When the annual Key West Literary Seminar breaks for a lunch, a civilized but nonetheless urgent stampede ensues. Four hundred ravenous people spill from the San Carlos at once, and it’s a game of sheer survival to nab a table without wasting precious time. Here are a few winning alternatives.
Just around the corner, The Café (509 Southard St., 305-296-5515) sports a modest exterior, but serves excellent, filling, mostly-vegetarian food prepared completely from scratch. A Middle Eastern platter special (falafel, tabouli, sweet potato fries), or a stirfry will satisfy, as well as a craft beer or fun wine.
Across the street, Kojin Noodle Bar offers Asian bowls (pho, ramen) and daily specials like a divine coconut shrimp. Though small, Kojin serves quickly so a crowd isn’t a problem. The Vietnamese coffee will blast you through the afternoon.
Experienced, healthy walkers (that’s you, New Yorkers) should tap resources six to eight blocks away, including Azur (Fleming @ Grinnell St., 305-292-2987) for charred octopus with lemon zest, a crab BLT, or a fennel-roasted pork sandwich with salsa verde. Feel no shame in ordering a Spanish or Italian white. The merrier vibe to the afternoon sessions depends on it.
Head south on Duval (right as you exit the San Carlos) and three blocks past Truman on the left, find Banana Café (1215 Duval, 305-294-7227) our hometown French bistro. Dine old-world-style on crepes, omelets, or salade Niçoise with a pure Key West view of Duval Street.
Prefer to rest your feet up? Order delivery to your hotel, or call an hour ahead and have lunch delivered to the San Carlos. Smart choices include Bad Boy Burrito (305-292-2697), Help Yourself (305-296-7766) for raw, vegan, and healthy fare, or Cuban Coffee Queen (305-294-7787) for local specialties like roasted Mojo pork on Cuban bread, a tuna burger, or a coconut-water-based smoothie. (or, of course, a husky con leche coffee.