I think that an important part of traveling is to visit the local restaurants and sample the local food. My stomach agrees, in fact, a little too much. I enjoy tasting the local cuisine and hanging out with the locals while getting a culinary taste for the area. Good food and good wine, I’m convinced, are gifts from God to be heartily enjoyed. With that in mind, I am playing food critic in this post. As part of my preparation in enjoying the next stop in our cruising adventure, I scout out the local dining scene. Upon arrival in Key West, I found a Zagat article called “8 Hottest Restaurants in Key West.” Perfect, I thought! And, over the past three weeks I’ve dined at each at least once. Zagat didn’t rank them for you, but I will so that you will be informed on your next visit to Key West.
From least recommended to most:
8. Turtle Kraals Restaurant and Bar: This was conveniently right next to Lost Reef Adventures, with whom I did my diving while in Key West. I ate here twice, and each time walked away underwhelmed. Perhaps if I had dined on evenings when the live turtle races occurred, I would have been more impressed. My seafood dinner was average. The second time I tried the ceviche, for which they are well-known. The ceviche is served with popcorn. While interesting, I wasn’t blown away. The decor and atmosphere were typical of a normal waterside restaurant – nothing fancy, and again nothing eye-catching or memorable.
7. Hogfish Bar and Grill: This was conveniently located less than a mile from Stock Island Marina. For that reason, I also ate here twice. This is very rustic and has an old-Key West feel with roosters and cats roaming the premises. On both occasions, a grey feline sat on the banister next to my table watching me eat. The first time I had the fish and chips. The fish (hogfish) was good and the portions were plentiful. The second time I had the hogfish sandwich, made with swiss cheese, mushrooms and onions on Cuban bread. This was much more tasty (and sloppy). Overall, not a bad place for a meal, but not my top choice.
6. El Siboney: Zagat describes El Siboney as a “cozy hole-in-the-wall authentic Cuban joint.” The description fits. I expected more of a latin decor, but the interior was nondescript and disappointing. I ordered roast pork with onions, which was accompanied by black beans, rice, sweet plantains and Cuban bread. It was quite good and plentiful. My only complaint about the food would be that the onions easily overwhelmed the flavor of the pork. (For some reason, I failed to take a photograph at this place).
5. Better Than Sex: It was hard to decide where to place this unusual restaurant. It serves only dessert and dessert beverages. It’s interior matches it’s name with deep red and gold decor and candlelight. Many of the food and beverage choices have flirtatious and suggestive names. I had the chocolate grilled cheese accompanied by strawberry champagne soup. It was very good. This would be a great place for a couple to come for dessert after a nice dinner elsewhere. Finally, the answer to the obvious question: Is it? Nope… not even close. 🙂
4. Charlie Macs: This place had some mighty good barbecue. I had the pulled pork which was so tasty, juicy, and delicious. I alternated dipping my pork in all three of their excellent sauces: The Sweet BBQ was my least favorite, the Mango Jerk BBQ was really good, but the South Carolina Yellow BBQ was the best. I’m not normally a mustard-based BBQ sauce kind of guy, but this was really good (and had quite a kick).
3. Santiago’s Bodega: This could easily have been number one. It’s a little off the beaten path, but well worth finding. Santiago’s is a Tapas Bar done well. The food is excellent. I had the best braised beef tacos here you could imagine. I ate here three times, all during happy hour (3-6 pm) where tapas, wine, and sangria are all 1/2 price, along with some other specials. Visiting during this time of day makes for great food and great prices. Definitely, my favorite for the price.
2. Seven Fish: This place is a very small “fish-style bistro” sitting inconspicuously on a Key West corner lot. I made a reservation here for my birthday. I was not disappointed. The snapper was heavenly and the glass of Sancere which accompanied it was exquisite. The interior is subdued and understated. This would be a nice place to celebrate an anniversary or birthday.
1. Blue Heaven: I was completely surprised by the quality of my dinner here. As you approach this Caribbean-style restaurant from the road, you walk under lush greenery and make your way into an outdoor courtyard enclosed with more greenery and large sails suspended above your head in the trees. Roosters and chickens roamed the premises during my dinner. Live music, performed by a guitarist, a fiddler, and a mandolinist, added to the atmosphere. They weren’t great, but weren’t bad. My yellowtail snapper with pasta, haricot vert, cornbread, and corn was probably the best thing I had in Key West during my stay. It was melt-in-your-mouth tasty. The 20-year tawny port I finished the meal with wasn’t bad either.
So, there you have it. When I become a famous food critic, I’ll look back at this as my humble beginning. As good as the food was, the only thing that would have made it better was the company of my beautiful wife. She missed some great food, but I missed her more.
Last evening was my last in Key West. Updates coming. (I’ve already started scouting out dining establishments in my next destination.)