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  1. Alright, so it's not paradise, chock full of sandals + socks wearing tourists disgorged from cruise ships who don't make it 2 blocks inland before succumbing to the siren song of 2-for-1 fruity drinks (which are 200% more expensive than they should be, natch) and "Hemingway Did X Here" taverns providing the the minimum of quality for maximum profit. However, we love it there. It's cheap to get to (relatively, for the semi-tropics) and actually cheap to stay (if you know where, mostly B&Bs with real character). But we are exhausting our decent possibilities and the island is changing, seemingly forever (see the most recent NYTimes travel section on the increasing cost of paradise ... and homgeneity). Who can dish on the last little nook of good eats and drinks that we've not discovered? We're going again 3rd week in December. Territory already covered: 1) 7Fish: By far my favorite place to eat down there. Simple seafood done extremely well for a relative bargain in a converted laundromat. Plop this place down in D.C. and they would mop the floor with most seafood-centric-upscale-but-not-stuffy eateries (and, yes, I'm including Hank's and Johnny's here). I could feast on the grouper roll app (always on "special") for months on end and not grow tired of it. The local stuff is ridiculously fresh and refreshingly un-tampered with. 2) Half Shell Raw Bar: Stone crabs. In season. Never cheap, anywhere. Always the best seafood I will put in my mouth. And this is a born and bred Bawlmer boy raised on Chesapeake blues speaking. Honestly, you really can't go wrong with stone crabs anywhere in the Keys, but it just feels right eating them at the Half Shell. Rest of the raw bar is good, too. We only ever go for stones n' beer, though, at the bar. For hours on end. 3) Blue Heaven: Did somebody say lobster benedict for brunch while a momma chicken and her brood peck away underfoot? Ummmm, OK. Just an awesome place to hang out and eat. Food (always brunch, never stopped in for dinner) is spot on. Drinks under the treehouse ain't bad neither. I hear it's under new management and they've bricked over the outdoor seating courtyard. We'll investiagate in a month or so. Would be sad if true. Heard they lost a large portion of said tree to Wilma. Crap. 4) Back bar at Virgilio's. Not a place I would have imagined in Key West. Martini bar? Meh. But good jazz. Surprisingly excellent Belgian beer selection. Always a post-dinner place (the Italian joint that fronts the place isn't great shakes). Sprayed liberally with cruise-tourist-B-gone. 5) El Siboney: Cuban, greasy, cheap, ridiculous. Probably not as good as the best Miami joints, but a hop, skip, and two jumps ahead of what I can get in D.C.. Worth seeking out, wweelllll off the tourist path. Treat you like family. 6) B.O.'s Fish Wagon: To be honest, I haven't actually eaten here. One time we went by it was closed at some random time, other times the Half Shell beckoned (a few steps away). No way in hell I'm missing it next trip. Literally a shack (no wall, corrugated roof, etc. etc) with supposedly the best grouper sandwich this side of the ocean. Tough comparison in the Keys, but I'd believe it. 7) Pepe's: Can't really explain this place. Claims to be the oldest continually operating restaurant in Key West. Decent food. Every Thursday is Thanksgiving (turkey et al. on special). Bizarre. Great owners and bartenders. Stumbled on it the first time we were there. $1 Yeungling specials just after they had opened their Florida brewery. Had to stay for a few hours after that discovery. We like to fly into Miami or Ft. Lauderdale and drive down. Kind of eases you into the Keys mood. Here are a couple places worth mentioning to stop for lunch, or drinks. Mile markers where I remember them: 8) Alabama Jacks: If you take the bypass, this is right before the bridge. Don't eat here, but mingle with the crowd for drinks. Real biker bar. Watch out for the 'gators. 9) Islamorada Fish Company, MM81ish: Huge fishing store (think Cabela's or that Bass Outlet place) with floating docks for dining and tarpon to feed. Not the best by any imagination, but a great place to get into the Keys mood. Grouper or stone crab in season. Some fruity concoction at our elbow. 10) Manny and Isa's, MM80ish, near the above: Mom n' pop Cuban, but the real draw is the Key lime pie. Have it here and skip the other (mostly) imposters, especially the joints near Duval in Key West. Ok, the Blonde Giraffe is decent, but otherwise ... 11) Keys Fisheries, Marathon somewhere: This place apparently is owned by Joe's in Miami for supply purposes. Stone crabs? Fresh off the boat. Literally. You can even get them hot if you get there at the right time (stone crab claws are steamed on the boat by law due to their perishibility). Why pay Joe's prices for some penguin in a nice suit to serve them to you? This is the same thing, only fresher and 1/4 the price. 12) Mango Mama's: MM21ish. Can't say why we love the place. Service is slapdash, setting is kinda weird (garden grotto meets crab shack), but folks are friendly and the seafood is spectacular. And a good deal cheaper than what you will get 20 miles to the SW. Anybody else have experiences they'd like to share? There are other places we'd like to spend our big-dinner money on (La Te Da, Louie's, etc) but can't seem to justify it having never bitten the bullet (money on food takes away dollars from drinks and fishing charters ). Anyway, I'd encourage anybody to head down to the Keys if they've never been; PM for recs. It's not for everybody, but I suspect that most folks here would get a kick out of 3-4 days there.
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