Whether Caribbean, Thai or Italian, get these tasty meals to go



Whether you've had a long day out on the water or a late night out on the town, sometimes you just want to grab some grub from your favorite restaurant to go. In Key West, there are plenty of eateries that cater to take out with walk-up windows like Sandy’s Cuban Cafe and Kojin Noodle Bar. Both are conveniently open late-night. Some spots have limited to no seating and carry-out is their main business like the Caribbean-styled Bien (formerly Paseo) and Cuban Coffee Queen. The line of people waiting at Garbo’s Grill is a true indicator of the food truck's cult following. They’re known for tasty fish and shrimp tacos on the go. If you’re looking for something healthy, Help Yourself Cafe and The Cafe have take-out dishes to fit any dietary need from gluten-free to vegan. Help Yourself also has a great grab-and-go section if you're in a rush. For real-deal Italian pizza, call in an order to Onlywood where they even use homemade mozzarella. Indulge in a refreshing glass of sangria with mint at the bar while your pie bakes. Caroline’s Cafe has one of the best hamburgers on the island as well as one of the best spots to wait for your order--overlooking Duval Street. Not in the mood to wait at all? Many of these restaurants also deliver.



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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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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 reasonable prices and 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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The Caribbean-inspired Bien (formerly Paseo) keeps a low profile. There's no large sign, Facebook page--or much seating for that matter. None of those things have kept this spot from quickly becoming a local's fave for its tasty dishes, large portions and low prices. The sandwiches are the stars of the menu, served on toasted baguette with aioli, fresh cilantro, pickled jalapenos, crisp romaine and caramelized onions. Packed full of juicy meats like Cuban roast pork in the "secret" Paseo Sauce. Roasted corn, rice bowls and fish in red sauce are other stand-out entrees. Bien does mostly take-out business, but they have three outside tables. Misters over the tables help stave off the tropical heat.


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This cozy restaurant on Southard Street has been redefining vegetarian cuisine for over 10 years. With a warm Bohemian décor, their menu offers a variety of options (all clearly marked if gluten-free), which means no one has to sacrifice to have a fab meal. Gluten-free craft beer and homemade sangria, usually absent at "health food" restaurants, get the conversation flowing. Omnivores will appreciate the seafood dishes like blackened mahi-mahi and P.E.I. mussels. The falafel served with bean salad, cream of tomato soup and the sweet potato fries all get rave reviews. Finish with vegan Key lime cheesecake. Everything is made from scratch, so be sure to check out the nightly specials. As always, if you have a severe gluten allergy, let the kitchen know, so they can prepare your meal properly. Grab a comfy cushioned seat in front of the window and prepare for a delightful meal.


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Located in front of the harbor, this little outdoor Cuban stand is loved by locals and tourists alike. Delicious breakfast and lunch sandwiches, and high-test coffee, ensures that there's usually a bit of a wait. However, you'll find service is friendly and efficient. They also have fresh smoothies. After a late night, try the "Hangover Helper," a combination of pineapple, mixed berries, ginseng, orange juice, and Emergen-C. Like most Cuban stands, there's limited bench seating. Unlike most other Cuban stands, they do accept credit cards, and WiFi is available. If you visit close to 8 am, you may have a longer wait, as the passengers headed to the Dry Tortugas on the Yankee Freedom get their early morning buzz.


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Get your day started at Sandy's Café, a small Cuban restaurant at the end of the M& M Laundry building on White Street. Yes, you read right. It's at a laundromat. Let this be your introduction to the funky synergy of Key West. Step up to the window and order a colada, an espresso-style brew to share, or a café con leche, a Latin latte with steamed milk. Try any of their breakfast sandwiches on fresh pressed Cuban bread. Don't miss the pastelitos, a delicious pastry similar to an American turnover but in fun Caribbean flavors like guava. If you're lucky, you might get one of the few stools, but otherwise, plan to get your goods to go.


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Hidden down a small walkway off Duval, you'll discover the enchanting garden of Onlywood Pizzeria Trattoria. Owners Davide Cremascoli and Alessandro Piazzo, who grew up in a small village in Napoletana Italy, are devoted to bringing you the most authentic Italian pizza possible. If you sit inside, you can watch your pizza being made from scratch and baked in the the 2-ton wood fired oven imported from Italy. With a great attention to detail, they only use oak wood to maintain the proper temperature inside the oven. Their mozzarella is made fresh daily, and superfine flour makes for a very light thin crust. Pair your meal with a glass (or carafe) of their refreshing homemade sangria made with fresh mint.


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Help Yourself Cafe
Photo courtesy of Lacey Marie Scee


 

Tucked away on a side street in Old Town, Help Yourself is a colorful natural food market and cafe in a re-purposed gas station. Items on the menu are clearly labeled--vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free--and the friendly staff can answer any questions. Everything is made from scratch using fresh organic non-processed foods. Try their Ancient Secret salad with quinoa, goji berries, apple, almonds and chickpeas or their energizing Super Food Lasagna with layers of zucchini, Brazil nut meat, pesto, fresh tomato and marinara. Coffee lovers will be pleased with the organic options and wide variety of milks and sweeteners that meet any dietary need. A raised outdoor garden with picnic tables offers limited seating, but they have carry-out, grab-and-go items and a juice bar. If you're in Key West for a few days, you'll most likely help yourself more than once.


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Kojin Noodle Bar
Photo courtesy of Kojin Noodle Bar


 

Key West's only noodle bar is easy to miss. The tiny spot on Southard Street is just a half-block off Duval but doesn't have flashy signage. It has a trendy, yet warm vibe in a New York eatery-style. With only a handful of seats at the bar and upstairs, this places stays packed, mostly with locals. Try the Pho, a popular street food in Vietnam. Made with rice noodles, thin slices of beef, cabbage and herbs in a savory broth, it has a reputation as the perfect hangover cure. Portions are huge, but they offer half orders. The fresh lime-aid is to die for, and they have a wide sake selection.


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Off the beaten path, this no-frills restaurant serves up generous portions of the best Cuban food on the island at reasonable prices. Mid-day the place is usually bustling with the local lunch break crowd mixed with a healthy dose of visitors in-the-know. The hodge-podge décor includes diner-style tables covered in a red pepper-patterned plastic table cloths, 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 your order of entrees like tender roast pork or perfectly-spiced picadillo (a ground beef entrée). The food comes quickly accompanied by a plate overflowing with fried plantains so sweet you may not even want dessert. Of course, you'll have dessert. The rich creamy flan is too yummy to ignore.


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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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