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Best Key West Restaurants

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Many first-time visitors to Key West suspect that the island’s diminutive size means that its selection of restaurants is similarly small. Not so. Due to its large number of visitors, not just those who come to fish, dive and party in the streets, but also thousands of cruise ship passengers who come ashore for the day, Key West’s dining opportunities rival cities many times its size. The abundance of locally caught seafood, especially Key West pink shrimp, and the mix of ethnicities drawn to this Caribbean-like port make for a bouillabaisse of excellent eating.

A & B Lobster House

Neighborhood: Old Town Price: Expensive
Unlike the cute little cottages in town, A&B is on the waterfront overlooking the docks at the west end of Simonton Street. It’s like two restaurants in one: Upstairs at A&B’s the menu runs to gourmet (in preparation and price) with steaks and Maine lobster. Downstairs, the prices and meals are less lofty. If you’re not familiar with Florida’s spiny lobster (which is actually an oceanic crawfish), you owe it to yourself to try one, and Alonzo’s serves it up fresh off the docks out front. While Alonzo’s offers multiple preparations, the fresh lobster pasta, with Florida lobster sauted with mushrooms, shallots, andouille sausage and goat cheese in a tomato cream sauce, is divine. There’s a cigar and wine bar, as well, and if the weather’s pleasant, get a table on the second-floor deck overlooking Key West Bight.

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nine one five

Neighborhood: Old Town Price: Expensive
If Key West’s chefs have a weak point, it’s cuteness, especially when choosing names and decor. The exterior of this elegant former residence on Duval Street is cheapened by a string of lights, and the name, nine one five (all lower case, of course), is the street address. Once you’re inside, though, things get a lot more original quickly. The menu is inventive, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with sweet garlic and clams with chorizo, and the beautiful double-decker balcony, wrapped in gingerbread, is the perfect frame to watch Key West amble by on the sidewalk below. We started with chipotle conch chowder, a spicier and smokier version of one of our all-time favorites, and then onto nine one five’s signature tuna dome, a mountain of Dungeness crab meat wrapped in tuna sashimi with a lemon miso dressing. You can fill up on the appetizers or save yourself for more conventional main plates, such as steak frites, roasted organic chicken or even a vegetarian crepe. The unique wine bar upstairs adds character and the service is excellent.

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Michaels

Neighborhood: Old Town Price: Expensive
Even confirmed carnivores have to take a break from oceanic fare once in awhile, and Michael’s is the place to do it. While Chef Michael Wilson’s kitchen knows its way around a mahi mahi filet, it’s the steaks people come and come back for. Ranked in the top-three restaurants in Florida by Zagat’s, the number at the bottom of your check may actually come close to the number of calories consumed, but it’s worth it. Our steak has always arrived at exactly the temperature ordered, wonderfully flavorful and fork-tender. Like many of Key West’s fine-dining establishments, the front facade isn’t much to look at, but don’t let that fool you; you won’t find a better steak anywhere in the Keys and probably not in your home town, either. There’s also a small outdoor garden bar that serves fondue along with the drinks.

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Louie's Backyard

Neighborhood: Old Town Price: Expensive
In business for more than 25 years and with the same chef for 23 of them, Louie’s is a Key West institution. Located in an incredibly restored Conch house right on the water on the Atlantic shore of the island two blocks north of Duval Street, you can take your meal inside in the air conditioning or outside, in the back yard overlooking the ocean. Everything is good here, but if you want to start your meal with a big, big bang, try downing some of the Bahamian conch chowder with bird pepper hot sauce. You could probably strip paint with this concoction but, man, is it good. For the mild at heart, there are big, grilled steaks, superb grilled seafood and pizza. The Upper Deck, which opens at 5PM, is located on the second-floor porch, the perfect place for a glass of wine as the sun disappears.

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Pisces

Neighborhood: Old Town Price: Expensive
Formerly the Cafe Des Artistes, this candlelit boutique restaurant mixes high art with haute cuisine. Located in a converted gray-and-yellow bungalow at the east end of Simonton Street near Truman Avenue, Pisces lives up to its name, plating some of the best seafood in a city that lives to fish and on fish. If perfectly prepared seafood perfectly served isn’t enough to get you interested, inside you’ll be treated to original signed Andy Warhol prints of celebrities like Liz Taylor and Mick Jagger, as well as his famous Campbell’s Tomato Soup can. The pronto service is also unexpected in a “what’s-your-hurry?” city. Pisces properly touts its lobster tango mango, Maine lobster cooked in cognac and served with shrimp in saffron butter, mango and basil, which we found to be both subtle and succulent, but the yellowtail Atocha (yellowtail snapper sauteed with shrimp, scallops and lemon brown butter) is just as tasty. If you’re a chocoholic, don’t leave without tasting the double chocolate mousse served with raspberry coulis. 

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B.O.'s Fish Wagon

Neighborhood: Old Town Price: Moderate
This place looks like a bomb shelter that just got hit. Scraps of driftwood, tin and junk are clumped together in a heap that somehow permits entry. And yet this lovable eyesore draws loyal clientele for their famous fish sandwich that’s baked on crisp Cuban bread. You’ll do well sticking to just that. Our past experiences with their burgers and hot dogs weren’t all that hot. Speaking of hot, the outdoor seating makes more sense from late fall to spring.

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Blackfin Bistro

Neighborhood: Old Town Price: Moderate
Like a blackfin tuna, the Bistro is small and sleek inside, with about a dozen tables and as many barstools. The patio out back seats a bigger crowd during cooler evenings or warm days, and the atmosphere and food come at a pleasant price point in this very expensive city. The lobster spring rolls were served with a piquantly sweet apricot sauce for dipping, but it was the blue cheeseburger that made the meal, juicy and perfectly grilled. The lobster salad had a generous measure of sweet, tender lobster, and the service was pleasant with lots of cordial chit-chat by wait staff.

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Croissants de France

Neighborhood: Old Town Price: Moderate
This little cottage sandwiched onto a narrow lot along Duval Street has been cooking for more than two decades, serving up breakfast and lunch; recently, the owners added Le Bistro, a dinner venue. The breakfast goods coming out of the bakery are the well-known stars: The brioche features two poached eggs with mustard sauce served in a butter-egg bread adorned with paprika and scallions. The shrimp ’n’ brie combines garlic herb shrimp with a creamy house mustard sauce. Additions for the dinner menu include seared duck breast served over mixed greens, arugula and toasted almonds, with raspberry vinaigrette. There’s a reason Croissants de France has survived for 25 years: The food is fresh and fabulous. 

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Big John’s Pizza and Subs

Neighborhood: New Town Price: Budget
Big John’s is a familiar budget stop in New Town just off Roosevelt Boulevard. Maybe you don’t want to get dressed up (well ... as dressed as people get in Key West) or you need a little comfort food to tide you over between servings of seafood. The whole gamut of Italian specialties is on offer. Big John’s makes stromboli, pasta marinara or with meatballs and, our favorite, stuffed crust pizza with the entire lower crust stuffed with meats, cheeses and sauce. There’s a kid’s menu and plentiful non-Italian sides (wings, jalapeno poppers and even fried shrimp).

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5 Brothers Grocery and Sandwich Shop

Neighborhood: Old Town Price: Budget
We’ve never run into all five brothers here, but no matter. Locals will tell you that the grouper sandwich and barbecue pork sandwich deserve five stars, not to mention a delectable Cuban mix washed down with Cuban coffee. This is a cash-and-dash place; everything is take-out, so find yourself a table in the shade nearby or bring it back to your room. The brothers have a full line of their own Cuban products on offer, including coffee, cigars, T-shirts and bumper stickers. We’ve never gotten any further than chowing down on a mix or a media noche (midnight) sandwich, but they do serve their own blend of coffee and it’s good (and strong!).

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Siboney Restaurant (El)

Neighborhood: Old Town Price: Budget
As a protected deepwater port just 90 miles north of Cuba, Key West has always had a strong Cuban influence, and one of the tastiest contributions has been the cuisine. El Siboney’s menu reads like a list of greatest hits: bistec palomilla (skirt steak pounded thin, fried and served with sauteed onions and lime), asado (pork, marinated and slow-roasted), boliche sandwiches (roast pork stuffed with chorizo), along with seafood and a superb paella. If you’re there for a quick lunch, the Cuban sandwich is excellent, but stay longer (up to an hour preparation) for the paella. They have the usual Cuban sides, yellow rice, black beans, tostones (fried plantain chips) and maduros (ripe plantains caramelized in butter). El Siboney delivers con mucho gusto; great Cuban food for not a lot of cash.

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