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Best of the Florida Keys

A Florida Keys diet is bound to be plentiful in omega-3 and other fishy nutrients, but you'll get points off for breaded and fried. Thankfully, restaurants are warming to the healthful New World cuisine—tropical fruits and tubers, Latin-Caribbean flavors—that's ubiquitous in Miami and points north. In other words, the shrimp may be fried, but it will come with a mango-poppy seed dipping sauce. In the land of the laid-back, "formal" restaurants are happy to see you wearing a shirt and shoes. (Seriously: A jacket is never required; ties are laughed at.) At dockside seafood joints, fresh fish and talkative bartenders are the only prerequisites.

UPPER KEYS Fish House The line is long, the conch chowder peppery, and the catch of the day done eight ways (try Matecumbe-style: tomatoes, capers, shallots, basil, and lemon juice). And the nautical knickknacks lining the walls and strung on the ceiling are endlessly amusing. 102401 Overseas Hwy., Key Largo; 305/451-4665; dinner for two $55.

Pierre's The most elegant restaurant in the Upper Keys is the creation of Hubert Baudoin, owner of the Moorings across the highway. Chef Dino Taglione does wonders with seafood—yellowtail crusted in lotus root and served over a chile-flecked soba-noodle salad, grouper with artichoke-mushroom hash in a salmon-roe beurre blanc. Baudoin fitted the plantation-style house with ancient monastery doors from Tibet, archways from India, and rugs from Morocco. 81600 Overseas Hwy., Islamorada; 305/664-3225; dinner for two $130.

Snapper's Waterfront Seafood Restaurant On a mangrove-ringed inlet in Key Largo, Snapper's brings in the locals with killer rum drinks and good appetizers: cracked conch, blackened dolphin "fingers." All deep-fried items are hand-breaded, thank goodness. MM 94.5 Oceanside, Key Largo; 305/852-5956; dinner for two $70.

MIDDLE KEYS ChikiTiki Bar & Grille Hidden away in a Marathon marina, ChikiTiki serves dockside grub with Mexican touches, such as a green-chile cheeseburger and spiced fries. In most other ways, however, it's an archetype of its genre: the smell of sea air; a bar crowded with salts of all types. And, yes, that's a mousetrap holding down your bill. 1200 Oceanview Ave., Marathon; 305/743-9204; dinner for two $20.

LOWER KEYS No Name Pub This pub was established in 1935, which may be the last time it got a thorough cleaning. At least the dollar bills covering every square inch of wall and rafter seem to have been there forever, as have the characters wearing beards and trucker caps and eating tangy smoked-fish dip and grouper sandwiches off paper plates. The point is to be pleased with yourself for having found the place. N. Watson Blvd., Big Pine Key; 305/872-9115; dinner for two $35.


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