As Key West’s waterfront restaurants and Duval Street pubs have diners taking up every last barstool, the island’s restaurant underdogs continue to hold a special place in the hearts of locals and longtime Conchs. From seafood shanties to tapas bars, and Cuban, Italian, and even kosher eats, here are suggestions for those seeking experiences beyond Key West’s usual suspects.
[There’s still time to join 24 North Hotel on the Sunset Green Event Lawn on Feb. 11 for ‘Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band Livestream Event,’ a very special event celebrating Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band’s performance at the Coffee Butler Amphitheater.]
With a mix of unique, odd, and awesome, Bo’s Fish Wagon may look like a ramshackle hut tucked off Caroline Street, but it has been visited by the Food Network and even had a write-up by The New York Times. The hole-in-the-wall open-air shack is known for its inexpensive seafood dishes and its frequent rooster visitors hoping for a taste. Try the grilled grouper sandwich, soft shell crab, fresh-squeezed key limeade, and fried cracked conch stuffed between fresh Cuban bread with a smattering of key lime mayo. 801 Caroline St.
Cuba will feel a lot closer than 90 miles from inside El Siboney. The casual, family-friendly Cuban restaurant serves up authentic dishes of roast pork, black beans and rice, fried plantains, empanadas, and so much more (seriously, their menu is huge!). The eatery is tucked off a quiet street just a short walk from Duval, the prices are great, and the platters are piled high. Your palette (and wallet) will thank you. 900 Catherine St.
Although this Italian eatery may not see as much foot traffic as other fine dining ‘ristorantes’, Abbondanza has consistently been voted as “The People’s Choice” for favorite Italian joint in Key West. The Old Town restaurant is made up of former cigar-makers cottages which were converted into dining rooms and the ambiance is always relaxed and inviting. Items like the caprese and burrata and prosciutto di parma are simply delicious, but their signature pasta dishes are where the menu truly shines, especially the piccata di pesce, where pasta and the fresh local fish of the day are dressed with white wine, capers, and a lemon butter sauce. 1208 Simonton St.
We love the concept of Santiago’s Bodega: an eclectic yet charming tapas bar whose food embodies the diversity found in Key West. You won’t see platters piled high with fried seafood here, but you will find thoughtfully designed small plates that are best described as “food for the soul.” Standout dishes include yellowfin tuna ceviche in a spicy citrus juice, smoked salmon carpaccio with crostini and crème fraiche, saganaki with halloumi cheese and flambéed brandy, prosciutto and scallion cream croquettes, and a spicy curry lentil soup. 7305, 207 Petronia St #101
We’ve praised this kosher eatery before, but Mam’s Best Food truly is one of the best hidden gem restaurants on the island. The authentic Israeli food is absolutely delicious, the prices are great, plus it's independently run by none other than Mam, who makes every dish fresh to order and with lots of love. There's shawarma, falafel, pita bread, olive and hot dog omelets, and baba ganoush hummus, and a bonus kosher grocery store that sells items like Israeli coffee, chocolate, and frozen kosher meat. 405 Petronia St.
Planning a stay in Key West? Check out our best rates at 24 North Hotel. We have excellent dining options and an on-site Starbucks, shuttle service to Old Town so you can get to these hidden gems in just minutes, and our pool area is one of the best on the island. See our special offers, including special rates for Florida residents.
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