It has almost become a tradition to write a roundup of restaurants from our annual trek to Key West. I do this because Key West is one of those places that you could easily go and miss all the good stuff if you don't know any better, and this is especially true for restaurants there. Bad restaurants are everywhere. Tourism is based on the length of Duval Street, and while there are exceptions, the best rule of thumb is to never eat on Duval. You don't have to venture far past it to find the best tastes of Key West. Here's our roundup from this year:
› Bubba's - this is a new place on Fleming in the space that used to house Monsoon Cafe. Monsoon was one of our favorite surprises of last year, so we were disappointed to find it gone. We were hesitant, but decided to give Bubba's a try. We had the large buffalo shrimp as an entree. It was mediocre and could have just come out of a freezer bag. It could have been a lot worse, but its not high on our list to try again.
› Polish Cafe - We stumbled on this one on Duval Street - actually only the entrance is on Duval, the restaurant itself is tucked behind the building. Myron comes from Slovak heritage, and I've grown to love Polish foods, so we were excited to find this place, despite the handwritten sign and clever name. (Yup, "Polish Cafe" is the name.) We were pleasantly surprised. The pierogies were excellent (especially after being worried by their description on the menus as 'puff pastries' - luckily, they weren't.) We sampled a few other dishes too, all were good. We hope this place survives to next year.
› Sandy's - Sandy's is a Cuban food stand attached to a laundromat on White Street. It claims to have the best Cuban Sandwich in Key West. Its good, though we aren't sure its as good as the one at Jose's Cantina further up on White. What was amazing at Sandy's were the plantains. Easily the best I have ever had anywhere.
› Schooner Wharf - we went here one night in search of good Buffalo Shrimp. It was fine - average, but nothing to write home about. The place is pretty much a tourist bar with old white people trying to dance to bad old music. If the food was great, it'd still be worth the trip. We can't say that it was.
› Half Shell Raw Bar - this is another tourist trap in the Marina area, but we had had some good Buffalo Shrimp here two years ago. Last year it wasn't so good, but I convinced Myron to pop in for a try in case we just had an off experience last year. It wasn't very good this year either. The "fish hooks": fried onions and peppers, were pretty good, though.
› Sarabeth's - we had a good meal two years ago here, but didn't make it back last year. This year we did, and we weren't disappointed. Sarabeth's features southern dishes in an old church on Simonton just a block off Duval - with a very friendly host that we think might be the owner. Scallops were fresh and flavorful.
› Cafe Sole - this is one of our favorite places, and we've had dinner here the last two New Years Eves. I don't know how, but every bite melts in your mouth. And they prepare vegatables in amazingly unexpected ways - be sure not to ignore them - they rival the main dish.
› BO's Fish Wagon - this is popular and well known among tourists, but great nonetheless. Fresh fish sandwiches that are great, as are their conch fritters. Don't be surprised by a long line or a wait for your food, but its worth it.
› Nine One Five - We enjoyed Nine One Five in past years, but didn't make it back last year. We went this year with a couple friends. We shared a few tapas plates which were good, but not outstanding. Nothing wowed us, but it was fine.
› Camille's - this was our first visit to Camille's, which gets raves from people for breakfast and lunch. Nothing was bad for us, but it was pretty average fare - nothing to bring us back again. One local said they aren't as good since they moved to a bigger location, but we only heard that from that one person.
› Santiago's Bodega - another of our favorites, Santiago's never disappoints us (well, except the one night we went and they were booked til closing so couldn't seat us!). We went back another night (we called first) and had an amazing meal of tapas. Santiago's is a block past Blue Heaven in what seems like a somewhat sketchy neighborhood - don't worry, its worth the walk. Don't miss the dates and the tenderloin with blue cheese. And if you like weissbier, they carry a great one called Tucher. Leave room for the Bread Pudding.
› Mr. Z's - we love Mr. Z's because its our stop at 3am on the way home for a slice of pizza, but we stopped by again one afternoon when we didn't have much time for lunch and were reminded how good their sandwiches are. Its a philly-style pizza joint that has new slick signage and menus, so some of the character of the place is gone, but the food is still consistently good.
We didn't make it to Square One, which several people recommended; or El Siboney, which has new owners; and Michael's is also still often recommended, so be sure to check those out too. Santiago's Bodega and Cafe Sole remain our favorites. Also gone this year is the Twisted Dish, which we thought had promise, but now houses a barbecue joint that we didn't try.