The best of "underrated" places to eat in Key Largo (2024)

Are you headed down to the Florida Keys? Looking to indulge in food off the beaten path in Key Largo? I got you. In the Florida Keys, popular isn’t always better. If you want to pay for a view, cool, but if you want good food then you’ve come to the right post because I went ahead and narrowed down some of the best and most underrated places to eat in Key Largo.

My husband and I have been going down to the Keys (middle and upper) for over 5 years now, and 2021 we took the plunge and bought our second home in Key Largo! More on that to come if you stick around and follow blog updates.

So obviously we have ventured through every restaurant, dive, bar, and quick eats you can think of in and around the upper Keys, but I wanted to make this post a little different. Instead of offering you the most popular restaurants (by name and familiarity, such as The Fish House, The Big Chill, Caribbean Club, and Lazy Lobster), I decided to give you a list of some underrated, hidden gems to dine and eat that you would likely end up passing by.

**Before I dive in, it’s important to note that many, if not all restaurants have been and will continue to be impacted from the last crazy two years. Whether it be hours open, wait times, service expectations, staffing, menu item limitations, pricing, etc., restaurants will be going through some sort of transition or struggle indefinitely – so please be patient and considerate. If you’re in the Keys, you should be on island time, anyway. There’s no rush.

The best of “underrated” eats – Key Largo restaurants

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Mike’s BBQ (food truck)

Don’t dog it until you try it. And to be fair there aren’t many authentic BBQ places in Key Largo or the Upper Keys. Mike’s is only open select days (until they’re sold out) so it’s important to schedule your time of when to go. This may just be a food truck, but this little red BBQ haven has it all.

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They’ve got brisket, pulled pork, chicken, ribs, and even sausage that is smoked on-site. As featured above (my husband and I got to-go), we got the brisket [on the left], ribs [in the center] and pulled pork [on the right], with their mac-n-cheese [upper right], baked beans [upper left], jalapeno sweet cornbread as well as their smoked green beans. Plus their mild, hot, and tangy-mustard sauces on the side.

We obviously wanted to try a little bit of everything, but holy moly those green beans are to die for. Okay so is the brisket, and those ribs. And the cornbread –ugh, that mac-n-cheeeeeese.

You get the picture.

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I know, I know. Just one more for good measure.

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Pinecrest Bakery

Stop! Wait!

Okay now that I have your attention, you might be thinking, “A bakery? Um, ok, cool they have sweets…” BUT, that’s not all.

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There are clearly multiple Cuban spots around Key Largo, like Denny’s and The Juice House, but Pinecrest Bakery is also a Cuban bakery that offers more than an array of pies (including Key Lime), cakes, and other desserts. I think my husband and I grab more empanadas and guava pastries for breakfast than anything else these days, especially for breakfast (plus a double espresso for *muah*). And, actually, come to think of it…we’ve snagged their cake slices for a late night treat – um, hello, they’re open 24/7 – and those did not disappoint!

Nonetheless, they serve an array of other breakfast, sandwich and meal options. So one day (of many) for lunch we stuffed our faces with their Cuban – stacked THICK, and hands down (so far) the best I’ve ever had in the Keys – as well as the steak sandwich (featured below). And we also got this slice of chocolate cake for good measure. *Their oreo cheesecake was delicious, too!

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Pinecrest also has – what I have narrowed down to be – the best Cuban coffee, their espresso in particular. IDK, call me a snob, but if you’re hell-BENT on the dreadful Starbucks you’re truly missing out. If you’re like me and you want coffee that’ll give you a kick in the ass in the morning, go to the Crest.

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If you’re into dives, this one’s it. I mean, when it comes to places to eat in Key Largo, sometimes you’re going to have to look past what’s on the outside. This little joint sits on the most northern part of the mainland of Key Largo, and on the canal. It’s a dink, wedged between a crab trap business, charter boats, and residential houses surrounding. You’d almost miss it driving along the Overseas Highway since it’s tucked back from the main road right at the bend near the blue bridge.

Though their sign ‘Good food, cheap beer’ is a pretty good attention grabber. I think many have heard the name, but since it’s located remotely away from the more touristy area of Key Largo as far as restaurants go, Shipwrecks stays under the radar.

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You get some pretty nice views of the canal, and from their dock you can see the Atlantic. There’s far more covered outdoor seating than there is inside, so this spot is likely bustling on a weekend night with live music.

My husband and I got there fairly early (for happy hour) and had craft beers for only $4. We shared the happy hour wings (10-piece) and Mahi fingers (Thai-style), which were huge and all was more than enough for two people to share. Relatively starving since it was the day of our arrival with one meal under our belts, I indulged in also getting the buffalo chicken sandwich (very delicious). I do feel this is one of those places where comfort food is the appeal, so if you’re looking to “eat healthy-ier“…this may not be the place. Though, I will say, you’re guaranteed the freshest catch!

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Key Largo Fisheries Backyard Cafe

This is a really great spot if you’re looking for a view of the water (it’s actually in a marina) with a more laidback, self-serve atmosphere. The Fisheries is considered “cafeteria-style”, but please don’t let that discourage you. By that, I mean, you simply order your food from a window outside, they call your name when it’s ready, and then seat/serve yourself in the covered outdoor area.

It’s also a fish market, so you can purchase fresh seafood as well. That said, be prepared for it to smell a bit *fishy*.

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Featured below are the lobster BLT, Mahi tacos, and – duh – Key Lime Pie. Delicious, start to finish, though the only downfall I have to add is that my lobster was a bit over-cooked. I know this because the lobster was chewy, and I know the difference since we’ve fetched and cooked our own lobster at home and the meat should melt like butter in the mouth (ugh, drooling as I’m writing this). But since the Fisheries is a pretty fast-paced cafe, the food does come out fairly quickly.

Nonetheless, everything we had was full of flavor and tasted fresh, which is obviously important when 1. you’re eating in the seafood Capital, and 2. you’re eating seafood that literally comes from a fishery/seafood market.

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Taco Jalisco (food truck)

Another food truck?!

But let’s think about this for a second. You’re on vacaysure, you’re probably going out for every meal, but sometimes you may want to just skip the whole full-service restaurant-style ordeal. There’s absolutely nothing un-vacation-like about food trucks; in fact, their popularity grows simply because their less expensive, and convenient.

And Tacos Jalisco is yet another one in Key Largo that is a must-try if you like authentic Mexican tacos and burritos. I actually think they have the best burritos in town, but that’s just me. *The Veggie burrito, whether you’re a meat eater or not, is actually superb. They also have a great deal for two – 6 tacos (3 choices of meat) for $12. So featured below we got 2 chicken, 2 pork, and 2 steak. Mind you, these are not your “normal” tacos. They’re street taco size, come served in a real corn tortilla, with your option of meat(s) topped with onions and cilantro (as featured below). That’s it.

Golly but they are so good, mostly because I am a huge fan of onions and cilantro.

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Obviously, they have a variety of other items on their menu, such as quesadillas, campechanas, tortas (Mexican sandwiches – featured below), and sides/starters like chips and salsa or guacamole. Sometimes they even have certain specials depending on the day – one time they had ceviche.

To top it off, they offer house-made fruit water (guava featured in the picture above). The pulp and all, so it’s legit. They’ve had strawberry and pineapple on previous occasions. These are so refreshing to have with your meal – I may even bring my own flask of rum next time to mix. Shhh, don’t spill my genius secret!

[Featured below is Jalisco’s Steak Sandwich]

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Buzzard’s Roost

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How charming is that entry?! This is Buzzard’s Roost – another tucked-back restaurant in the upper-upper Keys of Key Largo, just down the street from Shipwreck’s.

It’s located on a marina and has that nautical, uppity vibe inside and out with peek-a-boo views of the water. It’s a bit more upscale for your Keys restaurant in a nonchalant way. Yet it was delicious and worth the splurge, especially when you can sit out on the covered, screened-in patio (with a legit bar) and watch the forklift transfer massive boats to and fro.

You come for the atmosphere, and it delivers!

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There was plenty to choose from on the menu, including an array of seafood. They even do lobster platters/specials, including a Lobster Reuben I was SO tempted to get but I was skeptical whether it was with Maine lobster and not Florida lobster since we were just a day away from commercial season. Next time, for sure.

Instead, I decided to go for a Buzzard’s Fav, the Fish of the Day (Mahi) Sandwich on Rye with grilled mushrooms, onions and jack cheese. And there was no skimping on the fish, like in some restaurants where they give you the size of a fish finger on your sandwich. Every bite to the crust had a nice 3/4 inch thick piece of meat (as you can see in the pictures it was hanging off the sides). It really was a sandwich fit for a Buzzard, but I’m all about grilled mushrooms, onions, and Rye, sooo. My husband had the Bacon Avocado Burger, which he said was delish and even comparable to his favorite burger spot closer to home in New Smyrna Beach.

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Fernandez The Bull

If you’re looking for real good Cuban food, go to The Bull. Tucked away in Key Largo’s Publix shopping plaza, this quaint and cozy little Cuban cafe is the perfect lunch spot (or to grab a Cafe Cubano before snagging some groceries, let’s be real). Anyway, I can’t bring myself to go outside of their Picadillo tacos (that are insanely reasonable at $9.99 for two tacos), which comes with beans and rice on the side. My husband always gets their pork (small) lunch option with beans and rice, which is a hefty amount compared to their regular sized portions. He can barely finish each time!

ALSO, stay hungry for the Key Lime Pie empanada – it serves two. You’re welcome.

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Upper Crust Pizza

You know how you can never go wrong with pizza, yet somehow there are still places better than others? That’s where I’m going with this. Now there might be a battle between two places in Key Largo when it comes to pizza (even though the #1 pizza place of choice is technically in Tavernier) – the first being Tower of Pizza (which is an obviously popular choice), and the second is Upper Crust. For me, I chose the latter.

Why? I guess it boils down to that I’ve simply had far too many pizzas resembling the Tower. It’s good, don’t get me wrong – it’s pizza. But Upper Crust, as in the name, has this ammmmazing almost-thin-like crust, yet it’s not thin crust pizza. You might even say the sauce tastes different (a bit sweeter) and the way the pizza is cooked is different (it has that caramelized cheesy goodness from in the oven with just slightly burnt edges), and I prefer it based on my own personal opinion and experience.

And I think if you were to try them both to compare, you’ll understand and appreciate their differences in both good and unique ways!

This pie was customized with pepperonis, fresh basil, and buffalo mozzarella. *Chef’s kiss*

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Arthur’s Floribbean Island Kitchen

Arthur himself is actually our neighbor! And we were super excited to try his unique Floribbean-style restaurant. Both the food and the vibes made you feel like you really are in the Caribbean. Our server, Savannah, was very welcoming and so sweet, and the chef (Arthur) makes an appearance by mingling and checking up with the diners. I always love that – they truly care about your experience, and it shows!

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There were many unique, signature menu options, such as the Curry Goat, Ox Tail Stew, Guyanese Stew Fish, and Jamaican Beef Patty just to name a few. If you wanted shrimp, conch, lobster, oysters, prime rib (which was a special the night we went), or a Cuban sandwich, you could easily find that as well.

I was feeling adventurous and wanted to try something actually authentic to the Caribbean cuisine, so I went with the Ox Tail (highly reviewed and recommended) and my husband had the Jalapeno Encrusted Yellow Tail. The Ox Tail was fall-off-the-bone comfort food, bottom line. My husband is a picky eater, and he swears to order the Ox Tail when we go back. It’s that good.

Honestly, this is one hidden Florida Keys gem. So if you’re looking to step outside the box, add Arthur’s to your list.

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Avenue Subs

Who isn’t all about a good submarine sandwich for a day out on the boat, lounging by your community/resort/rental private beach, or as a hearty to-go meal after a long day of all the things fun in the sun?! I feel like subs are such an underrated food item, to begin with, let alone there are so few actual places to get them anymore. And I can’t believe I’m about to say this…but Avenue (in my humble opinion) blows Pub-subs out of the water.

After hearing about this place from multiple locals, my husband and I decided to bop by this not-so conspicuous little spot on the side of the Overseas Highway after a morning of fishing. We were hungry, and normally this would lead us to simply picking up PubSubs (my Florida and southeast peeps know what’s up), but this is the time to venture from the norm. And we are so glad we did.

Forewarning, there’s no dine-in option, so be prepared to get To-Go or call ahead ordering. But the inside was very clean, air-conditioned, and everyone working was incredibly nice and helpful (they went above and beyond to make sure our order was right and that we had everything we needed). They really care, and it shows from the way they hand you your subs – they carry them to you like a baby!

As for their current menu, they only do submarine sandwiches and salads (not wings as listed on their main sign) – *if this changes I will update this post because we go THAT often. You have cold sub-options like turkey, BLT, Italian, veggie, and hot sub-varieties such as their pizza and pizza deluxe subs (which, tried and true, are also delicious), meatball, roast beef, and sausage parmesan.

They are a bit pricier for a sandwich, but two people could easily split one of these cold or hot subs. But what kind of psychopath would do that…honestly?

[Featured below] I got the Italian Combo (resembling much like the Publix or Jersey Mikes Italian if you get all the fixings, but better, in my personal opinion) and my husband got the meatball hot sub (which, if done right, will NOT look very photogenic – as you can see in the pictures). Since having been way too many times to count now, lately I’ve been on a kick of ordering their Veggie sub [Also featured below!] and IT IS the tea for my veggie lovers, and far from just a boring ole’ vegetarian sandwich, T R U S T M E.

So if you’re spending a day on the boat, at your local sandbar, lounging by your resort, private beach, or just need a quick stop for lunch – Avenue Subs needs to be your go-to on speed dial!

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