Upgrade Your Lunch Break in Key West at These Top Noontime Haunts



Whether you’re taking a quick sightseeing break or enjoying a lazy afternoon, lunch is the ideal time to sample the multicultural flavors of Key West cuisine. On the menu, you’ll find authentic Cuban dishes at El Siboney and homemade Mexican tortillas at Amigos. Fresh French crepes and quiche await at Banana Cafe. Add the Spanish tapas at Santiago’s Bodega, and you’ve got quite the trip around the world.

The Southernmost City is filled with quirky spots that highlight the local seafood like Stock Island’s Hogfish Bar and Grill. BO's Fish Wagon is a veritable shack, but they’re known for the best cracked conch sandwich in town. The seafood tacos at Garbo’s Grill are so popular that the food truck had to move into a restaurant for more seating. Have a hankering for no-nonsense American fare? Check out Southernmost Cafe with its oceanside views, or Caroline’s Cafe with a different kind of view--the steady stream of tourists, rickshaws and mopeds on Duval Street.

As a bonus, most restaurants' afternoon menus offer a significant savings over their dinner rates, especially at high-end spots. This may be your chance for a toes-in-the-sand “special occasion” lunch at Latitudes on the private island of Sunset Key--not to mention a picturesque ride across the harbor on their ferry. When you're ready to “do lunch” in Key West, use this list of local’s-approved restaurants for the perfect midday meal.



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Southernmost Beach Cafe
Photo courtesy of Latitudes


 

Waterfront dining in Key West often comes with a steep price. Not so at the Southernmost Beach Cafe. Here you'll find reasonable deals on casual local fare, especially at lunch. You don't have to be a guest at the Southernmost Hotel to enjoy their unobstructed views of the Atlantic. You can stroll in from the sand and have a seat in this open-air restaurant that offers a wide selection of sandwiches, salads and starters. At lunch, opt for tacos packed with the fish of the day or a Reuben Cuban sandwich stuffed with pulled pork, corned beef, Swiss, pickle and mustard. Dinner is a bit more formal (average the entree price is $25) with dishes like the macadamia crusted local grouper with mango salsa. Finish with their homemade Key lime pie on a crisp Oreo cookie crust.


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Duval Street
Caroline's Cafe
Photo courtesy of Alonzo's Oyster Bar


 

Caroline's Cafe is a favorite among tourists and locals alike for their generous portions at budget-friendly prices and a prime view of Duval Street. At this casual American restaurant, you'll find one of the best hamburgers in town as well as an excellent shrimp and bacon club sandwich. They also have a full menu with dishes like shrimp po' boy, jambalaya and jerk chicken. If you just want a light bite, appetizers include conch fritters, dolphin fingers, fried shrimp and more. Its location along the main drag ensures that there's usually a crowd (and sometimes a wait), but the staff is friendly and efficient. Plus the people-watching is excellent entertainment. Look out for Abby the rooster, who serves as a welcoming committee.


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This seafood shack may look like it's barely standing, but the food certainly holds its own. What began as makeshift food truck in the 70s, opened by local legend Buddy Owen, has become a staple in Key West. The fresh fish sandwiches are simple, yet the best in town. Bobby Flay and his Food Network camera crew even paid a visit for the cracked conch sandwich--tiny strips of fried conch stuffed between fresh Cuban bread and shot with Key Lime mayo. Conch fritters, salads, burgers, and hot dogs are equally tasty, and the anything goes atmosphere sums up the entire town.


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For a taste of a true local's joint just five minutes away from Old Town, follow the signs to the Hogfish Bar and Grill, located in Safe Harbor Marina on Stock Island. Try anything that's made with their namesake specialty like the "Killer" Hogfish Sandwich, which is smothered in Swiss cheese, onions and mushrooms on a fresh Cuban roll. The Hogfish Fingers or Fried Hogfish Tacos are also favorites, or dig into a plate of "Peel 'n' Eat" Key West pink shrimp. All dishes call for an ice cold beer. This open-air, casual restaurant is a diamond-in-the-rough with live entertainment and a popular happy hour. The owners try to maintain that Old Key West vibe, and views of Key West's last working waterfront are a bonus.


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A colorful walk through Bahama Village brings you to this bright cozy restaurant tucked away behind lovely landscaping. Their tasty Spanish tapas are the perfect size for a light lunch, and the indoor seating provides a welcome respite from the mid-day sun. In the evenings, this spot is packed, and reservations are a must. At lunch, things move a slower pace, and you should be able to saunter in on your own schedule. Order a pitcher of their sparkling sangria to beat the heat. At some restaurants, "tapas" equals painfully small plates, but at Santiago's, the portions are generous. Standout dishes include the Saganaki--haloumi cheese sprinkled with oregano flambeed with Brandy. Other faves have equally artful presentation like the Fresh Yellowfin Ceviche, which is marinated in spicy citrus juice and served with fresh avocado, mango and cilantro. Finish with their homemade bread pudding with caramel bourbon sauce.


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This fab food truck, located next to Grunts restaurant, has a cult following for their authentic island-style tacos and burritos. Garbo's feature on Guy Fierri's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" has only increased the lines of hungry patrons. Try the Cayo Fish Mahi Mahi tacos, which come with big chunks fresh fish with mango, cilantro and red cabbage. Jalapeno mayonnaise gives it that perfect kick. For the Yum Yum Shrimp taco, they only use the local Key West Pinks, which are large and juicy. Customer fave, the Koji Korean Beef Shortrib burrito, is both sweet and spicy with a hint of sriracha. While the menu is small, it changes with the seasons offering a variety of unique flavors.


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Have all those margaritas in paradise left you with a hankering for Mexican food? Check out the small tortilla bar, Amigos, conveniently located caddy corner to the infamous Sloppy Joe's on Duval Street. You'll usually find the tiny place packed, but it's well worth the wait for their homemade square corn tortillas. You can pack more delicious fillings like chorizo, fish and shrimp into the folded square, and it's easier to hold. This equals less food spilling down the front of your shirt. Pile on their mouth-watering guacamole or chipotle corn salsa, which they make from scratch with no preservatives or chemicals. Turn up the heat with a variety of chilli/pepper sauces that range from mild to muy caliente. This open-air spot, which offers breakfast lunch and dinner, has seating right along the road--perfect for people watching.


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A romantic lunch (yes, lunch) is possible when it feels likes you're escaping to your own private island. Located across the harbor from Key West, Latitudes on Sunset Key offers upscale toes-in-the-sand dining and panoramic Gulf views. If you can't quite swing the dinner prices, lunch is the perfect opportunity to indulge in a little luxury. With sailboats gliding past, you'll feel like a VIP, as well-trained servers bring lobster stuffed crab cake, savory lobster bisque and chilled seafood salad to your table--and those are just the appetizers. Latitudes rounds out the lunch menu with tantalizing sandwiches and wraps like island pulled pork and lobster rolls, as well as their Key West fish tacos. Make sure you save room for dessert. You'll want to relax on this slice of paradise as long as possible. Reservations required.


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Duval Street


 

Linger over lunch at this charming bistro, which offers French classics like sweet and savory crepes along with fresh baguette sandwiches at a modest price. Dinner prices go up considerably, so afternoon is the perfect time to indulge. Grab a window seat and watch the parade of scooters, bikes and a horse-mounted policeman along Duval Street. The crepes are the star of the menu, but it's hard to choose between the savory and the sweet. The savory crepes range from a basic egg, ham and Swiss to their La Ratatouille, which combines eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions and tomatoes, topped with a fried egg. The sweet crepes wow with simple flavor combinations like banana, sugar and rum or the crowd fave--Key lime sauce with whipped cream. Make sure to check the chalkboard specials for the fresh quiche and soup of the day.


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Off the beaten path, El Siboney serves up healthy portions of the best Cuban food in Key West at reasonable prices, especially at lunch. Mid-day the place is bustling with the local lunch break crowd mixed with visitors in-the-know. The hodge-podge décor includes diner-style tables, photos of Cuba and a life-size wooden Indian--a nod to the namesake Cuban tribe. A basket of fresh Cuban bread arrives at your table first with thick fluffy slices slathered in butter. Pair it with a pitcher of the house sangria. Follow up with entrees like tender roast pork or perfectly-spiced picadillo (a ground beef entrée). The food comes quickly, accompanied by fried plantains so sweet you may not even want dessert, but the rich creamy flan is too yummy to ignore. Finish with a high-octane Cuban coffee to fuel your afternoon sightseeing.


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Meet Claudia Miller

Claudia Miller has been writing about South Florida for over 17 years--seven from Key Largo. A budding photographer, she can usually be found stalking a sunset. Despite being a tad...  More About Claudia

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