Where To Stop & Eat On Your Way To The Keys
photo credit: CLEVELAND JENNINGS / @EATTHECANVASLLC
The drive to Key West is approximately three hours and 45 minutes. That's enough time for a good deal of snacking pit stops, especially because there are so many delicious things along the drive. This guide has some of our favorite places to stop for some food on the way down to Key West. So go easy on the car snacking and save some room.
This little Homestead sub shop is filled with Hollywood posters and New York memorabilia. We come here for the cheese steak. It’s loaded with juicy beef and silky cheese that clings to the thinly sliced steak and runs off the ends of the fluffy sub roll. For an extra 50 cents, we like ours with mushrooms, onions, and peppers. But if you’re in the mood for a cold sub with lots of meat, get the godfather Italian with genoa salami, ham, spicy capocollo, pepperoni, and provolone cheese. The food comes out fast, so if you’re on a tight schedule, this is a great place to stop before you start counting alligators on the road to the islands.
There is no rule that says you have to actually be in the Keys to eat key lime pie. We checked. So consider a stop at Sweet Delights the equivalent of stretching before you go for a run. Here’s how a visit to this little shop goes: you walk into a small storefront in Florida City and are greeted by baker/literal angel Debra Allen. After welcoming you, she conducts a brief interrogation about your pie interests, then returns with a big tray of pie samples—like banana key lime, guava key lime, mamey key lime, and coconut key lime. There are about a dozen more options, and they’re all, in our opinion, the best key lime pies in the state of Florida. And yes, that includes the Keys.
There are two locations of this excellent Mexican spot: Homestead and Florida City. While the Homestead location is larger (in case you're with a big crew), the Florida City location is our favorite. Tacos are the main attraction here, but the alambres are a must-order too. The combination of carne asada, chorizo, bacon, onions, and peppers under a blanket of melted cheese can make you forget all about fuel prices. Scooped onto one of Morelia’s excellent corn or flour tortillas, it’s everything we love about fajitas, nachos, fondue, and loaded fries all rolled into one.
With all due respect to Kelis, there is no milkshake that brings us to the yard quicker than the ones at Robert Is Here. This Homestead spot is a famous and essential stop on any drive to The Keys. It’s equal parts market, tiny zoo, and milkshake stand with a ton of very cool homemade sauces, jellies, and honey available as well. But you’ve also got to get a milkshake. Those are the rules.
Florida dive bar connoisseurs will definitely appreciate Alabama Jack’s, a salty seafood spot that sits at the mouth of a causeway leading to Key Largo. The seafood is fried, the beer is cheap, and the threat of splinters is very real. There’s sometimes live music too. This place feels like if Mac’s had a baby with an alligator. That’s certainly worth an hour drive in our books.
You are (we hope) going to be eating a lot of key lime pie in the Keys. But don’t let that stop you from making yet another key lime pit stop on the way, this time at Blond Giraffe. The Tavernier pie shop makes some of the very best key lime pie in South Florida. It’s more on the tart end of the spectrum, with your choice of whipped cream or meringue (our preference). You can stop in for an excellent chocolate-dipped slice on a stick, or grab a whole pie on the way home as a reward for your patience with the inevitable Overseas Highway traffic. The pies keep great in the freezer, but they also have a nice patio where you can eat too, in case you need to stretch your legs.
Keys Fisheries, about an hour from Key West, is the perfect place to put you in a Keys frame of mind. It’s a classic seafood spot on the water known for their lobster reuben. It’s exactly what it sounds like—chunks of lobster, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, and thousand island dressing. Unlike so many dishes you’ll pass on Overseas Highway, it’s deserving of its self-appointed “world famous” title, but the other fried local seafood here is great, too. You can eat it all outside, while watching fat tarpon and opportunistic pelicans float by.
No Name Pub will make you thankful for your GPS, because without it, you’d probably never find this classic Florida dive bar and restaurant, where every millimeter of wallspace is covered by an old dollar bill stapled to the wall by customers. It’s a great place to stop for a beer and a burger to celebrate the fact that you are now less than an hour away from Key West. Just don’t forget to bring a dollar bill of your own to add to the wall.
There are two good things about getting to Baby's Coffee. First, it means you are just under 30 minutes away from Key West. And second, it’s a great opportunity to get some caffeine in your system, which you will probably need for the final leg of what is always a very, very long drive. Baby's Coffee roasts their own beans and has more drinks beyond your standard espresso and hot or iced coffee. There are smoothies, and a very refreshing frozen latte. This place is also a lifesaver on the drive back, especially if you had one too many Hemingway daiquiris the previous night.