Key West has long been known for its breathtaking views and warm weather, but it’s also home to a vibrant culinary scene that showcases a significant Cuban influence. From traditional dishes to modern takes on old classics, Cuban cuisine adds a unique flavor to Key West’s food culture. In this article, we’ll delve into the history of Cuban cuisine in Key West and explore some must-try dishes, bakeries, cafes, and seafood dishes you can find in this tropical paradise.

A Brief History of Cuban Cuisine in Key West

Located just 90 miles from Cuba, Key West has a longstanding relationship with its southern neighbor, dating back to the 1800s. In the late 19th century, Cuban immigrants began fleeing their homeland to escape turmoil and political upheavals, finding refuge in Key West. Alongside their culture and traditions came the rich flavors of Cuban cuisine, which quickly became a staple in the local food scene. Today, Cuban cuisine remains a vital part of Key West’s culinary identity, with visitors and locals alike indulging in its bold and flavorful dishes.

Cuban Chug in Key West

The Cuban Influence on Key West's Culinary Scene

Cuban cuisine is renowned for its use of bold spices, vibrant colors, and exotic flavors. Key West’s culinary scene has been significantly influenced by the Cuban community, and several chefs have incorporated these traditional ingredients to create unique and modern interpretations of classic Cuban dishes. These dishes have become an integral part of Key West’s food culture, and many people come to the island specifically to indulge in the flavors of Cuba.

One of the most popular Cuban dishes in Key West is the classic Cuban sandwich, which is a delicious combination of ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard pressed between two slices of Cuban bread. This sandwich is a favorite among locals and visitors alike, and it can be found on the menu of almost every restaurant in Key West.

Another beloved Cuban dish in Key West is ropa vieja, which translates to “old clothes.” This hearty dish consists of shredded beef cooked with tomatoes, peppers, and onions, and then served with rice and beans. The dish is named for its appearance, which resembles a pile of old rags. Despite its unappetizing name, ropa vieja is a delicious and comforting meal that is perfect for a chilly evening.

The Migration of Cuban Flavors to Key West

In addition to the migration of people and culture, traditional dishes have also made their way to Key West from Cuba. Many of these dishes have become staples in the local food scene, and they are beloved by both locals and visitors.

One such dish is arroz con pollo, which is a flavorful combination of chicken and rice that is seasoned with a variety of spices and herbs. This dish is a favorite among families in Key West, and it is often served at large gatherings and celebrations.

Another popular Cuban dish in Key West is picadillo, which is a savory ground beef dish that is seasoned with a variety of spices and served with rice and beans. This dish is a staple in many Cuban households, and it has become a beloved comfort food in Key West.

Overall, the influence of Cuban cuisine on Key West’s culinary scene cannot be overstated. From the classic Cuban sandwich to the hearty ropa vieja, the flavors of Cuba can be found in almost every corner of the island. Whether you are a foodie looking for a new culinary adventure or a traveler looking to experience the rich cultural heritage of Key West, the bold and flavorful dishes of Cuban cuisine are not to be missed.

Must-Try Key West Cuban Food

Key West is a melting pot of cultures, and Cuban cuisine has a significant influence on the local food scene. Whether you’re a foodie or just looking for a delicious meal, you won’t want to miss out on trying some of the must-try Cuban dishes in Key West.

Ropa Vieja: The Quintessential Cuban Dish

Key West Cuban Food

When you’re in Key West, you won’t want to miss out on trying the quintessential Cuban dish of ropa vieja. This hearty and flavorful stewed beef dish is a staple of Cuban cuisine and is typically served with steamed rice and black beans. The dish’s name, which translates to “old clothes,” comes from the shredded appearance of the beef, which resembles torn fabric.

Legend has it that ropa vieja originated when a poor Cuban man had nothing to feed his family but old clothes. He cooked the clothes with vegetables and spices, and the result was a delicious and filling meal that became a Cuban classic.

Today, ropa vieja is a popular dish in Key West and can be found on many restaurant menus. It’s also a great dish to share with friends and family, as it’s served in large portions and meant to be enjoyed family-style.

Cuban Sandwich: A Key West Staple

Cuban Sandwich Key West

Another dish that is synonymous with Cuban cuisine is the Cuban sandwich. This delicious sandwich is a must-try in Key West, and several restaurants specialize in making this tasty treat. Made with ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard, this sandwich is pressed between slices of Cuban bread, giving it a satisfying crunch.

The Cuban sandwich has an interesting history, with many claiming that it originated in Key West. It’s said that Cuban cigar makers would bring the sandwich to work for lunch, and it quickly became a local favorite. Today, the Cuban sandwich is a staple of the Key West food scene and is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

Picadillo: A Flavorful Ground Beef Dish

If you’re looking for a tasty and comforting dish, then the Picadillo is an excellent option to try. This flavorful ground beef dish features olives, tomatoes, and onions, creating a savory and slightly tangy flavor. It’s a versatile dish that can be served with rice, beans, or as a filling for empanadas.

Picadillo is a popular dish in many Latin American countries, and each region has its own unique twist on the recipe. In Cuba, picadillo is often served with white rice and black beans, creating a filling and satisfying meal.

Arroz con Pollo: A Comforting Chicken and Rice Dish

Arroz con Pollo is a classic Cuban dish that is perfect for satisfying your comfort food cravings. It features tender chicken cooked with rice, onions, and peppers, seasoned with cumin and other spices. The result is a comforting dish that can be enjoyed any time of year.

Arroz con Pollo is a popular dish in many Latin American countries, and each region has its own unique twist on the recipe. In Cuba, the dish is often served with a side of fried plantains, adding a sweet and crunchy contrast to the savory chicken and rice.

Tostones: The Perfect Side Dish

Key West Cuban Food

No Cuban meal is complete without a side of tostones. These crispy and crunchy plantains are a beloved staple of Cuban cuisine and are typically served as a side dish or appetizer. They’re easy to make and delicious to eat, giving a perfect balance of salty and sweet flavors.

To make tostones, green plantains are sliced and fried until crispy. They’re then seasoned with salt and served hot. Tostones can also be served with a variety of dipping sauces, such as garlic aioli or spicy salsa.

Next time you’re in Key West, be sure to try some of these must-try Cuban dishes. With their unique flavors and rich history, they’re sure to satisfy your taste buds and leave you wanting more.

Exploring Key West's Cuban Bakeries and Cafes

The Irresistible Taste of Cuban Pastries

If you have a sweet tooth, you won’t want to miss out on the delectable Cuban pastries that can be found in Key West. Treat yourself to a classic guava pastry, or try something new like a pastelito de carne (meat pastry). Key West is home to several Cuban bakeries that offer a wide variety of sweet treats to indulge in.

One of the most popular bakeries in Key West is El Siboney, which has been serving up traditional Cuban dishes and pastries since 1984. Their pastries are made fresh daily and are always a hit with locals and tourists alike. Another must-visit bakery is Old Town Bakery, which offers a unique twist on classic Cuban pastries by adding ingredients like chocolate and coconut.

Savoring Cuban Coffee in Key West

Cuban coffee is known for its strong, rich flavor and is a must-try when visiting Key West. Several cafes in the area serve Cuban-style coffee, which is typically served in a small cup and has a thick layer of sweet foam known as espuma. It’s an excellent way to start your day or to enjoy an afternoon pick-me-up.

One of the best places to try Cuban coffee in Key West is the Cuban Coffee Queen, which is located in the heart of Old Town Key West. They serve up a variety of coffee drinks, including their famous Cuban con leche, which is made with espresso and steamed milk. Another popular spot is the Sandy’s Cafe, which has been serving up authentic Cuban coffee since 1954.

cuban food key west

The Best Cuban Bakeries and Cafes to Visit

When you're in Key West, seeking out the best Cuban bakeries and cafes should be on your checklist. Visit establishments like La Grignote Bakery and Cuban Coffee Queen for a taste of authentic Cuban flavors. The friendly staff and inviting atmosphere will make your experience even more enjoyable.

If you're looking for a more upscale experience, head to Santiago's Bodega, which offers a unique fusion of Cuban and Spanish cuisine. Their menu features a variety of tapas and small plates, as well as a selection of Cuban-inspired cocktails.

Overall, exploring Key West's Cuban bakeries and cafes is a must-do for anyone who loves delicious food and rich cultural experiences. Whether you're a coffee lover or a pastry aficionado, you're sure to find something to satisfy your cravings in this vibrant and diverse community.

Cuban-Inspired Seafood Dishes in Key West

Ceviche: A Fresh and Tangy Seafood Delight

Ceviche is a traditional Latin American dish that combines fresh seafood with citrus juices and spices. In Key West, several restaurants offer a Cuban-inspired ceviche that features juicy shrimp or tender conch marinated in lime juice, garlic, and cilantro. It's a refreshing and tangy dish that is perfect for hot summer days.

Pargo a la Plancha: Grilled Red Snapper

If you're a seafood lover, then you won't want to miss out on the delicious Pargo a la Plancha. This grilled red snapper is served with sweet and savory onions, garlic, and peppers. It's a simple yet flavorful dish that highlights the fresh flavors of the sea.

Camarones Enchilados: Spicy Shrimp in Tomato Sauce

Camarones Enchilados is a spicy shrimp dish that is bursting with flavor. The shrimp is cooked in a rich tomato-based sauce, flavored with garlic, onions, and spicy peppers, and served over rice. It's a dish that packs a punch and is perfect for those who love bold flavors.


Key West's culinary scene is as vibrant as the city itself, and the Cuban influence on its cuisine cannot be ignored. From classic dishes like ropa vieja and the Cuban sandwich to sweet pastries and strong coffee, Cuban cuisine adds a bold and flavorful touch to the food culture of Key West. Whether you're a seafood lover or a comfort food enthusiast, there's something for everyone to enjoy. So, the next time you find yourself in Key West, make sure to explore and experience the delicious flavors of Cuban cuisine.