International Dining in Key West

No matter where we travel, finding good food is a priority. We love restaurants that feature fresh, local ingredients, and we often learn as much about a culture from its cuisine as we do from its people.

We hit the restaurant jackpot on our recent trip to Key West, Florida, when we took a long weekend to get our Advanced Open Water diving certification.

Captain’s Corner Dive Center docks their boats next to Conch Republic Seafood Company, which was convenient for a post-dive lunch each day. We hungrily inhaled pink Key West peel-and-eat shrimp by the pound that we washed down with jalapeño margaritas for me and frozen rum runners with Bacardi 151 floaters for Mike. Conch Republic’s fried calamari with house-made white barbecue sauce was terrific, too!

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Photo: Conch Republic Seafood Company in Key West, Florida

Walking up and down Duval Street all day can work up nearly as much of an appetite as diving, and we happened upon Blackfin Bistro one afternoon for a snack. They have one of the best wine lists we’ve found in Key West, including a Delamotte Brut that was perfect with a fresh fruit and cheese plate ($18 USD).

Blackfin Bistro

Photo: Blackfin Bistro, Key West

Across the street from Blackfin Bistro is Martin’s Key West, a surprisingly European restaurant with equally surprising feather chandeliers shining on gold wallpaper handcrafted by German artists. Chef Martin serves simple, elegant food, and the prices are very reasonable for fine dining. Mike enjoyed a dinner of shrimp fettuccini topped with a saffron alfredo sauce, grape tomatoes, and fresh basil ($28 USD), while I had a pan sautéed yellowtail snapper filet served with lemon caper butter and a side of asparagus ($34 USD). Sensational!

At the opposite end of fine dining is Willie T’s Restaurant & Bar. If you’ve ever been to Key West, you’ll know this as the “dollar bar,” where guests decorate bills that are stapled onto anything that doesn’t move — walls, ceilings, bars, cash registers, and more. Willie T’s has live music throughout the day, and you can transport yourself to Key West immediately with their live stage cam. We were entertained by a talented singer accompanied by his dog, who napped peacefully on stage. You’ll find daily drink specials and a full menu of bar food, including the barbecue chicken pizza ($14.95 USD) we tried.

After several days of terrific seafood, we were in the mood for something a little different and wandered down an alley into Duval Square, where we found New York Pasta Garden. This cool little courtyard restaurant offers a romantic atmosphere and truly delicious food, including artichoke fritters served with a white wine and butter sauce ($10.95 USD), Caesar salad ($10.95 USD), and angel hair feta pomodoro ($18.95 USD), to which we added grilled chicken. Even though we shared the three dishes, we still had plenty of leftovers. The portions are huge! You’ll be entertained by their charming pet parrots, and the service was the best we’ve had in Key West.

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Photo: New York Pasta Garden in Key West, Florida

On our last day in town, we strolled down to El Meson de Pepe for an incredible Cuban lunch. We started with mariquitas, which are thinly sliced plantain chips served with pico de gallo. For the main course, I had lechon asado, roasted pork marinated in a cumin mojo sauce, and Mike had their award-winning version of the traditional Cubano sandwich with sugar-glazed ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on crispy bread. Plus mojitos to drink, of course.

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El Meson de Pepe Cuban restaurant in Key West, Florida

There are so many reasons to visit Key West. What’s your favorite reason?