Feast on the fresh offerings of the sea. The seafood restaurants of Florida Keys bring you as close to the abundant waters as you can get without busting out your own fishing rod. Thankfully, these guys have done it for you. Bon appetit.
In such a rich melting pot, it's natural that the indigenous cuisine of the Keys restaurants incorporates diverse and delicious influences - with a reliance on an abundant array of fish and seafood harvested from surrounding waters.
Commercial fishing is the second-largest industry in the Keys. The fresh fish that graces a restaurant table at night was probably unloaded at the docks that morning, and fish and seafood headline nearly every restaurant menu.
Among the favorites are Key West pink shrimp, a delicacy generally considered sweeter than other crustaceans. Whether sautéed in scampi, battered and fried, nestled atop salad or pasta or simply steamed and served with savory sauces, Key West pinks rank among the most popular of the Keys' "natural resources."
The mollusk conch (pronounced konk) is impossible to pass up and is served in many forms: lime-kissed salad, spicy chowder and golden deep-fried fritters among them. Conch chowder can either be tomato-based or white, but don't expect to find any consistency of recipes from one restaurant to another. Keys eateries pride themselves on creating unique interpretations of classic dishes.
As well as savoring the taste of conch, Keys residents admired the mollusk's tough, hardy nature so much that they adopted its name for themselves. Today, conch is no longer fished in the Keys, but the word Conch refers to someone born in the island chain - which is affectionately known as the Conch Republic.
Stone crabs, renowned for their sweet and succulent meat, also are a popular delicacy. Because nearly all of the crab's meat is contained within its grapnels, these are the only portions of the crustacean that are harvested. Once the claws are removed, the crab is returned to the sea where, over the course of up to two years, the claws regenerate. It is for this reason that stone crabs are considered a renewable resource, and the Florida Keys are responsible for nearly 60 percent of the state's overall harvest.
Stone crab claws are most commonly served warm with drawn butter or chilled with mustard sauce. The meat of the claws also may be used in crab cakes, fritters and stuffing. Florida's stone crab season runs from October 15 to May 15 annually.
Unlike stone crabs, lobsters found in the Keys are clawless. Known as spiny lobster, they offer sweet and tender meat. Local restaurants often serve them steamed or boiled with drawn butter - or their meat might be made into salad or served with exotic sauces.
We could not possibly include all the seafood restaurants in the Keys in our top picks, but you'll not be disappointed at any of these.
3390 Gulfview Avenue end of 35th St.
The only place in town where your order is placed as a famous person's name... read more
6810 Front Street
Where People Who Catch Fish, Eat Fish... read more
3660 Overseas Highway
Angus steaks, spiny lobster, local seafood, Stone Grill Dining, $5 lunch and world-famous desserts made by the woman herself. Try them, buy them and love them... read more
11711 Oceanside Highway
From hot dogs to barbecued shrimp... read more
88000 Overseas Highway
Mile Marker 88
Award-winning seafood restaurant... read more
Mile Marker 94.5