As a travel writer, I am fortunate to receive a lot of assignments which include fabulous restaurants. Over the past few years, whether on an assignment break or visiting friends or family (I grew up in South Florida), I find my own places to eat in Florida and they are sometimes more memorable than the “free” restaurants.
Here is a collection of local Florida restaurants where I have spent my own money and would revisit without hesitation.
Places to Eat in Florida: Local Restaurant Recommendations
Sea Breeze Island Grill, Redington Shores
The tall sign outside Seabreeze advertising $3 margaritas lured us in but their amazing food (and the margaritas) made us return again and again. The mahi and grouper tacos are amazingly fresh and the Cuban roasted pork platter is exceptional.
>>> Please see the McCool Travel article: Things to do in Indian Rocks Beach
Star Fish, Cortez
On the way to Bradenton Blues Festival (an assignment), James Hills (from Mantripping) and I shared a blackened grouper platter. Star Fish is in a tiny fishing village called Cortez— frills, no credit cards, back of a seafood market. Star Fish is a true hidden gem, off the beaten path amazingness.
>>> Read the McCool Travel article: Cool Things to do in Anna Maria Island Florida
Mojo Tacos, St Augustine
Order your tacos, burrito, or salad (we selected ultra fresh local fish and shrimp) and then hit their salsa bar. Mojo’s Tacos is a local favorite in USA’s oldest city. We also visited the satellite location at St. Augustine Amphitheater during a Willie Nelson concert.
>>> Read the McCool Travel article: 8 Great Things to do in St Augustine Florida
Romeu’s Cuban Restaurant, Southwest Ranches
Simple, elegant, tasty, amazing Cuban cafe food in a strip mall west of I-75 in Broward county. Mojitos are perfect, Romeu’s does not mess around with gimmicks. Media noche and plantain chips are scrumptious. This is the type of place where local law enforcement regularly choose to eat. Really, two police officers from different districts came in while we were dining. Color me impressed and make me another mojito!
>>> Read the McCool Travel article: 8 Great Scenic Drives in South Florida
More South Florida Cuban Food
I love going to Cuban cafes like the original Versailles in Little Havana on Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street). The yellow Igloo coolers on the counter house the coldest water known to mankind and help offset the heat and humidity of the scorching summer South Florida days. Latin American Cafe serves the tastiest rice I have ever had—EVER. The ropa vieja and roasted pork platters at La Carreta are divine. McCool Travel tip: Versailles makes a superb key lime pie. McCool Travel tip: La Carreta and Versailles have outlets at Miami Airport with same food at the same prices (amazing!) as flagship locations. I do not even mind my Miami airport layovers anymore.
Adler’s Burgers, Davenport
A popular food truck in Central Florida, Adler’s opened a storefront in February 2018. Adler’s burgers are amazing. In fact, I should update my burger article to include them. Order one of their creative burger options, add the fries and drink combo because it is well worth the up charge. You can even request the handcrafted spicy ginger beer, which I took home, because it was easy to bring beers over from the bar next door. Really, though, Adler’s burgers are magnificent!
>>> Read the McCool Travel article: Fun Things to do in Central Florida
Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, Clearwater Beach
There are surprising few places to eat in the Clearwater Beach area that are on the beach. That was a surprising revelation to me. Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill serves super fresh seafood, provides a fantastic view, and is a great place for lunch with friends.
Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe, Ochopee
Between Naples and Miami, along Tamiami Trail, near the world’s smallest post office (in Ochopee), is Joanie’s, a total hole in the wall cafe. The fresh fish was delightful, like everywhere in Florida. Since my father’s family lived near here in the Everglades for 25 years, I wonder if my uncles visited this bar. Well, I mean, how many times did they visit, of course. McCool Travel tip: order the fresh catch.
>>> Read the McCool Travel article: 8 Great Places to Eat in Naples Florida
Clark’s Fish Camp, Jacksonville
Oh, you gotta go to this Old Florida restaurant. Clark’s Fish Camp is off the beaten path, a little difficult to find, but worth adding to your places to eat in Florida list. Entering the building, you pass by a dizzying array of stuffed animals, which eerily watch in-house diners. We opted for an outside table, to enjoy another gorgeous Florida evening. Fish is literally (yes, literally) caught fresh from the water next to the dining area. The exotic meats (see below) are not fresh but wow what a collection. Yes, I ate things here that I have not had anywhere else. Oh, they did NOT taste like chicken!
>>> Read the McCool Travel article: 8 Great Things to Do in Daytona Beach
Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen, Key Largo
License plates and currency from around the world decorate the walls at the eclectic, funky Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen. Mrs. Mac’s is a favorite spot for locals and visitors in Key Largo Florida. All menu items are tempting but I usually order a daily special, which is typically a freshly caught seafood entree. McCool Travel Tip: Mrs. Mac’s key lime freeze is my personal reminder that I have reached the Florida Keys.
>>> Read the McCool Travel article: 8 Great Fun Florida Road Trip Stops
El Siboney, Key West
The more popular El Meson de Pepe at Mallory Square is technically the closest USA Cuban restaurant to Havana and has nightly entertainment but my Cuban friends advised me to try El Siboney for true Cuban food. Counter to the glitz and glamour of that other place, El Siboney seems like you are in a Cuban family’s living room and eating much better and authentic food.
McCool Travel tip: create your own picnic or take-out meal from Fausto’s Food Palace (the oldest business in Key West). On my last Florida Keys visit I got a huge order of plantains for $3—probably three times the size of the above restaurants, 1/2 the price, and twice as tasty.
>>> Read the McCool Travel article: 8 Great Spots to Visit in the Florida Keys
James Brown’s Famous Flames, Avon Park
On a fun road trip down the spine Florida, I discovered James Browns for a Friday lunch. He said he makes the best ribs in the state but they would not be ready until dinner, when there would be hour+ long waits. Well, I settled for a pulled pork sandwich, which was the largest BBQ sandwich I ever had and, Yes, perhaps the best.
>>> Please also see the McCool Travel article: 7 Scenic Drives in Florida
Knaus Berry Farm, Homestead
Homestead Florida is one of USA’s most prolific agriculture areas. Known especially for tomatoes but I have a place for you to find a sweet treat. Knaus Farm offers pick your own strawberries along with amazing fresh, local produce and baked goods. Their cinnamon rolls are legendary. In fact, checking out is interesting because they have one line for cinnamon rolls and one line for everything else. Love those priorities! McCool Travel tip: stop at the nearby Schnebly Winery for tropical fruit wine at USA’s southernmost winery.
>>> Please also see the McCool Travel article: 7 Scenic Drives in Florida
Vicky Bakery, several South Florida locations
Another highly recommended places from my Cuban friends is Vicky Bakery. In fact, after staying overnight at my award-winning architect friend’s house in Coral Gables, he insisted that Vicky is the one place we had to go. It was not my first visit, so I knew to order a Pastelito de Guayaba (no queso crema, por favor), un Croqueta de Jamon, and, of course, a loaf of Cuban bread. Not necessarily to impress Luis but because I knew what I liked.
>>> Please also see the McCool Travel article: 6 Sensational Miami Scenic Drives
Do you have any local favorite places to eat in Florida?