In our family, we are creatures of habit, and it seems our habit is going to the Florida Keys for Spring Break. This year we ended up in Marathon, so I wanted to where with you the different Marathon, FL restaurants we patronized.
Usually we stay on Big Pine Key, which is about 20 minutes beyond Marathon. But it’s close enough that we’ve tried some of these places before our 2021 spring trip. Big Pine Key is smaller and quieter, and has fewer things to do than Marathon, so we usually spend at least one day here even when we don’t stay here. I will say Marathon is the perfect distance between Key Largo (closest to Miami) and Key West (the last town and key you can drive to). It’s not far to go either direction if you want to do something that’s not available in Marathon.
If you’re looking for restaurant reviews, keep on reading. The first three are honestly the best places to eat in Marathon.
1. Keys Fisheries – 5 Stars
Starting out the list is one of my favorite place to eat anywhere, and it just happens to be in Marathon! Keys Fisheries has some of the freshest seafood you’ll find anywhere, and am amazing selection. No matter if you’re in the mood for conch, shrimp, lobster, stone crab, or fish, they’ve got something you’re sure to love.
This isn’t a place you go for ambiance, but it’s #1 on my list for food. When you arrive, you’ll order from the window – probably after standing in a decently-long but manageable line! Order whatever you’re in the mood for, and they’ll cook it on demand and call you to come pick it up from the next window when it’s ready. They don’t ask your name to mark the order though; they’ll ask you your favorite ocean creature, so be ready with something creative. Or you can steal mine – “lemon shark”.
Expect to wait 10-20 minutes for most items to be prepared.
They are known for their lobster Rueben sandwich. It’s just like a regular Rueben, except that it includes chopped Florida lobster tail instead of corned beef. That means you’re getting rye bread, lobster, sauerkraut, and thousand island dressing. As of this writing, they have served over 381,000 of these famous sandwiches! I love a traditional Reuben sandwich, and this has the same feel but definitely a slightly different taste due to the lobster and the lack of the traditional salt-cured beef. It’s DELICIOUS.
I’ve also had the following and every single one has been delicious: conch fritters (Keys Fisheries has some of the best around!), lobster bisque, mahi tacos, lobster mac and cheese, and stone crab. I have to admit though, I’ve never tried their Key Lime Pie! So now I have an obvious reason to go back.
Two more things to note. First, if you catch your own fish, you can bring it there and they’ll cook it for you. And second, they’ve recently struck a partnership with Florida Winn Dixie stores, so if you’re located in Florida and craving their soup, check our your local Winn Dixie grocery store. They also have a partnership with Whole Foods and you find find some of their items at that store.
I also want to give you one insider tip! There is only one restroom near the bar, and it sometimes develops a line. However, there are additional restrooms in the parking lot. So if you need one more quickly just go to the parking lot!
2. Island Fish Co.- 5 Stars
Island Fish Company is a great place for either lunch or dinner, and has a little more of an atmosphere than Keys Fisheries. The restaurant itself has mostly (if not all) outdoor eating. It is on the bay side of Marathon, so you can see amazing sunsets here. But the view is beautiful any time of day. They have great drinks, especially their frozen Pain in the A$$, which is half pina colada and half rum runner. Perfect if you’re having trouble making up your mind! Beer drinkers, don’t stop at the main menu…I asked if they had anything additional, and they brought me a daily craft beer list that had some good, additional choices.
A great way to start here is with the Island She Crab soup. If you’re from South Carolina like me, or love to eat she crab soup in Charleston, you’ll find this one a little unexpected. It looks more like a potato-less chowder…it’s white instead of peachy-colored. But it’s so good, so don’t let the color throw you off.
They also have amazing Florida stone crabs in the appetizer section, when they’re in stock. These aren’t cheap, but they’re so good and a treat if you like stone crabs! They come with a delicious mustard sauce, which I saved and dipped my cauliflower in. (I hate “albino broccoli” but anything tastes good in this sauce!)
As for entrees, I love the hogfish here. If you’re not familiar with it, hogfish is a white fish with a name that isn’t as appetizing as it should be, because this is a delicious fish! It’s mild, flaky, and incredible. I always order it pan-seared, which I think is the best way to bring out the flavor. My husband got it once cooked almondine, and we both agreed it wasn’t as good as the pan-seared version.
Not in the mood for fish? My son ordered the shrimp quesadillas, and he said they’re amazing. Granted, he’s a teenager with a never-ending appetite, but he does have good taste.
Finally, if you’re brave enough, try an oyster shooter. It’s a raw oyster in vodka that you toss back like any other shot. It’s not my thing, but my husband said it was amazing!
I will say I’ve been here several times, and all were excellent, except one. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what I ordered that time – maybe a steak of some kind. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t that good. I’m considering that an anomaly, though, because the other visits were nearly perfect.
3. Castaway Waterfront Restaurant and Sushi Bar – 5 Stars
Castaway was #1 the must-do, as far as food goes, from the list I made during my trip planning. They’re really, shall we say, versatile? The menu incudes sushi, sandwiches, wings, a raw bar, fresh fish, and Mexican dishes. Some really unique items are on the dinner menu, like a elk chop dinner and lobster mac-n-cheese.
But what had caught my eye was the lion fish sushi roll! Lion fish is an invasive species of salt-water fish that’s really been causing problems in Florida waters. So if you eat lion fish, you’re helping the environment, or so I like to think! They aren’t easy to catch, because they have stinging barbs that can literally penetrate Kevlar (what bullet-proof vests are made of). So it’s not super affordable, but I’d tasted it cooked before, and I had to give this roll a try.
The official roll name is King of the Jungle roll. It’s described as lionfish, asparagus, and avocado inside, topped with masago, chopped escolar (my favorite sushi fish), wakame (seaweed salad), and sesame seeds. Well let me just say this roll did not disappoint! It was so good! My daughters both got spider rolls – fried soft-shell crab – which is a sushi standard but they wolfed it down so it was apparently good.
My son ordered a soft shell crab sandwich. When this thing came out, we all thought, what on earth? It was definitely a soft-shell crab because it still looked like one! Just deep-fried and put on a bun. It wasn’t the most appetizing dish to look at, but one bite and he was hooked. I tasted it and it was delicious!
Castaway is a casual place with a view of a small harbor but not much to brag about, however, the food and the friendly waitress more than made up for that. They have both indoor and outdoor seating, and the outdoor bar seems to be a popular place for locals to hang out and day drink.
The other great thing is that you can make a reservation here. A lot of restaurants in marathon don’t take reservations, so you’ll either eat early or late, or expect a long wait. Especially if you have a family of five. So I was really happy to see that they accept reservations at Castaway.
4. Lazy Days South – 4 Stars
Lazy days is set a block or two off the Overseas Highway on the ocean-side. It has a large covered patio for dining that faces west, as well as a large bar for seating. You definitely get a good sunset here, though unfortunately at least in the spring, there’s a condo or hotel that the sun sets behind. So you don’t see it actually sink below the land, but below the building. Still, it was a beautiful sunset.
By the time we got around to eating at Lazy Days, we were further into our vacation. I was seafood-ed out! I decided on the chicken piccata, and it was really well done. This is one dish I cook really well, so I tend to be critical of it when I order it out. There was nothing to criticize here. It was superb.
For dessert, we decided against any more key lime pie. We got some kind of chocolate cake that was a special menu item of the day and I don’t exactly recall what its name was. But it was really good too!
The only reason I deducted a star from my review was because our waitress was so slow. When she did come by, she was polite and friendly. She just didn’t come by very often. And she didn’t appear busy, because several times I saw her just standing near the door to the kitchen and apparently not doing anything. But I would definitely go back to this restaurant again in the future.
Bonus – they also take reservations, according to their website. We just walked in, and it was just three of us, but they sat us right away. The previous evening the couldn’t seat all 5 of us. So I’d say reservations are probably a good idea.
5. Cracked Conch – 3 Stars
The Cracked Conch Cafe is known for its breakfast. I wish we had done that instead, but we came here for dinner because Burdine’s had too long of a wait. We’d been on the road for 5-6 hours and weren’t in the mood to wait that first night.
We were seated on a small enclosed porch that had a little pond-like feature in the middle with a sign that said “No Diving”. The humor of that caught my attention for sure! When the waiter arrived, he greeted us with a hearty “Good morning” even though it was about 7pm. I guess if you’re known for breakfast, that’s the greeting you use all day, maybe. He was attentive and friendly the whole time.
Unfortunately the food was pretty hit-or-miss. They don’t serve breakfast all day – which is fine – so I couldn’t get what had been recommended to me, the eggs benedict. I asked our waiter what was the best thing on the menu, and he suggested the seafood scampi. The menu describes this dish as having scallops, shrimp, fish, conch, and mussels. Sounded good to me! Unfortunately they brought me out a shrimp scampi instead of a seafood scampi. There were plenty of shrimp; I was glad to see that they didn’t skimp on the shrimp. (Ha ha, see what I did there?) But none of the other seafood was anywhere to be seen. It also had TONS of mushrooms in it, and the sauce was really, really bland.
However, the scampi came with two sides, and one that I chose was the conch chowder. This was so good that it almost made up for my getting a different entrée than what I ordered. (But not quite.) It was made just like New England clam chowder, but with conch meat instead of clams. When you’re in the Conch Republic, you obviously have to eat conch, right?! And this was delicious.
My son ordered shrimp quesadillas (are you seeing a trend here?) and he thought they were quite good. My husband ordered a burger – I have no idea why! – and he said it was fine but nothing to brag about. And the girls got chicken fingers. I keep waiting for their taste palettes to develop into maturity, but they still like to order kids’ meals.
Overall this was a nice save to dinner; it sure beat Wendy’s, our only other quick-ish choice. But I definitely can’t rave about it.
6. Burdines – Can’t Wait to Try
This was the other must-do on our list, but apparently it’s a must-do on everyone’s list. We tried it the first night and the wait was 90 minutes. We went back another night and couldn’t find parking. They do not take reservations at all. I think eventually my husband and I will try this when we make a trip down without the kids. It’s easier for adults to wait, especially with beverages, and it’s easier for them to seat two people rather than five.
If you get here and find the wait is too long, Castaway is literally right next door.
So there you have it! My experience for five well-known restaurants in Marathon, Florida, smack dab in the middle of the Florida Keys. If you find yourselves looking for some where to eat in Marathon, I hope my reviews will help you to decide.
Also if you’ve tried either, feel free to drop a comment below. I would love to hear your experiences!