A cruise to Key West puts you right in the heart of watersports, history and famous pastel, conch-style houses. As if that were not enough to look forward to, the unique cuisine influenced by Cuba and other Caribbean islands awaits your taste buds. Get ready to try the delicious dishes that make Key West a famous cruise destination for foodies.
1. Conch Fritters and Chowder
Conch, pronounced “konk,” is the queen of all foods in Key West and was a staple food of early settlers. You’ve probably seen the pretty shell of the sea snail used for decorations but it’s the meat that sends seafood aficionados across the globe into a spin. Conch is filleted, tenderized and turned into tasty dishes beloved across the island, the most popular of which are conch fritters. Mixed with green peppers, onions and fried in batter, they’re best served with key lime aioli. As conch tastes similar to clams, it’s also used for chowder, with potatoes and spices to complete the dish.
2. Spiny Lobster
The interesting thing about spiny lobsters is that they don’t have pinching claws. They do, however, pack a punch when you taste the sweet white tail meat. You’ll find spiny lobsters headlining a range of dishes in restaurants across the island. They’re commonly broiled, sauteed, fried or coated with delectable key lime butter.
3. Key West Pink Shrimp
Your first taste of tender Key West pink shrimp won’t be your last. Identified by a red dot on a distinctive pink shell, they’re harvested in the surrounding waters, so they’re as fresh as fresh can be. Enjoy the sweet taste by eating them on their own, or indulge in an array of local dishes. They come fried, battered, wrapped in bacon, dipped in coconut or mango sauce — and that’s just for starters.
One of the most amazing things to do in Key West during a cruise vacation is to explore the coral reefs abundant with tropical marine life. One fish that calls these reefs home is the hogfish, named for its hog-like snout. It’s prized for a light texture that will melt in your mouth. You can try it in a variety of ways, including smothered with key lime tartar sauce, grilled, fried or on a popular hogfish sandwich.
5. Stone Crabs
Stone crabs are harvested just offshore Key West, giving new meaning to “fresh from the ocean” delicacies. They’re huge, too, so biting into crab claws here is always satisfying. The traditional way to eat them is by dipping the claws into a tangy, mustard-based sauce. But, if you can’t get enough of the taste, you can also try stone crab chowder, blended with vegetables and spices.
6. Mahi-Mahi Sandwiches
If you can’t get enough of the seafood from Key West, sink your teeth into a mahi-mahi sandwich. The fish is one of the most popular to eat in the world, celebrated for its firm texture and sweet, mild taste. You’ll often find it advertised as the “catch of the day”. Grilled or blackened, it’s a local favorite that’s commonly combined with lettuce, tomato, and mayo or Thousand Island dressing.
7. Black-Eyed Pea Bollos
When you’re shopping in Key West, get yourself a tasty snack to keep your energy up! Black-eyed pea bollos are just what you need. These “little balls” are deep fried, garlicky, fritter-like treats that are perfect to eat on the go.
8. Cuban Food
As Key West is so close to Cuba, Key West food is infused with Cuban spices and flavors, thanks to early Cuban settlers. You’ll find plenty of places to sample Cuban dishes, including popular Cuban mixes, which are sandwiches filled with roast pork, salami, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato, mustard and mayo. Other traditional dishes to try are saffron-flavored paella and Cuban burgers, known as fritas.
9. Key Lime Pie
When you’re wondering what to eat in Key West to satisfy your sweet tooth, look no further than the famous key lime pie. The creamy dessert pie, made from the juice of the yellow-green key lime, is the official pie of the state of Florida. It’s usually made with just three basic ingredients — sweetened condensed milk, 100 percent key lime juice and a cracker crust — topped with lightly browned meringue. Take the experience a step further with chocolate dipped key lime pie. Tasting it in Key West is sure to be one of the highlights of your cruise.
10. Cafe con Leche
A cruise to Key West is not complete without joining the locals for a cup of strong, creamy and thick cafe con leche. Created with espresso shots and hot milk hand-whipped into a delectable froth, this Cuban coffee will certainly wake you up and get you going on the next adventure!
When you jump on board a cruise to Key West, you’ll get every opportunity to eat your fill of delicious island cuisine that’s sure to captivate your taste buds.
Note: Onboard activities, shore excursions, and dining options may vary by ship and destination.