Conch fritters are a must-eat in the Conch Republic. (Photo: Tim Cuff / Alamy)
Only 90 miles from Cuba and 150 miles from Miami, Key West is the outermost island in the Florida Keys and the most heavily influenced by Caribbean culture. People here have their own way of doing everything, including cooking, which is heavily dependent on the sea and locally grown tropical fruit.
Visitors soon realize the two most recognizable dishes in Key West cuisine are the conch fritter and Key lime pie. Dive into these must-try dishes at some of the best restaurants in Key West.
The conch may be a lowly sea mollusk, but in the Keys, it has been elevated to heights of taste and creativity. Chefs get inventive with the conch: Conch chowder, conch ceviche and even conch pizza. But the conch fritter takes center stage in the Conch Republic. At its core, the fritter is made from finely minced conch, mixed with onion and batter.
From there, chefs add their own interpretation, mixing in everything from jalapeno peppers to celery or clam juice. The result is something like a hush puppy, served either as an appetizer or a side dish.
You can find conch fritters on just about every menu in the Keys. Locals rave about the ones from Louie’s Backyard, served with hot pepper jelly or wasabi and terrific ocean views. Known for their especially conch-y flavor, the fritters at Conch Republic Seafood Company also get high marks for authenticity and taste.
In the Limelight
Entire books have been written about Key lime pie, the tart meringue-covered Key West dessert that is said to have been invented in the late 19th century. Because the hot climate caused milk to spoil quickly, condensed milk was used as a substitute in desserts. It quickly becoming the staple ingredient in this local pie, along with the tangy bite of the surprisingly flavorful Key lime. As with any signature dish, there are those who prefer tradition and those who like to mix it up.
For the purists, there’s Pepe’s Café, which toys slightly with tradition by adding egg white to the condensed milk for a fluffier treat. For the adventurous, there’s Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe, where you get a slice of Key lime pie on a stick, dipped in chocolate. It’s every bit as decadent as it sounds, and the outdoor patio at this Key-lime-colored shop is a great place to enjoy the treat.