5 Totally Solid Bites in the Keys

Key West and the surrounding Keys offer up plenty of dining options, ranging from traditional CFaribbean fare to pasta and burgers. However, for the most part, you can find coconut shrimp, conch fritters and “best” key lime pie on just about every menu. While we didn’t have enough time to visit them all (or even scratch the surface!), we did get a taste for what the Keys has to offer for $$ or less.

Santiago’s Bodega
Tapas
Rating: 5/5
By far our favorite meal of the trip, Santiago’s gave us more flavor and variety than any of the other spots we patroned during our trip and provided an intimate setting with friendly service. To note, there are two other locations (Orlando and Altamonte Springs). We didn’t have reservations and the wait was a little over an hour, so we put our names down and headed to a nearby bar for a drink before returning. Definitely recommend planning ahead if you’re hungry!

Petite rack of lamb from Santiago’s

Their tapas-style menu was perfect for sampling several dishes during our last night in Key West. We started with a refreshing pear and avocado salad before diving into a delicious mozzarella burrata, which was over a bed of tomato and balsamic vinaigrette. Next up was shrimp and chorizo skewers which are skewered and pan grilled in minced garlic. The shrimp were delicious and chorizo nicely complemented with just the right amount of heat. The basil and bacon wrapped mushrooms were savory and succulent. Perhaps our favorite dish of the evening (and the entire trip) was the petite-rack lamb. The meat was cooked perfectly, with minimal fat and maximum flavor. The meat was encrusted in pecan and thyme with a hint of Dijon mustard. Truly superb! The only dish we ordered that we did not love was the patatas bravas. While extremely flavorful, this dish was just a little too spicy for my liking.

Overall, we loved this place and would definitely return to try all the other menu items we missed!

Mangrove Mama’s
Seafood, Cajun/Creole
Rating: 5/5
Mangrove Mama’s happened to be right across the road from our RV resort (Lazy Lakes), so we decided to give it a try on our very first night in the Keys. It’s decor is classic, kitschy Key West, with a giant stuffed standing bear in the front room, neon lights and lime green paint. They offer up live music every night and have great outdoor seating that offers up great views of the band. Mitch Woods & The Rocking 88 were jamming out when we arrived.

Key Lime Pie from Mama Mangrove’s

We ordered up a few cocktails, the coconut shrimp served up with a sweet island sauce and spicy mahi tacos. The coconut shrimp was by far the best we had while we were in the keys. Flavorful, tender, with a great crunch. The mahi tacos were fresh and delicious, served with yellow rice, black beans and corn salsa. Last but not least, we ordered the most delicious slice of key lime pie we’ve ever had. To note, most establishments in the Keys argue their pie is the best, but the pie at Mangrove Mama’s is our clear winner. In fact, it was so good we went back and ordered an entire pie for $37!

Our waitress was incredibly friendly and offered up some tips for where we should visit in Sugarloaf Key and Key West. The only downsides to this place were that the drinks were a little on the pricy side and we tried to order pizza from here on one of our last nights in town and they turned us away! Apparently they had “too many orders” already and couldn’t handle any more. Definitely odd, but if you’d like takeout from here make sure you order early on in the evening. Overall, we really enjoyed Mangrove Mama’s and would definitely return!

Better Than Sex
Dessert
Rating: 4/5
Looking for a seductive spot to sip on something sweet? Look no further than Better Than Sex. Blackened windows and heavy velvet curtains pique your curiosity as you enter this cocktail and dessert lounge. The walls are adorned with tastefully posed sensual shots against a deep red backdrop as chandeliers drip from the antique bronze tiled ceiling. Signs around the establishment give a nod to innuendo with phrases like, “Please wait to be seated…Great sex is worth waiting for.”

Our ‘rimmed’ drinks from Better than Sex.

We were escorted to a quaint table by the window, lit only by candle light and the glow of the iPad menus. The chairs were plush, red velvet high tops and booths were luxe looking in leather. Our waitress sauntered over to walk us “virgins” through the menu. For cocktails, you can select from a variety of wines, beers and champagnes that have a signature “rimming” of chocolate, caramel and sweet crumbles with names like “Caramel Over Me” and “The Shocker.” I oped for a Malbec rimmed with milk chocolate and raspberry crumbles called Mandy’s Berry Naughty (I had two!) and Jonathan got a champagne rimmed with caramel and a crystallized sugar brulee called Kiss Me Katie.

For dessert, options range from Morning After, a brie and dark chocolate grilled cheese, to Cookie Nookie and Tongue Bath Truffle. We opted for a slice of Kinky Key Lime Pie and Better Than Sex, their signature bread pudding dish. While the key lime pie was delicious and fluffy, the bread pudding was the real show stopper. Dense, chocolatey, with a cherry filling, this dish was one sensuous surprise after another.

We definitely recommend checking out Better Than Sex when you’re in the Keys. Just make sure you make reservations and save room–this dessert was the real climax of our trip.

Schooner Wharf Bar
Seafood
Rating: 3/5
Schooner Wharf Bar offers up a backyard feel with simple, fresh seafood fare and tropical frozen drinks. A dive bar on the water! Grab a seat outside and take a listen to the great tunes being pumped out by the live band on stage.

The tuna nachos and conch fritters from Schooner Wharf Bar

We ordered a sampling of small dishes including coconut shrimp, drunken shrimp, tuna nachos and crab cake. While the coconut shrimp was just fine, the drunken shrimp really shined. Drunken shrimp is pink peel and eat shrimp served up with a cocktail sauce. The crab cake was also delectable, light and fluffy with great flavor. The tuna nachos were great in concept, but failed in execution. The “chips” were more like giant fried wontons and the hunks of tuna were too large. Our service was a bit slow as our waitress was extremely busy, but we weren’t in a rush so we didn’t mind. Plus, she was very friendly and personable! All in all, Schooner Wharf is a great place if you’re looking for some basic seafood in a casual setting in Key West for a low price–plus live tunes!

Hogfish Bar & Grill
Seafood
Rating: 3/5

The hogfish sandwich from Hogfish Bar & Grill

If you’re looking to get a feel for the “real” Key West head to Hogfish Bar & Grill. About as far away from US 1 and Duval Street as you can get, this restaurant is truly off the beaten path out on a waterfront marina on Stock Island. As probably indicated by the name, Hogfish is known for serving up hogfish–grilled, fried and blackened. Hogfish is fresh and when they run out, they don’t sub it in for another fish. If, like me, you’ve never had hogfish before it is sort of scallop-like in flavor and texture. I ordered up the hogfish tacos and Jonathan went for the hogfish sandwich. Both of us were quite pleased with our meals (and huge portions!). We also grabbed a bowl each of the special white conch chowder-yum! Make sure you take a peek at the chalkboard for specials. Hogfish Bar & Grill was delicious and gave us a chance to eat like the locals.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Loved this post! If I’m ever in Key West I will be sure to make a reservation @ Mangroves and Better than sex. You sold me!

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