Gulf of Mexico. This marine delicacy get their name from their distinct pink coloration, as well as their sweet and delicate flavor. They have tender and succulent meat with a firm texture and are featured in lots of Key West foods.
Pink shrimp are versatile and can be enjoyed in lots of ways, including grilled, sauteed, or boiled, or as a key ingredient in dishes like shrimp scampi, shrimp cocktails, or shrimp pasta.
If you want to enjoy this delicacy as a stunning appetizer with amazing views, check out the Sunset Sail with Bar, Live Music, and Hor D’ouerves, including these pink shrimp!
Key West Fish Dip
This is one of the most popular appetizers among food in Key West. Key West fish dip combines smoked fish, such as mahi mahi or kingfish, with cream cheese, mayonnaise, and spices. It is most often served with crackers or toasted bread.
Sometimes the fish dip carries a touch of citrus juice or hot sauce to give it an extra kick of flavor. The resulting dip is rich, flavorful, and perfect as an appetizer or a snack. It is a great way to start off any meal by the sea!
Seafood Dishes In Key West Foods
Stone Crab Claws
This is another classic seafood ingredient available in Key West and other parts of Florida. They come from the stone crab, which is a species known for its large and meaty claws. This unique feature of stone crab claws means they are often harvested and served without actually harming the crab since the claws can regenerate!
Once harvested, the claws are cooked by boiling or steaming, which makes the shell easier to crack, revealing the succulent and sweet meat inside. Stone crab claws are often served chilled or at room temperature, accompanied by a tangy mustard-based dipping sauce. Their tender and flavorful meat, along with the satisfaction of cracking open the claws, makes them a popular Key West food for visitors and locals alike.
Mahi Mahi Tacos
By now, you know that Key West cuisine makes use of all its local seafood offerings, and mahi mahi tacos are no different! Fresh mahi mahi fillets, known for their mild and flaky texture, are often grilled or blackened to perfection. The cooked fish is then flaked into tender pieces and nestled into warm tortillas, garnished with vibrant toppings such as crunchy cabbage, fresh salsa, creamy avocado slices, and zesty sauce.
The combination of juicy and flavorful fish with colorful and contrasting toppings creates a delightful balance of flavors and textures. Lucky for you, locally caught fish tacos are a staple on the Historic Seaport Food and Culture tour. If you want to get a taste of delicious local tacos and other seafood delicacies, this could be the tour for you!
As the name suggests, the yellowtail snapper is known for its vibrant yellow tail and is a prized fish in the waters surrounding Key West. The flesh of the yellowtail snapper is firm, flaky, and delicately flavored, with a slightly sweet and mild taste. It is often prepared by grilling, baking, or pan-searing, which allows the natural flavors of the fish to shine.
Yellowtail snapper is a really versatile fish, so you can find it in many Key West foods. Whether enjoyed in a restaurant or caught fresh and prepared at home, yellowtail snapper offers a delightful culinary experience that highlights the seafood bounty of Key West.
Also known as Florida spiny lobster or Caribbean lobster, spiny lobster is a popular delicacy found in warm waters like those around Key West. Spiny lobster is famous for its distinct appearance and delicious meat. The meat of the spiny lobster is tender, sweet, and succulent, with a flavor that is milder and more delicate than other types of lobster.
Key West cuisine makes great use of the spiny lobster by grilling, boiling, and steaming it for various dishes. Whether you prefer lobster rolls, pasta, or grilled lobster tails, make sure you grab a plate of the famous spiny lobster!
Popular Sandwiches Among Key West Foods
The Cuban sandwich really exemplifies how much influence Cuban culture has had on Key West food. This sandwich starts with a Cuban bread roll, which is then layered with thinly sliced roasted pork, sliced ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard. The sandwich is typically pressed in a hot sandwich press, allowing the flavors to meld together while the bread becomes crispy on the outside and the cheese melts on the inside.
What sets the Cuban sandwich in Key West apart is the addition of a few elements, such as authentic Cuban bread from local bakeries and the incorporation of fresh ingredients. This makes for a great combination of savory and tangy flavors, crispy textures, and filling meats and cheeses. The Cuban sandwich is a must-try for visitors since it highlights the island’s vibrant culinary culture.
The lobster Reuben is a delicious twist on the classic Reuben sandwich, featuring succulent lobster meat as the star ingredient. Like much of the food in Key West, the lobster Reuben uses fresh lobster, grilled or lightly sauteed, which is then layered on rye or marble bread. The lobster is then complemented by traditional Reuben components, such as sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing.
The sandwich is then grilled or pressed until the cheese melts and the bread becomes crispy. The result is a mouthwatering combination of sweet and buttery lobster, tangy sauerkraut, creamy cheese, and the unique dressing, providing a luxurious, gourmet twist on the beloved classic sandwich. If you want an indulgent sandwich with fresh seafood, this is the choice for you!
Key West Pink Shrimp Po’ Boy
The Key West Pink Shrimp Po’ Boy is a delicious and flavorful twist on the New Orleans Po’ Boy that highlights the local pink shrimp. It starts with a crusty French bread roll generously filled with golden-fried or grilled Key West pink shrimp. The shrimp are cooked to perfection, ensuring a crispy exterior and juicy interior, for the best Po’ Boy filling.
The sandwich is then dressed with lettuce, tomato slices, pickles, and a tangy remoulade sauce, which adds a zesty kick. The Key West Pink Shrimp Po’ Boy is a quintessential Key West sandwich, which showcases the region’s bountiful seafood. This is undoubtedly a popular food in Key West which is definitely worth a try!
The grouper sandwich is a popular and beloved seafood dish among Key West food. It starts with a fresh fillet of grouper, a local fish known for its mild and delicate flavor. The fillet is typically seasoned and either grilled or fried to perfection, before being placed on a soft bun and topped with fresh lettuce, tomato slices, and a tangy tartar sauce.
The combination of the tender and flaky grouper, the crispy texture of the bread, and the refreshing crunch of the toppings create a harmonious and satisfying bite. The grouper sandwich showcases the abundance of fresh seafood in Key West and should not be missed by any seafood enthusiasts looking to indulge in the flavors of the region.
Drinks & Cocktails Key West Foods
This drink pays homage to the famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, who was known to frequent Key West. It is a variation on a daiquiri that includes rum, fresh grapefruit juice, maraschino liqueur, lime juice, and a touch of sugar. It makes a great compliment to Key West food or just a lovely day on the beach!
If you want to get closer to Hemingway’s experience in Key West, make sure you check out the Hemingway Food and Walking Tour! This tour will carry you through some of Hemingway’s favorite spots (and tastes) in Key West. It even starts from the Hemingway Home and Museum, so you’re guaranteed to get a real feel for this incredible writer.
Key West’s Cuban influence extends to its coffee culture with Cuban coffee. Also known as cafecito or colada, Cuban coffee is a sweet espresso-based coffee drink known for its bold flavor and caffeine kick that’s so intense it is served in small cups!
To make Cuban coffee, finely ground dark roast coffee is brewed in a stovetop espresso maker to create a concentrated espresso shot. The espresso is then sweetened with demerara sugar, which is traditionally whipped with the first few drops of coffee to create a creamy and frothy layer known as espumita. This drink is a beloved part of Key West cuisine and culture, so make sure you grab a cup in a local cafe or restaurant.
Key Lime Martini
Building on the popularity of Key lime pie, the Key lime martini is a refreshing cocktail made with Key lime juice, vodka, and a touch of sweetness. It is often garnished with a slice of lime or graham cracker rim. It makes for a fun twist on the delicious dessert that you can enjoy at the bar!
If you’re interested in trying this unique cocktail and other famous flavors of Key West, make sure you check out the Craft Cocktail Crawl! This cocktail crawl will take you through five establishments, where you can learn more about the Key West cocktail culture. Drink up!
FAMOUS FOODS IN THE US
Sampling The Best Key West Foods
If you’re looking to explore food in Florida, there is no better place to start than Key West food! With excellent seafood, alongside pristine beaches, Key West offers an amazing place to relax and enjoy a meal. Beyond this, there is no better place to pick up some fresh seafood!
Whether enjoyed by the beach or in an upscale restaurant, food in Key West is always a hit with locals and tourists alike. Make sure you don’t miss out on the wonderful dishes offered in Key West.