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What: This wild-caught shrimp is not only local to the Florida Keys, but it’s also found in a habitat that’s not as populated by other fish as some other shrimp-centric areas, which means fewer non-target species wind up in the nets. Moreover, it’s delicious: sweet, meaty, and fresh. It’s most often served “peel and eat,” only increasing the sensation that you’re eating it straight outta the water. And you practically are.
Good to know: Royal red shrimp are another, less common local species of shrimp, prized for their scarlet color, high fat content, and rich salty-sweet taste, which is cultivated in the deep, cold waters of the Gulf. Look for them on specials menus at seafood restaurants.
Where: The spacious, open-air Half Shell Raw Bar (231 Margaret St., Key West, map), housed on the old waterfront in a former shrimp-packing building, does local seafood in typically casual Key West surrounds: communal picnic tables, license-plate décor, lively bar, salty breezes.
When: Mon-Thurs, 11am-10pm; Fri & Sat, 11am-11pm; Sun, noon-10pm
Order: We enjoyed both the Key West peel-and-eat shrimp (pictured; market price; during our visit $12.20/$23.40 for half-pound/pound), cold and plump and served with lemon, melted butter, and cocktail sauce; and the warm Key West beer-steamed shrimp, salty and covered in Old Bay seasoning. Try the Gulf oysters from the raw bar, too, along with a cheap pitcher of beer.
Alternatively: Also in Key West, the nouveau Flaming Buoy Filet Co. (1100 Packer St., map) usually incorporates local pink shrimp on its fish-market-driven menu, whether as a standalone app, over penne pasta, or in a tropical curry. More wallet-friendly is Marathon Key’s no-frills Keys Fisheries Market & Marina (3502 Gulf View Ave., Marathon, map), where a half-pound of peel-and-eats goes for about $10.95. Also in Marathon, the Island Fish Co. Tiki Bar & Restaurant (12648 Overseas Hwy, map) does KW shrimp in a variety of ways (coconut-fried, stuffed in tacos, as scampi over linguine), as does the excellent Hogfish Bar & Grill (6810 Front St., map) on Stock Island, just before you hit Key West. For an interesting twist, the notoriously hard-to-find No Name Pub (30813 Watson Blvd., 1.5 miles north of U.S. 1, Big Pine Key, map), beloved for its dollar-bill-hung ceiling and colorful history stretching back to 1931, counts KW shrimp as a topping for its popular pizzas.
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