One of our favorite things to do on this trip to the Keys was to eat! We had lunch and dinner out every day and I didn’t regret a single dollar we spent. Every place seemed to be better than the one before. We were lucky that we went with friends of ours who had family that used to live in Marathon, Florida, so they gave us a solid list of restaurants to try and we happily obliged.
Here are all the places we ate, ranked in order:
1. Lorelei’s Restaurant and Cabana Bar, Key Largo – We were told this was a great restaurant, but I was not prepared for how good it was. When you pull into the parking lot, it looks like a pretty small, dingy little place (although there is a ginormous teal and pink mermaid on the front sign, which should have been my first clue at the awesomeness within…), but it opens up onto the water with a beautiful view. Our table was literally three feet from the water, and so the kids kicked their shoes off and jumped in to play while we waited for our food. I ordered the “World Famous Lorelei Fish Sandwich,” which was pretty simple, actually – a mahi mahi filet with lettuce and tomato, but goodness was it good! I had mine blackened and it was delicious. Chris had the tropical chicken sandwich and I think he ordered the best. It was a chicken breast sandwich topped with mango salsa and pepperjack cheese and it was heaven. I ate more of it than Chris did, I think! We also ordered drinks and I had a fantastic Key lime colada and it was refreshing and light – perfect for an afternoon by the water.
2. Sundowners, Key Largo – We stayed just down the street from Sundowners and I wish we had had a chance to go back again because it was delicious! We went for lunch one day, but the outside patio is huge and you can tell that it really cranks up for dinner. Lunch was mildly packed and mostly families. I loved that the menu here divided the entrees into two categories: “It Swims” and “It Doesn’t Swim Very Well.” I ordered the “Hot Tin Roof Fish Sandwich,” mostly because it was boxed in and looked like it was some kind of special. If it isn’t one, it should be. It was fantastic! It was blackened mahi (are you seeing a pattern in my food?) on Cuban bread with diced tomatoes, scallions, and shredded mozzarella all wrapped in aluminum foil, which made everything nice and melt-y. It was my favorite sandwich I had while we were on vacation. It was warm, but still pretty light and I didn’t walk away feeling overly full. Chris ordered the fish and chips and was equally as happy as I was. I had a Key lime mojito and it was delicious!
The best part about Sundowners for the kids was the tarpons that you could feed off the dock. They were HUGE! You could get a bucket of fish from the outside bar and it kept them entertained for a good while. We had just gotten into town when we came here, so this was a great kickoff to our beach weekend for the kids.
3. Marker 88, Islamorada – Full disclosure: The service here was horrific. Our waiter was slow, disappeared a lot, mixed up our meals on our separate checks at our table, and then used mine and Chris’s card to pay for a huge party at a completely different table. It was probably the worse server I’ve ever had. BUT! BUT! BUT! I think that was just an isolated case with our one server because the location was beautiful and the food was delicious! This restaurant is another that looks deceiving from the road, but when you get back in there, it opens up into a beautiful seating area overlooking the sunset. It was just gorgeous! Most of the places we ate had a live band or entertainment of some kind, but this place had my favorite. He was an older man who played the guitar – no singing, no accompaniment, just him – and it was beautiful. I ordered the grilled mahi Cesar salad and it was pretty good, but Chris had the Surf and Turf and their local rock lobster was to die for! My friend, Danielle, ordered the sesame seared ahi tuna and it was my favorite. I ate some of it with my salad and wished I had ordered it myself. I also had watermelon mojito and it was my favorite drink of the trip. So light and refreshing.
4. Sloppy Joe’s, Key West – If you go to Key West, you’ve got to eat at Sloppy Joe’s! It was Hemingway’s favorite bar and if it’s good enough for him, then it’s good enough for this English teacher! Chris and I had been there before, years ago, but it was just as memorable the second time. The ambiance there is a nice mix of locals and tourists, though you can tell it is mostly tourists. The waitresses are super friendly and were really helpful in answering some questions about the area. I ordered the crab cake sandwich (not mahi! holy moly!) and it was the perfect choice. So much crab meat! Chris had the Original Sloppy Joe and it was pretty good, too, but I didn’t think it tasted anything like the sloppy joe’s I’m used to. Here, we sampled quite a few drinks and they were all yummy! I ordered the frozen strawberry colada and something else that was frozen and mango flavored. They were delicious!
5. El Meson de Pepe, Key West – What a surprising little find! We had a taxi driver tell us about this place while we were in Key West and so we headed over to check it out. It is right off of Mallory Square, which made it perfect for sunset viewing. We had an early dinner so that we were sure to make the sunset celebration in the square. El Meson is an authentic Cuban restaurant with some of the best Cuban food I’ve ever had. My dad would have loved this place! We sat outside, where chickens and roosters ran around under our feet around the tables! And there was dancing and a three-piece band just down the sidewalk from our table. It was such a fun place to eat! We ordered conch fritters for an appetizer and they were the best I’ve ever tasted – and I love me some conch fritters! These had jalapeños in them, but weren’t really spicy somehow. They had just the right amount of kick and were so incredibly creamy! Oh, my. I have to stop thinking about them. My mouth is watering as I type this! For dinner, I ordered camarones en salsa criolla, which was fresh shrimp sautéed in a Cuban creole red sauce. It was heaven! And the bread they serve with it was… just… I can’t even. Almost everyone else ordered ropa vieja, which is a traditional Cuban meal of sliced skirt steak with red and green peppers, onions, and red wine. All of our meals were served with Cuban rice and black beans. I didn’t drink that night because I was the designated driver, but Chris had a Hemingway there and said it was delicious.
6. Islamorada Fish Company, Islamorada – We didn’t actually eat a real meal here, but we stopped for dessert, drinks, and the sunset after a dinner somewhere else. Had we known how beautiful it was, we probably would have eaten dinner there, too. This restaurant actually has three separate areas to it. There is the actual restaurant building, an outdoor dock with seating, and then a little pier that is just there for sunset viewing, with lots of Adirondack chairs. We went out to the pier to watch the sunset and take some pictures first, before heading over to the bar area outside. I think we found the best seat in all of the Keys to watch a sunset. The view was just magical.
I ordered their key lime pie for dessert. It came in this giant mug and had cashew pie crust, which was different but really good. It took some of the bite out of the key lime. I didn’t have a drink here, but everyone else was drinking Islamorada Beer Company’s Island Citrus Ale. Chris drank this all over the Keys, actually. It was so summery!
7. The Pilot House Restaurant, Key Largo – This one was a fun place to eat and the food was really good, too! We found out when we got there that the restaurant has been featured in “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” but we were there because of their famous glass-floor dining area. Under the bar and some of the tables outside on their dock, there was glass bottoms, where you can see right down into the water. The kids LOVED it! They could see fish and all kinds of things floating along down there. We had a hard time getting them off the floor! We had the fish dip for an appetizer and it was excellent – warm and not too fishy. For dinner, I ordered the blackened mahi mahi sandwich. I know I ordered the same thing everywhere I went, but I couldn’t help it! The mahi was so fresh and I love blackened fish sandwiches! This one was delicious! We also ordered key lime pie here for dessert. When I ordered it, the waitress asked if I wanted the traditional or the DEEP FRIED! I ended up going with traditional, but they said the deep fried is really popular. The traditional came with a key lime cookie on the side that was really great and a raspberry drizzle across everything. It was excellent and my favorite part of the meal!
(Forgot to get the before picture… It looked too good to wait!)
8. Gilbert’s Resort, Key Largo – This one should probably be further up my list, actually. It was delicious! We ate here on the day we were out in a boat we rented. We chose it simply because we passed it while we were out boating around and they had a place to pull our boat up and dock while we ate. But even without the boat, I would definitely go back here. It was so cute and had great views of the water and the food was delicious. I ordered the fish tacos (with – what else?! – blacked mahi) and they were perfect! Three smallish tacos with a mango/coleslaw relish on top of really fresh fish. It was delicious. I ordered a strawberry daiquiris here because Gracie wanted a non-alcoholic version, so we both got them. It was so good after being out in the hot sun on the boat all day! Danielle ordered a salad and it was HUGE! Definitely shareable, if you’re the salad type. (Note: This place is a “resort” with a hotel attached, but I wouldn’t go near those hotels. Yikes! Kind of sketchy looking! The restaurant outside is really good, though!)
9. Lazy Days Restaurant, Islamorada – This restaurant is huge! There is indoor seating upstairs, outdoor seating upstairs, and outdoor patio seating downstairs by the water. And it was packed! The kids loved this restaurant because there was a big sandy beach for them to run around on while we waited for our food to come. Also, there was a dock off the beach and when we went closer to explore, we discovered a huge gathering of nurse sharks! They were just hanging out at the end of the dock. There were fish swimming all around and people throwing food, but they didn’t seem interested in any of that. They were just hanging out. It was crazy!
We started with a calamari appetizer (which the children descended upon and the adults hardly got any of!), but I messed up when I ordered my entree. I saw cracked conch on the menu and thought that I’d never had that before, so I thought I’d give it a try. It came out in two thin, buttery, lightly fried patties. It was just not my jam. It was chewy and didn’t have much flavor. But everyone else really liked their food. Quinn and Danielle both got the mahi grilled “lazy days style,” which you can get on any entree. It was this light cream sauce with tomatoes, scallions, and parmesan. It was delicious! Chris ordered fried grouper and said it was also really good and fresh. For drinks, I had Key lime coladas here and they were delicious. Chris ordered a bushwacker because that’s the drink of choice from our hometown and he wanted to see how it compared. It was pretty good and all the kids were begging for a sip of his “milkshake.” Ha!
10. Margaritaville, Key West – Alright, so I didn’t actually EAT here. But I drank a beer at the bar! And it was as delicious as you’d expect a beer in Margaritaville to be! We were walking down Duval Street shopping and stopped in here for a Landshark Beer. If you’ve ever eaten at a Margaritaville before, it might surprise you at how small this original restaurant is! It’s tiny! But worth a trip for the nostalgia of being in Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville in Key West. Buy a beer, but maybe have dinner somewhere else.
That about covers where we ate in the Keys. The food everywhere we went was spectacular, to be honest. You can’t go wrong with any of these places. And, of course, always order the blackened mahi mahi when you can… Or maybe that’s just me!