Mojitos served at Oceanside Safari Restaurant & Lounge. SAMANTHA DELLILO/Keys Weekly

This past weekend, Florida Keys Eats was invited to Oceanside Safari Restaurant & Lounge at MM 73 in Islamorada. If that name isn’t ringing any bells, you may be more familiar with its former nickname, the Dead Animal bar. 

Let me tell you, these animals have come back to life and are ready for a fresh start. My first impression upon pulling into the parking lot was, “Are we at the right place?” It looked completely different; the gorgeous manicured grounds were the first thing to catch my eye. I swear it even looked like they raked the sand.

 The building was sparkling with a new wrap-around deck to get you as close to those oceanfront views as possible. If basking in the Florida sun isn’t your mood, you won’t miss a thing sitting in the A/C. The panoramic windows let you see every ocean wave from your table. 

Service was above and beyond; every staff member was on their A game. Within five minutes they had taken my drink order. On this day, a mojito was calling my name. Let me preface by saying I’ve had mojitos galore in my life, including at a bar run by Gloria Estefan which specializes in the minty cocktail. I didn’t think it got any better than that, but this mojito at Oceanside Safari was “ahhh-mazing.” I ended up having some conversation with a couple one table over who also let the waitress know it was the best mojito of their life. 

The menu had so many tempting items and we were encouraged to try as much as we wanted. The tuna tartare appetizer was enormous. It was enough to share as a table appetizer. It was a fresh and light starter with a spicy kick. 

Next, we noticed the fried pickles and saw they opted to serve them in spears as opposed to the traditional chip. Where has this fried pickle spear been all of my life?  The minute I bit into this, the fried pickle chip option officially became obsolete. Only fried spears for me from here on out. The ratio of batter to pickle was all you could dream of when ordering it. 

For entrees, we tested out their fish and chips, served classic English-style with beer batter and cod. In my opinion, beer batter is the best version of fried and it’s surprisingly not available at many restaurants down here. The batter had an audible crunch and no oil. It was textbook beer-battered fried fish. I couldn’t stop dipping everything into their house-made tartar sauce, maybe the tastiest tartar sauce I’ve ever had.

We finished our calorie coma with the ocean safari seafood roll. Think lobster roll but shredded lobster, crab and whole shrimp. Served cold in a warmed bun with a little romaine and tomato, it came with a side of fries and coleslaw. Again, big enough to share and quality ingredients. 

Currently, Oceanside Safari is in its soft opening stage but will be officially open Friday, June 2. Honestly, spending the afternoon here was so pleasant. We all know the drive past Bud N’ Mary’s Marina has nothing but breathtaking views, and it seemed like we were at Oceanside Safari in no time. The marina was buzzing with life and the beach was so peaceful to relax on with a drink. It felt like a little Keys oasis. Go check it out and write to me on Instagram @FloridaKeysEats to let me know what menu items you loved.

Samantha Dellilo has been in the Keys since she was 1 day old, so definitely consider her a Conch. Holding a passion for food since she can remember, while most kids were watching Barney, she was watching Emeril. "Being half Cuban and half Italian, food in those cultures is considered a love language. It's a total experience whether eating out or cooking." She's been with her other half, Marky, going on 17 years. The two met when they were 9 years old at Key Largo School. Samantha owns Florida Keys Eats, which is a blog of "must eat, must see, and must dos" from Key Largo to Key West.