Exotic Dining On The Island Of Bones – Key West Cuisines To Die For!

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Key West, or Cayo Hueso, is referred to as "The Island of Bones." It is located in the southernmost end of the United States, actually closer to Cuba than Miami.

Famous for its flavorful exotic cuisine, people from all walks of life visit Key West to savor appetizing dishes that would rattle your bones! 

The cuisine is an interwoven mix of American, Cuban, and Caribbean cultures. Interestingly, Key West was nicknamed “Bone Island” because it is said that the land was filled with the remains of earlier settlers who used the place as a communal graveyard!

So, with that said, let's "dig in" to see why the Key West cuisine is so enticing!  

Conch Fritters

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Conch, pronounced "konk" with a hard "k"… mind you, the locals are very particular with this because that’s how they refer to themselves. It’s the most popular food associated with Key West, which, incidentally is also known as (yes, another fond nickname) the "Conch Republic."

Conch meat harvested from mollusks actually comes from the Bahamas because the shells are now protected in Florida. They are safe to eat raw in salads but the most popular way tourists and locals alike prefer is smashed and breaded into conch fritters.

Diced conch meat is coated with a mixture of flour, onions, and peppers, and seasoned with a variety of spices. Each bar, restaurant, and street vendor stall has a unique recipe that offers slight variations in flavor. But all are sumptuous, especially if combined with the house dip.

Check out Schooner Wharf Bar at 202 William Street in Key West! It's one of Jaycation's top recommendations for conch fritters! 

Or try highly rated DJ's Clam Shack at 629 Duval Street, where you can not only indulge in conch but (of course) clams and even our next featured Key West specialty, a lobster roll!

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Spiny Lobster

Enjoy the seaside with a savory bite of spiny lobster which can only be found across the Florida Keys, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Fresh lobsters could either be grilled or steamed served with creamy butter, vegetables, and potatoes on the side.

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Don’t miss out on the lobster rolls – a sandwich made with juicy chunks of lobster meat drenched with mayonnaise and herbs – which was a staple of New England that later became a famous dish here in the Keys.

Head on over to The Lobster Shack at 507 South Street, Key West!

Hogfish Sandwich

Hogfish and bread do not sound so tasty, but if it’s filleted and grilled and served with flavorful toppings such as lettuce, Swiss cheese, mushrooms, and onions, you won’t think twice to try it!

Their distinct flavor and taste are attributed to the fact that they feed on shellfish, lobsters, and crabs.

Hogfish can mostly be found in Florida and Caribbean waters, and it’s rarely available on the menu because of fishing restrictions. So if you want to have a taste of the Florida hogfish, visit the Keys during the fishing seasons from May to October.

Learn how the pros cook up and serve hogfish in this interview with Hogfish Bar & Grill owners, Bobby and Michelle Mogelli.

Ropa Vieja

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Cuban cuisine is deeply inculcated into the Key West. There was actually a time when the area was populated mostly by Cuban migrants. 

Ropa vieja or old clothes in Spanish is the national dish of Cuba and has drastically evolved through generations.

Traditionally, the dish is prepared by slowly cooking beef flank or skirt steak to tenderize the meat. The sauce is made with beef broth, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and herbs seasoned with sazon and black pepper. Enjoy its savory taste and pair the dish with rice.

Sample one of the best ropa vieja dishes at El Habanero Cafe Cubano on 2814 North Roosevelt Boulevard, Key West.

Turon And Lumpia

Turon is a popular Filipino snack that's sweet, crunchy, and satisfying

Turon and lumpia are popular snacks in the Philippines and incidentally enough, there are a number of Filipino restaurants and food trucks across the Key West. Check out Tiger Bar on 500 Truman Avenue, for turon among other specialties.

Turon is made with bananas and purple yams wrapped in a spring roll coat topped with caramel and pineapple ice cream. Think of it as a fried banana split with a twist!

Lumpia is basically spring rolls - either served fresh or fried. They may either be paired with bean sprouts garnished with beef, pork, or chicken with a dash of minced carrots and beans. It is dressed with a thick blend of sauce with grated peanuts and fine grains of dipped fried garlic.

How Lime Came Into Light

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Did you know that there is no recorded history of how key lime pie is made prior to its first documented recipe in the 1930s, yet locals knew how to make it. It is said that the procedure was passed down from generations through word of mouth.

Key lime pie is not only a popular dessert in the Keys. It is known for its rich history and deep connection with the people living on the island. Earlier settlers were resourceful and knew how to use ingredients readily available to them.

Sponge divers and fishermen created the dessert as a way to feed themselves while they're out in the open sea. Since there is no way to provide refrigeration while traversing the ocean, they used the lime as a key to preserving the dish.

The earliest version of the pie was made with eggs, condensed milk, and the juice of key limes - wild vegetation growing in the Keys.

Key lime pie evolved as a dish and became the official state pie of Florida as a tribute to the sponge divers and fishermen.

It became the epitome of the rich culture inculcated in Key West cuisine. It forms a deep connection with the early fishermen that created the dish which was enjoyed through generations and the years to come.

If you're dining in Key West, you simply must finish off your meal with a slice of key lime pie from Kermit's Key Lime Shoppe at 200 Elizabeth Street or 335F Duval Street. 


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