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Best of the Florida Keys

KEY WEST Alice's at La Te Da Go for a poolside table among the palms at the campy La Te Da guesthouse. Then go for the yellowtail snapper in Key lime beurre blanc, the "magic meat loaf," or the rack of Australian lamb. Most of all, go to meet Alice Weingarten, the island legend who visits every table wearing a floppy toque and cat's-eye glasses—the consummate Key West hostess. 1125 Duval St.; 305/296-6706; dinner for two $70.

Blue Heaven Restaurant In a former bordello allegedly frequented by Ernest Hemingway—hardly a unique claim in Key West—Blue Heaven is huge among the locals for a lively bar and breakfast in the backyard, complete with picnic tables and clucking chickens. It might seem untoward to eat eggs in such company, but the omelettes shouldn't be missed. 729 Thomas St.; 305/296-8666; breakfast for two $20.

Café Marquesa Adjoining the Marquesa Hotel, the café offers a dining room filled with sunshine during the day and illuminated by candles in the evening. Chef Susan Ferry, who trained under star Miami chef Norman Van Aken (of Norman's), changes the menu daily, adding Mediterranean and Asian touches to Caribbean and Latin American specialties. 600 Fleming St.; 305/292-1919; dinner for two $120.

Louie's Backyard Van Aken made his reputation here before being anointed king of New World cuisine. But Louie's maintains its status as an institution and is still a favorite among residents, despite the crush of tourists feasting on the innovative Caribbean-influenced food: lobster braised in truffle butter; grilled tuna served with a sweet soy, papaya, and seaweed salad. The "backyard" is really the Atlantic. 700 Waddell Ave., Key West; 305/294-1061; dinner for two $90.

In a place where a plastic daisy on your flip-flops counts as a stylistic flourish, don't expect to find exceptional retail opportunities. There are a few specialty shops worth mentioning (all but the first are in Key West). World Wide Sportsman (81576 Overseas Hwy., Islamorada; 305/664-4615; www.basspro.com), an enormous sportfishing store, sells every type of rod and fly imaginable; there's a replica of Hemingway's boat Pilar in the center. • T-shirt shops have taken over Duval Street, Key West's main drag, like kudzu; for worthwhile gifts, try Fast Buck Freddie's (500 Duval St.; 305/294-2007), an old-time department store. • The local answer to Kiehl's, Key West Aloe (524 Front St.; 305/294-5592) is full of lab-coated assistants eager to administer to your sunburn. • They may not fly back home, but the colorful, boisterously patterned shirts and dresses at Key West Handprint Fabrics & Fashions (201 Simonton St.; 305/294-9535) are pretty much the town uniform. • Key West claims to have been the home of 11 Pulitzer winners; the best bookstore is Key West Island Books (513 Fleming St.; 305/294-2904). • If you must have one of those manatee-shaped mailboxes you've seen lining U.S. 1, Pelican Poop (314 Simonton St.; 305/296-3887) is the place to buy it. • Of the dozen or so more-serious art galleries on the island, check out Gallery on Greene (606 Greene St.; 305/294-1669), representing local and Cuban artists, and the Haitian Art Co. (600 Frances St.; 305/296-8932), crammed with paintings, sculptures, and voodoo flags.


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