Florida’s famous fare is, quite literally, a bite of everything. From sweet fruits to succulent seafood, the Sunshine State is a foodie paradise.
Take the unmistakable hecha en casa Cuban and Caribbean influence. Mix it with traditional Southern dishes, and don’t forget a little bit of Cajun and Nawlins. Add to that the foundational European foods brought during early discovery days. And finally, top with decades of traditional Americana—and you have one of the most unique lists of dishes quite possibly ever.
Let’s take a look at some of the culinary items and dishes that make Florida so beloved.
Key Lime Pie
If you ask 100 Floridians, 110 will tell you: key lime pie is the number one food. Simply put, key lime pie is to Florida what pizza is to New York.
Popular Sunshine State legend has it that this tropical, tangy, tart treat originated in Key West in the mid-1800s, in the kitchen of a local cook named Aunt Sally. She adapted the recipe the fishermen had used for her well-to-do landlubbing boss instead, and the fluffy meringue-and-graham-cracker pie has since become an unmistakable Florida classic.
The key to this dessert is the locally grown key lime, which tends to be tarter/more aromatic, and generally more suited for desserts (though it is now declining in abundance).
Of course, as with all the best classics, the origin story is surrounded by mystery. No one can vouch for the real Aunt Sally—but the legendary taste of a Florida key lime pie is quite real!
In a state with as much diversity as Florida, there are precious few things everyone would agree on. One is this: a Cubano is one of the best things you can possibly bite into. This hot-pressed sandwich is stuffed with slow-roasted mojo pork, smoked ham, Swiss (or Gouda), pickles, and mustard. It was originally known as a mixto, as it was the Cuban adaptation of the beloved American ham and cheese.
No one questions this signature sandwich’s place at the top of any Florida food list, but the origins debate may never be settled. Many think Key West served the first, as it’s closer to Cuba in fact than Miami—but Cubano lovers in Tampa remain adamant that their neighborhoods were the first to popularize this delicious deli delight.
One thing is for sure: the best are often pressed in the most unassuming locations, so don’t hesitate to ask around and trust the locals.
Oranges (and all other things Citrus)
The Sunshine State is aptly named, given its statewide average of 235 days with rays every year (well above the nationwide average of roughly 205). Many locales in southern Florida average close to 270: meaning, just about every kind of citrus imaginable.
There are nearly 75 million citrus-bearing trees throughout the state. That means about 3.5 trees for every single Floridian—and nearly $9 billion dollar in state revenue each year.
This abundance includes dozens of varieties of oranges, from navels and temples to Hamlins, Brazilian bahias, and the sinfully sweet Cara Caras, plus grapefruit, lemon, limes (and key limes!), tangerines, tangelos, blood oranges, satsumas, pomelos, and more.
Sadly, however, citrus crop production overall has taken serious beatings in recent years from worsening hurricanes, as well as the particularly feared citrus greening disease that has wiped out millions of trees.
This one shouldn’t surprise you. What might surprise you, though, is how many ways you can find this beast of the swamp prepared throughout Florida, in restaurants from the Keys to the northern Floribama border. Fried gator tails are a particular specialty, but you can try everything from BBQ alligator rib sliders to alligator chili to shrimp and alligator cheesecake.
Yes, shrimp and alligator cheesecake.
Iconic may not quite be the word, but unforgettable certainly is. This taste of the “real Nawlins” was initially popularized at Jacques Imo’s Café in New Orleans in the 1990s, and now Florida chefs are giving the Big Easy a run for its gator money. Order this one-of-a-kind appetizer at Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen in Brandon, Florida, just east of Tampa.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Southern traditions run strong in many Florida dishes, like this one, and so we’d be remiss to not mention it on the list.
Fried green tomatoes are simply a feel-good classic that makes home feel like it’s been properly cooked in. Understandably so—the crispy cornmeal outside balances the firm but yielding innards of the ripe … wait, green tomato?
Yes. Although a well-known Southern dish, some historians have made a strong case that the earliest fried green tomato recipes are from unlikely northern places like New York, where much shorter growing seasons meant people had less time to figure out how to preserve their produce before a first frost—so, they crisped the still-green tomatoes.
This is still a theory, but that doesn’t stop Floridians from enjoying these as a Southern comfort classic.
Iconic, yes—and also sacred? This shallow-water seashell is an ancient creature found around the world, and when blown its sound is believed to symbolize the very first sound of creation (Ohm, or the sound of perfection). How can you top that for a famous food?
Actually members of the snail family, the conch (pronounced konk), is found in warm waters around the Keys and throughout the Caribbean. In Florida restaurants, it’s most often found on the appetizer menu as conch fritters, fried breaded bites akin to hush puppies, and served with cocktail or lime dipping sauce.
If your next conch fritter tastes divine, just remember: you’re right.
Florida is full of (culinary) surprises. Here’s one more: something like 400 known species of grouper inhabit the waters of both Florida coasts and south into the Caribbean, making this easily one of the most popular fish on any local menu.
The largest grouper is the Goliath, aptly named as they average over 6 feet. And the world record catch was nearly 700 pounds in Fernandina Beach. Of course, their massive size and large schools (hence their name) made them all too easy targets for fishermen. Goliath and other grouper species were tragically fished to near-extinction by the late 1900s, but much stronger protections in recent years have helped populations recover.
You’re bound to enjoy grouper, whether red, yellowmouth, black or the much tinier scamp.
A grocery store certainly doesn’t seem like the sexiest culinary suggestion on a roundup of top foods—but one bite of a sub from the Publix deli, and you’ll be in the convert club for life. Few things can excite the average Floridian quite like a Publix sub run for dinner, except eating said pub on the beach at sunset, or a dip in gas prices.
Take it from the blogger himself: my family lives in Pensacola, and Publix subs are a daily topic of conversation in our household. The Italian has long been the rage, though the Havana Bold with peppenero ham and chipotle gouda is a very close second. Quite simply, a #PubSub is like no other.
You might expect this one, too, in a state with over 1200 miles of coastline. But what you might not expect is that all Florida oysters are not created equal. The Apalachicola Bay area along the central panhandle coast is, hands down, the place to shoot your half-dozen, or maybe half a dozen more.
Along the Great Gulf curve, you’ll also find acclaimed oyster hotspots, like Cedar Key, and points south. But Apalachicola oysters are so large and succulent that top restaurants around the state—even the country—clamor for these shuckable, slurpable treats for their menu.
At Indian Pass Raw Bar in Port St. Joe’s, the oysters are so fresh, your order “slept in the bay last night.”
Keep in mind that raw oysters do carry a potential for a bacterium, particularly vibrio vulnificus. This can kill people (although very rarely) or make them ill and lives primarily in warm seawater. It’s more common in the Gulf of Mexico but has been seen along the eastern coast as well. Try to avoid eating oysters raw during the summer months of May through August. In fact, a common saying is:
Never eat oysters in the months without an “R” in them.
The central panhandle region is also well-known for its shrimp, which brings us to…
Gulf Coast and Atlantic Shrimp
In general, Florida seafood deserves a standalone blog. Snapper, swordfish, mahi-mahi, deep-sea tuna, lobster and clam and crab claws…it sea-ms endless. But of everything in the great big blue, one seafood that most Floridians would rather die than go without is shrimp.
There are myriad ways to prepare shrimp: blackened, seared, steamed, grilled and buttered, on salads, in cocktails (and cheesecakes!), and with as many sauces as you can shake your grill poker at. However, many Floridians (like my family) prefer simple, either grilled and buttered, or ideally already steamed, seasoned, and chilled from Pensacola’s one and only Joe Patti’s.
There is a difference between those shrimp that live in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and those in the cooler waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The former is said to have a more mineral taste and the Atlantic boasts of a sweeter variety. Try them both and see which you prefer.
Florida Stone Crab
The practice might sound atrocious—these Gulf coast crabs are harvested just for their pincers, for one of the most coveted Florida delicacies out there. Crustacean claws can come back, so crabbers are required to release them so they can molt and then regenerate.
In restaurants, stone crab claws are cracked, steamed, and then often chilled and served with creamy mustard dipping sauce. Since the harvest season runs from mid-October until roughly May, you can also enjoy stone crab soup from Key Largo Fisheries for rare occasions when you need a warm bite in a bowl (they also have conch chowder).
Perhaps the most iconic way to enjoy your stone crab is at Joe’s in Miami Beach, the largest purveyor of stone crab in the state serving long lines of hungry beachgoers since 1913.
Visiting Miami without enjoying a cafecito would be just as sad as going there without visiting the beach.
Cuban influence here is as strong as this supercharged espresso, which you can order on just about every street corner in shops like the iconic Enriqueta’s in Midtown. This means that you’ll go for the sweetened, perfectly punchy Cuban brew, but you’ll stay for the … well. You’ll just want to stay.
Lingering will come naturally once you have a cafecito, cortadito, or steamed-milk café con leche in front of you and all morning to enjoy it. Truly, café Cubano is what puts the magic in “The Magic City”.
You’ve taken quite a culinary journey so far—but this is still the beginning. Florida’s catalog of iconic foods is easily as long as its coastline, with much more not even listed here. The only recommendation is, to go slowly so you have time to let the food settle—and above all, savor every last Sunshine bite!