In February we slipped away from the cold, gray Michigan winter for a Budget-Friendly Trip to Key Largo. Because I was able to secure all of our hotels, the airfare, and a car rental for under $300, we had a large portion of our travel budget left for dining and entertainment.
This was our first trip to Key Largo so as “Foodies” we were excited to try out some local food. We did a little research beforehand and got some recommendations from friends who visit the area regularly. Although we enjoyed a few meals at the resort where we stayed, here are a few places we checked out.
Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill
Once we realized that we would be arriving in Key Largo on Super Bowl Sunday, I went to work figuring out the best place to watch the big game. Because of his obvious football affiliation, we had decided on Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill which was located near our hotel. However, several hours before the game the restaurant was already full inside. There was availability at the beachside tiki bar, but the wind was cold and very strong that day so it really was a Big Chill. Too much so for us to enjoy the game so we decided to move on to plan B.
We came back the next night for Happy Hour. They have a robust list of food and drink specials from 4-7 pm Monday through Friday. Taking advantage of Happy Hour specials is another way we stretch our dining budget when we travel. Since the winds had died down considerably, we chose a seat on the patio where we could watch the sunset over the ocean while we ate. It was really lovely, especially after the live music began.
We started off with a half dozen Oysters and an order of Coconut Shrimp, two of my husband’s favorites. The large gulf shrimp were encrusted in fried coconut breading and served with a Thai chili dipping sauce. For the main course, I ordered the grilled local Mahi Mahi sandwich with roasted red pepper mayo and tropical mango coleslaw served on a potato bun. My husband chose fried Grouper for his Big Chill Fish Sandwich. It was topped with American cheese, and dill sauce and served with a side of mango slaw.
Everything was tasty and delicious and we enjoyed our visit much more than we would have if we had stayed for the game on Sunday.
Hog Heaven Bar and Grill
Our Super Bowl plan B was Hog Heaven which is located a short drive south of Key Largo in Islamorada. Our friend told us that they throw a huge Super Bowl party with TVs, food, and drink specials. They had giveaways throughout the night and my husband was very excited to receive both sunglasses and a koozie.
Although we were seated in their outside waterfront deck area, it was at least sheltered from that day’s big winds and we still had a great view of the game. Even with a larger-than-usual crowd for the game, the service was spot on. Our sassy waitress was fun and super attentive.
We ordered wings and a brisket plate from their list of game-day specials and took advantage of the really good prices on draft beer. Our food was very good but the environment was really the star of our visit. It was so much fun watching the game there because everyone was pumped up, cheering loudly for their teams and celebrating each touchdown.
Next time we visit the area, we will be sure to return to Hog Heaven and further explore their regular menu.
Key Lime Pie Factory
Key Lime Pie is a signature dish in the Florida Keys. So of course, we had to get in a few slices during our stay. We shared our first piece at the Key Lime Pie Factory in Tavernier. It’s a cute little shop brightly painted in Caribbean colors.
They offer a variety of Key Lime gifts and goodies as well as different variations of their delicious pie. You can order it plain, or get it topped with whipped cream, or meringue. We selected a slice topped with meringue and enjoyed it in their expansive garden area. If you stop here, I recommend taking a few minutes to walk through the garden which is filled with many interesting features.
Although they do not ship their pies, you can buy a whole pie to take with you. They even sell round thermal carriers that can accommodate 2 pies.
Fun Fact: Ask TSA on Twitter says that you can fly with a whole pie.
Bayside Grille was one of my husband’s dinner picks. We always have at least one grown-up dinner when we travel and this was our night. Bayside has an oceanfront bar on the main level with both indoor and outdoor seating and live music. Their restaurant is located on the upper level. It was around 5:30 when we arrived and we were able to get a table in front of a large window which was a perfect spot to enjoy the sunset.
I ordered a glass of Prosecco and the Key Largo Sampler. It was a fantastic mix plate consisting of a lobster tail, some jumbo shrimp, scallops, and a small mahi mahi filet all swimming in a key lime beurre blanc sauce then sprinkled with crispy capers and served with sides of rice and steamed vegetables. The sauce was divine.
My husband ordered a local beer and the Fresh Catch Fish of the day which was yellow tail served with the same rice and veggies that I received. Our seafood was all delicious and the sunset was lovely. We decided to take a slice of coconut cake to share for dessert later. It was heavenly.
Hobo’s Cafe is located just across the road from our hotel so it was an easy choice when we needed a light meal one evening. It was late when we arrived and the place was hopping. We were seated right away on their back patio. Lucky for us the weather was perfect for outdoor dining that night.
Hobo’s has an extensive menu. You will be shocked when I tell you that my husband ordered a Grouper Sandwich. He just couldn’t get enough fish this trip. This time I went for the lighter fare and ordered a simple house salad. Our food came up quickly and was very good. It was just what we needed after a full day of activities.
The menu stated that their Key Lime Pie was the Key’s Favorite and is made in-house. Of course, we ordered a slice to share but ended up being too full and took it to go. The pie was very creamy and topped with dollops of whipped cream. It was scrumptious.
Key Largo Fisheries Backyard Cafe and Seafood Market
Key Largo Fisheries Backyard Cafe and Seafood Market came up a lot in our research. This place gets in fresh seafood every day which is either available for purchase in their market or prepared at the cafe.
The Backyard Cafe
The Backyard Cafe has a full menu of freshly prepared fish and seafood that you can order at the window on their porch. You can either choose to take your food with you or enjoy it with a cold beer or a glass of wine in their casual outdoor dining area that has gorgeous waterfront views. It doesn’t get much better than that!
The Seafood Market
A friend told us about their fantastic stone crab claws and suggested that we get there early for the best selection. We made a plan and were first in line when they opened. The market was stocked with the freshest fish and seafood straight in from the docks. My husband desperately wanted to buy one of their huge lobsters, but since we were staying in a hotel, we just didn’t have a good way to prepare it.
We were lucky that the stone crabs were in season and bought 3 pounds of jumbo claws and some mustard sauce to take with us for our hotel room happy hour snack later. They came already steamed and they even cracked them for us while we waited. Although I came prepared with a cooler bag filled with ice, they had thermal bags available for purchase and offered to provide ice if I needed it.
Good news: If you want to buy some great fresh fish, seafood, or a Key Lime Pie, the Key Largo Seafood Market also offers online ordering!
Key Largo Conch House
We were looking for a local breakfast option one morning during our trip and my husband googled best coffee in Key Largo. The Key Largo Conch House was the top match. Since it was just a few minutes from our hotel, we decided to give it a shot.
The Conch House is the cutest little pink house that has been converted into a restaurant. There isn’t a ton of seating so there could be a wait during busier times. We were fortunate and got seated right away. The coffee was indeed very good. As we sipped our coffee and waited on breakfast, I noticed several photos on the wall of Emeril Lagasse with the owners. That seemed like a good sign.
Their breakfast menu consisted of a variety of Eggs, Omelets, French Toast, Shrimp and Grits, Avocado Toast, as well as several variations of Eggs Benedict. They also offer vegan and gluten-free options. In addition to coffee, they have juices, smoothies, and traditional mimosas. You can even order a mimosa made with Key Lime juice… totally going to try that next time!
I ordered the Key Lime Macadamia Pancakes which was listed as one of their 3 Award Winning Breakfasts. It consisted of 2 pancakes with fresh Key Lime juice & coconut milk, sprinkled with chopped macadamia nuts and graham cracker crumbles served with homemade coconut syrup on the side. They really reflected the local flavors and were absolutely wonderful.
My husband took the healthier approach and ordered a Cornetto which was listed as a Vegan option. It was an Italian Croissant topped with avocado, onion, artichokes, peppers, spinach & tomatoes. Served with fresh fruit. He liked it very much.
Living in Michigan, we don’t get a lot of fresh ocean fish or seafood. So although we did try other things, we put a big focus during this trip on fish, seafood, and all things key lime. It was fun sampling pie from several different locations and seeing the different twists each place put on it. My favorite was the tart pie with the Meringue at the Key Lime Pie Factory.
When it came to seafood, nothing could top the fresh stone crab claws we got from the Key Largo Fisheries Seafood Market. Now I can’t imagine going to Key Largo without stopping there. Next visit, we will definitely plan a lunch at their Cafe.
I think the best part of dining in the Florida Keys is how fresh and tasty everything is from the fish to the produce. They also really embrace big bold flavors in all of their dishes. I can’t wait to go back again and visit some of our favorite places and try some that we didn’t get a chance to visit.
Do you have a favorite place we should check out next trip?
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