Here’s the thing about the Florida Keys. Many visitors who just beeline it from Miami to Key West miss the whole point of the islands—a 125-mile-long archipelago strung like pearls in an infinitely turquoise setting just south of Florida’s mainland. This is hardly a place to speed through, as the joy is all about the journey through the Florida Keys. As you make your way to Mile Marker 0 along the Overseas Highway (slowly, oh so slowly), take time to detour of US 1 for a few of my favorite hideaway spots to eat along the way.
No Name Pub, No Name Key
Secreted away on No Name Key (part of Big Pine Key) and surrounded by the National Key Deer Refuge, No Name Pub is one of those spots you’d never just stumble upon. Painted a lemony yellow, the wooded building has an illustrious history and even operated as a brothel for a stint back in the day. You’re here, however, for the Key Lime Pie and pizza. The former is the airiest, lightest, most guilt-free-feeling (if not actually guilt free) key lime pie I’ve ever tasted. It’s almost a tiny bit frozen inside. You won’t want to share so be sure to order your own slice. Their pizzas are just as renowned and have a crisped-to-perfection crust and a secret sausage ingredient that’s reminiscent of fennel and truly out of this world. There’s a huge tiki-style palapa out back, and the building’s interior flutters with a reputed half a million bucks worth of stapled-to-the-walls dollar bills. A dive bar at its best, in other words.
The Beach Cafe at Morada Bay, Islamorada
I can’t stand it when the views are million dollar but the food is pennies to the dollar. Happily, that’s far from the case at the bayside waterfront Beach Cafe at Morada Bay on Islamorada. Colorful wooden tables shaded with umbrellas are set right on the sand overlooking the emerald mangrove islands and shimmering waters of Florida Bay. If hog fish is the fresh catch for the fish and chips, it’s not to be missed (a Brit I recently dined with here said the only thing missing from the fried fish was a newspaper wrapping). But you won’t go wrong with anything on the menu. And if you spot pretty Pierre’s Restaurant next door and think it looks familiar, that’s because it was one of the residences on the Netflix series Bloodline, which was set in the Florida Keys.
Castaway Waterfront Restaurant & Sushi Bar, Marathon
The daily sushi happy hour at this canal-front restaurant tucked off the highway in the backroads off Marathon draws off-duty dive masters and captains for half-off rolls from 2PM to 6PM at Castaway. A charmingly ramshackle spot that dates to 1951 and is owned by a longtime Florida Keys resident who will regale you with his spearfishing stories, it was one of the first restaurants in the country to put invasive lion fish on the menu (a scourge in these parts, they frequent local reefs and wrecks). Don’t miss the King of the Jungle Roll, packed tight and thick with lion fish, avocado, asparagus, escolar and wakame.
Irie Island Eats, Marathon
On a recent trip, it was my dive master at Tilden’s Scuba Center who tipped me to this lush garden hideaway selling Jamaican bowls and jerked meats right along the Overseas Highway in Marathon, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the Florida Keys. Irie Island Eats is pretty much just a food truck alongside a smokin’ Jamaican barbecue grill and surrounded by flowering fruit trees, palms and budding orchids. A little garden of eatin’, if you will. The jerked shrimp and mahi tacos were our favorites. Make time to cruise through the restaurant’s produce stand to shop for fresh Florida citrus (or whatever else is in season) to take with you.
Yellowfin Bar & Grill, Stock Island
For years, the go-to restaurant on Stock Island (Key West’s less polished neighbor) has been Hogfish Bar & Grill, and you’ll never go wrong with all things hogfish and Key West pink shrimp on the menu there. But I recently discovered a new Stock Island favorite at Oceans Edge Resort, an upscale property with roomy suites that fronts a fishing marina and a tangle of lush mangroves five minutes from Key West. Yellowfin Bar & Kitchen is a casual spot right on the marina with outdoor tables and plenty of firepits for the picking. The menu isn’t huge and is the same for lunch and dinner, but there’s not a failure on it. I can make a meal out of the crispy-meets-creamy fried wontons and the piled-high tuna nachos here. And if you’re more into turf than surf, the filet mignon with truffle demi is one of the best and least expensive ones in the pricey Key West area.
Stay up to date on changing travel conditions; please check with local and statewide authorities for the latest guidelines.