Written By Brenda from The Whet Palette
Once upon a time, Key West was solely known for its colorful and casual seafood scene. The tide has turned. While the area's fresh catch is still front and center on most menus, this southernmost town now offers some serious drinks and stimulating eats. Skip the tourist spots and float on over to the following gems.
Ana's Café Cubano
The Cuban influence remains strong in Key West. Thankfully, you don't have to travel 90 miles south to find an authentic and sleep-depriving espresso. Visit Ana's Café Cubano, not only for breakfast, but for the absolute best Bustelo cortadito. The walk-up ventanita fills up at all hours of the day, but moves quickly. Hungry? Order a breakfast Cuban-bread sandwich. Arriving pressed and hot, you will wonder how life ever existed without this in your life.
Sunset Key Cottages' signature restaurant is located just 500 yards off the Key West coast. To get there, take a relaxing ten-minute boat ride off the Margaritaville Marina. Upon arrival, check-in with the hostess and prepare to fall in love. Choose to dine al fresco right by the scenic tiki-lined waterfront, surrounded by palm trees or inside near the sunset view windows. Predictably, the menu offers Florida Keys fare such as the Butter-Poached Florida Lobster and Chilled Shrimp, but there's much more to enjoy. Perhaps you can start with a Togarashi-Charred Tuna Tataki, devour a flavorful Plantain Gnocchi next to the Wagyu Beef Skirt Steak and end with an Island Bread Pudding or authentic Key Lime Pie.
B.O.'s Fish Wagon
It's nearly impossible to walk several yards in Key West without finding yet another place claiming to serve the best seafood. This tropical hideaway, however, ranks on another level. Flaunting its true no-frills island style, this long-timer rules above the rest. Despite the beat up, open-air space that seems to be barely holding on, B.O.’s Fish Wagon serves quality market-priced fish sandwiches and platters. No shoes? No problem. The fried grouper sandwich served with Cuban bread and slathered with key lime mayo is la-te-darn good. The must-order dish? Conch fritters with extra sauce. One bite of these hot meaty treats and you will be hooked forever. Know that B.O. reserves the right to open late, close early an/or not even open. Who cares if you are sitting on lopsided picnic tables with roosters and cats crossing right by your feet? Wait. What? True story. Enjoy the experience!
And then there's Firefly: a modern, chef-driven Southern restaurant several blocks west of famed Duval Street. It's not dinner, it's supper, y'all. Start with an oversized fresh-baked Buttermilk Biscuit and generously top it with the sweetest of their in-house, in-season jam. Other menu highlights? Boiled Peanuts, Fried Green Tomatoes, Deviled Eggs, Bacon-Crab Beignets, Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf, and Low-Country Gumbo. This all-white, two-story quaint cottage welcomes and captivates diners with their personable service and finger-licking delectable eats.
Caroline's Other Side
Most visitors to Key West unknowingly stroll by this palm tree-covered historic mansion. But here's a secret not many know: Hidden inside the former 1838 residence of Judge James Wedd (the first Federal Judge of the Southern District of the Florida Territory), Caroline's Other Side provides top quality craft spirits. No, really. Urban legend rumors say it's haunted. It's all good. You won't know an uninhibited local from a ghostly one once you spend a night hiding at this speakeasy cocktail bar and lounge. Tackle a Guns & Rosés, Hemingway Daiquiri, or an Adiós Pantalones, but don't expect shots nor a rowdy crowd of spring breakers. Visit to escape the heat and unwind. Pinky up, friends.
Technically speaking, it’s not better, but it does come close. The I-need-a-flashlight-because-it-is-too-dark interiors and seductive menu easily set the stage for a romantic night or even a naughty bachelorette party. Original to the area, Better Than Sex serves up cheekily named desserts and a sexy attitude. Fancy a Dark Chocolate Rim Job or a Cookie Nookie Pie? They’ve got ‘em…and more. The Peanut Butter Perversion, Popcorn Pimp Cheesecake, and Italian Stallion all hit the spot. Deep reds and whisper-low lighting await at this sinfully decadent locale.