Marker 88 – Bayside: Home to one of the few natural beaches in the Keys, Marker 88 (located at you guess it! MM …) has been satisfying their guests, including President Bush Sr., since 1967. No matter what season, the clientele is on average 50/50 locals and tourists, and 88 has a very “Cheers” like atmosphere where everyone literally knows your name (small town liability). The lobster and mango guacamole will knock your socks off, and no matter which way the hogfish sandwich is prepared – it will certainly leave a lasting impression/ potential addiction. If you’re solo, sit at the bar, and say hi to Elizabeth, Benji, Tom, James, and/ or Jason. Good food + good people = guaranteed good time.
The Big Chill – Bayside: No, not the movie, although you may see celebrity owner Jimmy Johnson there on occasion. The Big Chill in Key Largo offers up live music, a spectacular view of the sunset, and good old-fashioned American cuisine. If you’re a swine lover, try their pulled pork sandwich. It is marinated for 24 hours, then slow roasted for eight hours before being tossed in their homemade Captain Morgan BBQ sauce.
Island Grill– Oceanside: Arrive by boat, paddleboard, or car, this oceanside Islamorada restaurant is home to the original, and award-winning tuna nachos. Fresh Ahi grade tuna served on a bed of sesame seaweed salad over crisp wantons and topped with wasabi drizzle, sesame seeds, sweet soy, sriracha, and scallions. While labeled an appetizer, the tuna nachos offer a large enough portion to serve as a meal and leave you feeling very satisfied.
For a small town, Marathon has more than it’s fair share of waterfront restaurants. They line both sides of the island surrounding Keys and, of course, the star at each is the local seafood whether it’s lobster, stone crab, grouper or mahi season. There’s a place to fit every budget and the character varies wildly. Local’s tip: because Marathon runs east-west, the sun sets on a different side of the island at different times of the year as the planet Earth floats around on its axis. In the summer, the best sunset viewing is on the gulfside.
Keys Fisheries- is located on the gulfside of Marathon, towards the south end (turn on 35th Street). Once upon a time it was an old fish house; now it’s one of the most popular eateries in the Middle Keys. Patrons find a picnic table situated on the covered, concrete dock with a view of a small marina and open water. It’s walk up service and upon placing an order, customers are required to give a pseudonym. When your “name” is called (“Bugs Bunny,” “Robert DeNiro”), diners retrieve their own delicious dinner. The portions are daunting and the seafood is guaranteed fresh — the fish house is still right next door. There’s no air conditioning, but a steady breeze cools things off. There’s also a second-story bar that offers outstanding views. Sunset Grill- is located at the foot of the Seven Mile Bridge. And all that separates the huge tiki structure from the ocean is an oversized pool. The resort-casual restaurant overlooks the pool deck and has a fantastic openwater view. This is the place to order coconut curry lobster or hogfish “Martinique,” but not until after you’ve had a few umbrella drinks and a dip in the pool. Customers can come by boat and tie up at the dock, play bar games like cornhole, and enjoy an evening of live music. It’s good for the whole family and evokes the “Keys experience” that visitors come here for. Sparky’s Landing- is a fan favorite with the Middle Keys because it has a young vibe, no matter what the average age of its patrons. It’s an across-the-board pleaser with professional and recreational fishermen, the “vintage” set from the tiny hamlet of Key Colony Beach (where it’s located) and Middle Keys professionals; in short, locals of every stripe. It’s located on a harbor in Key Colony Beach and occasionally an angler has been known to hook something from the deck of the restaurant and every diner turn to watch the drama unfold. Sparky’s has the trifecta of dining rooms — indoor and air-conditioned, covered open-air and deck seating. The fish tacos are perfect, complete with pickled red onions, and the steak salad makes my mouth water just typing these words.
For a small island, Key West has a huge number of restaurants that serve fine cuisine with an atmosphere to suit any mood. Of course, there’s nothing like dining on the water. Some Key West restaurants are accessible to boaters, most specialize in seafood and all have the relaxing view that takes patrons away from their typical workweek. If the timing is right, one of Key West’s magnificent sunsets can be enjoyed with a meal at one of Key West’s fine waterfront establishments.
Alonzo’s- Alonzo’s is waterfront dining overlooking the Key West Bight. It is a prized local destination for its magnificent happy hour everyday from 4-6:30 p.m. — that includes half price off all drinks and half price off every item on the left side of the menu. The specialty is oysters and the restaurant serves a huge selection from various regions. For starters, a patron might want to try the roasted mussels diablo or mussels with smoked jalapeños and cilantro. The coconut fried grouper is also fantastic — countless reviews on tripadvisor.com boast the location has phenomenal seafood. Alonzo’s guests also have a great view of the harbor and the comings and goings of sportfishermen and multi-million dollar luxury yachts.
Lagerhead’s – It doesn’t exist on any map nor does it show up on a GPS coordinate. Even mail carriers argue whether Lagerhead’s Beach Bar sits on the edge of MM 1 or MM 0. Highlighted by a white sandy beach, the tiki bar and restaurant resembles a backdrop for a Caribbean photo shoot, surrounded by lounge chairs, umbrellas and sunbathers. To go along with the atmosphere is a tasty menu of freshly caught fish. They are known for their world-famous fish tacos, but also serve a fresh fish sandwich, crab cakes, smoked fish dip, foot long hot dogs, hamburgers and veggie burgers. They are located on the end of Simonton Street, where the land meets the water. Louie’s Backyard – Made famous for its historic character, Louie’s Backyard has a view people travel thousands of miles to see. Originally opened in 1971 with the capacity to only seat 12 diners served by one waiter, the restaurant is all grown up now with a generous seating area at sea level and upper level dining area. Every dish at Louie’s Backyard is made fresh to order and includes grouper, hogfish and snapper as well as fine steaks, heirloom pork, rack of lamb and free-range chicken. The upper deck affords the best view of the water.