Andrew Zimmern's Favorite Eats For A Key West Vacation

While Andrew Zimmern is best known for his "Bizzare Foods: Delicious Destinations" series (which once visited Key West), his favorite places to eat there are far from bizarre. Beyond having filmed an episode in Key West, he loves to take fishing trips in the Florida Keys most years. So, he's had plenty of opportunities to seek out some of the best places to eat in Key West.

The restaurants Zimmern suggests are the types of places that add to the overall experience of visiting the Keys. They range from quirky spots with live music and animals roaming around to more classy places where you can get tapas or indulge in tasting menus. There's plenty of fresh seafood, freshly squeezed citrus drinks, and Key limes pie everywhere (even though the pie may not have originated in the Keys). And every restaurant on the list has outdoor dining so you can enjoy your meal with a tropical breeze under the palm trees.

When you plan a Key West vacation, it's helpful to find excellent restaurants near points of interest to help you plan your day better. Zimmern's list includes the oldest restaurant in the Keys and a restaurant within walking distance of interesting places like the southernmost point in the continental U.S. While Zimmern says this list is in no way exhaustive, these eight restaurants are representative of the best eateries Key West has to offer.

Blue Heaven

Andrew Zimmern says on YouTube, "If you're going to eat in one place [it's] obviously Blue Heaven." If you're a Jimmy Buffet fan, you might have heard about this restaurant in his song "Blue Heaven Rendezvous." He sings about its magical "dances 'til dawn," "blue light guitars, and tropical breeze." While the food at Blue Heaven is amazing, a large part of the experience is the ambiance. Zimmern says, "It was started by people in the arts community," noting its "wild decor." Outside, you'll find the requisite palm trees and shaded tables, but you also experience live music, enjoy the tiki bar, and watch roaming cats and pecking chickens while you eat.

Blue Heaven has a dependable menu that keeps locals and vacationers coming back again and again. It's almost as popular for breakfast as it is for lunch. You'll find a lot of Caribbean dishes on the menu, along with ordinary Florida fare. If you're there for dinner or Sunday breakfast, you absolutely can't leave without ordering Blue Heaven's famous Key lime pie. It has a frilly, mile-high meringue, and many people consider it to be the best available in the Keys (or at least among the top three).

You'll find Blue Heaven on the west side of the island in Bahama Village. It's only a few blocks from the Hemingway Home and Museum and the Key West Lighthouse, so it's a great option if either of these places is on your vacation agenda.

Garbo's Grill at Hank's Saloon

Andrew Zimmern mentions enjoying Garbo's Grill, which he says Guy Fieri made famous. Surprisingly, Garbo's is a food truck located on the same property as Hanks Hair of the Dog Saloon. The saloon area is set up for customers to enjoy some of the best live music in the area with a bar and seating under the palms in front for relaxing. However, if you want food, you have to go to the back of the property to find the Garbo's Grill food truck, which operates out of a vine-covered, silver Airstream. It's not uncommon to find chill doggies soaking up the atmosphere, and you'll likely want to pick up some Hank's merch to help support rescue dogs.

The menu at Garbo's Grill features fancy tacos, burritos, burgers, hot dogs, poke bowls, lobster rolls, and Key lime pies. Customers seem to be most enamored with Garbo Grill's Korean BBQ tacos, fish tacos, umami burgers, and Korean BBQ burritos. You'll find that the most popular time to visit Garbo's Grill is in the evening. The saloon's happy hour is between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., and Garbo's Grill takes advantage of it with special happy hour food deals.

You'll definitely want to check out Garbo's Grill at Hanks! If you're on the west side of Old Town. It's within easy walking distance of the Audobon House & Tropical Gardens, Truman Little White House, Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, and Key West Aquarium. So, plan accordingly.

The Key West Lobster Shack

Andrew Zimmern mentions enjoying meals at the Lobster Shack. Customers keep coming back to The Key West Lobster Shack for its scrumptious lobster rolls and friendly environment. While you'll find a couple of shrimp items on the menu, the Lobster Shack is extremely lobster-centric. While you can get a traditional New England lobster roll, the shack also serves a local Key West lobster roll, a spicy Diablo lobster roll, and a smoky BLT lobster roll. The lobster rolls start with a yummy buttered and toasted bun. Then, they get loaded with plenty of succulent lobster and other ingredients.

In addition to the lobster rolls, customers rave about the lobster grilled cheese and lobster bisque (which the restaurant boldly labels as "the best"). You're also likely to find unexpected items on the menu like conch fritters. Key limes make a strong appearance on the menu, flavoring everything from the Key West lobster roll and shrimp dishes to limeade and Key lime pie.

You'll have to plan your visit to the Lobster Shack carefully because it's only open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. The Lobster Shack is in the southern part of the Casa Marina area, not too far from the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory and the Reach Gazebo. It's only a tenth of a mile walking distance from the southernmost point in the continental U.S., so don't miss that experience if you visit.

Azur Restaurant

While many of the places Andrew Zimmern likes to eat in Key West are more laid-back experiences, he also mentions Azur Restaurant. It's a classy Mediterranean restaurant, featuring local flavors. It's especially popular as a brunch spot. While you can dine indoors, there's also an outdoor terrace space if that's more your style. The brunch dish that customers talk about the most is the Key lime French toast, which comes arranged with Key lime pie filling between each piece of toast. Meanwhile, diners talk most about the restaurant's beef short rib gnocchi.

The restaurant's dinner menu is pricey, but the flavor experience is worth it. While there's plenty of seafood available, you'll also find lamb, pork, chicken, beef, and even duck. The prices on the brunch menu are more affordable, and you're likely to have a difficult time choosing between all the inventive dishes from crab cake benedict and a brie and prosciutto roesti to a French dip sandwich with apricot mustard and a dentice salad with snapper and crab. If you're in town for New Year's, don't miss the restaurant's amazing $110 by-reservation-only four-course meal to end your year.

Azur is in the northern area of Old Town, only a couple of blocks from Key West Bight. It's not that far from the parrot sanctuary at Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden. Even if you're not in that area of Key West, the restaurant is well worth going out of your way to find.

Little Pearl

We love that Andrew Zimmern has this gem of a restaurant on his list of favorite places to eat in Key West. Little Pearl is a tasting menu restaurant, so you get to try a wide variety of fresh foods each visit. Luckily, the menu comes with a choice of several menu items for each of the four courses, so you could come in again and again, eating completely different meals each time. Plus, the menu changes from month to month. While you'll certainly find freshly-caught local seafood on the menu like crispy black squid and shrimp dumplings, you'll also see items like Szechuan beef tartar, lamb belly bao buns, and braised oxtail. It's also possible to add on tasty seafood items at market price, like caviar, oysters, and BBQ eel. Customers tend to be especially happy when they choose ceviche as an add-on because it's delicious.

You can make a reservation for one of three seating times: 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m., and 9:00 p.m. If you make a 5:00 p.m. reservation, the cost is only $65 per person, which is an extremely reasonable price for a tasting menu.

Little Pearl is located in the heart of Old Town. It's within walking distance of The Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea, which has a picturesque garden grotto. It's also only a third of a mile to walk to the Hemingway Home and Museum from here.

Café Marquesa

Another Old Town restaurant Andrew Zimmern enjoys visiting is Café Marquesa, which you will find in the Marquesa Hotel. The menu changes regularly, but there's a lot to love with so many of the fresh flavors that make dining experiences in the Keys so remarkable. Zimmern calls the food "simple and easy." Some of the tantalizing ingredients you may see along the seafood and meat on the menu include spiced pecans, avocado, mango, lime, preserved lemon fennel, and pineapple relish. Desserts range from southern chocolate cobbler and beignets to dessert drinks, wines, ports, cognacs, and cordials. So, you get the idea of the type of flavor experiences Café Marquesa provides.

If you're ready to be adventurous, you can choose a six-course tasting menu. It starts at 5:30 p.m. and is available until 8:30 p.m. for $165 per person. Another flavor fest that the café offers is the golden hour menu. Guests enjoy this meal on the front porch during the golden hour between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. The meal costs $110 per person and includes a choice of three tapas and two specialty spritzers.

Keep in mind that the Marquesa Café is only open from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. each day, so you can plan accordingly. It's located about a half mile from the Hemingway Home and Museum as well as the Key West Lighthouse. Even if you don't stay at the Marquesa Hotel, the café is a great stop for a superb evening dining experience.

Eaton Street Seafood Market & Restaurant

Andrew Zimmern says he likes eating at the Eaton Street Seafood Market & Restaurant "because I can get things there to eat that I then bring home." The restaurant serves extremely fresh seafood with a menu that's largely comprised of fried seafood and seafood sandwiches. However, you'll also find grilled lobster tail, stone crabs, seafood tacos, and conch ceviche on the menu. The lobster rolls and stone crabs are among the most popular menu items.

You will need to walk into the market to order restaurant items from the counter, but the seating is outside. In addition to finding raw ingredients in the market, you can also buy items like lobster roll meal kits, caviar, seafood salads, chowder, sauces, and dips to go.

Since the restaurant is connected to a market, it's an especially good place to visit if your accommodations during your vacation has a kitchen. Even if you only have a refrigerator, there are plenty of pre-made items to bring back to your hotel with you. The market and restaurant are open from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. every day, so you can eat and shop there nearly any time of the day except for breakfast. You'll find it a couple of blocks south of the Key West Bight and near the parrot sanctuary at Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden.

Pepe's Café

The last Key West restaurant Andrew Zimmern suggests for your Key West vacation is Pepe's Café. Pepe's is yet another Old Town eatery located near the boat-filled shores of Key West Bight. The restaurant's rustic charm and delicious food has kept locals and vacationers coming back since 1909. It prides itself on being the "oldest eating house in the Keys" (which it says on its door) and having been a favorite of President Harry S. Truman. So, eating here is both a historical and gastronomical endeavor. Everything at Pepe's is fresh, house-made, and never frozen, making it an excellent place for a fresh Key West food experience.

The earliest you can eat here is 7:30 a.m., and it stays open until 9:30 p.m. The early menu features traditional breakfast items, chipped beef, and steak. The lunch menu is mainly appetizers, soups, and sandwiches (plus steak). Meanwhile, the late menu brings out salads, sides, and nearly a dozen entrees featuring vegetables, meats, and seafood. We like that there's a vegetable plate on the late menu, which seems to be a rarity in a city whose cuisine focuses on seafood.

Pepe's is a great place for freshly-squeezed orange juice, grapefruit juice, screwdrivers, and mimosas. Customers talk most about the restaurant's freshly-shucked oysters and Key lime pie. One of the best times to go is during happy hour from 4:00 to 6:00 when not just drinks but also oysters and other menu items are more than half off.