Ahhhhh Key West, Florida—the last island of all the keys, the furthest point south of the United States. You drive over a 7 mile bridge to get to this paradise island, but once you are there, you are in a place where it is warm every day, the breathtaking sunsets look like they come from a movie or a painting, where there are coconut palm trees as tall as buildings as far as the eye can see, where the sand is white and soft beneath your bare feet, and where the ocean is the color of crystal blue and aqua green, and is as clear as glass. People flock down there by the thousands each year to escape the cold winters of the north. They tour the popular Duval Street to eat at one of the many restaurants serving all kinds of cuisine, have their famous Key Lime Pie, stop at a cigar shop, dance the night away, sing karaoke in one of the bars, and buy their t-shirts, coffee mugs and frames. Besides being a tourist, party and resort island, Key West has a lot of history. There are ghost tales, stories of ship wrecks, and superstitions. Outside of the tourist area, locals get around on their bikes or mopeds and live in beautiful, unique old homes painted in tropical colors, with tin roofs and porches with ceiling fans. This is a place where people move at a slower pace, are friendly, and basically live simply. This is an island that also has some very delicious vegan friendly cafés and restaurants that I got the chance to eat at recently.
My husband and I, who are from the North East, are runners and eat a strict healthy vegan diet, so when we travel it can be a challenge finding good, healthy choices. So, the first thing that I did before we left was look on HappyCow to see what Key West had to offer. We found that Key West had some great options for us while we were there to run the Half Shell Half Marathon. We found a few places that looked interesting, such as The Cafe, Sugar Apple and Help Yourself. All three served vegan choices that were organic, healthy, and had smoothies and raw juices. Two of them even had a natural food store. They were off of the beaten path of the hustle and bustle of Duval Street. During our 5 day stay we ate at all 3.
Our first stop was The Café. We wandered around, walking with our tourist map in hand, stopping to look at street signs and turning the map every which way, and asking directions along the way. We turned the corner and there was the blue sign “Café.” The building was also a deep blue and pink, and outside sat a bike with a box marked “café” for deliveries. Then, we walked in and were greeted with a friendly smile welcoming us. The atmosphere was comfortable and casual. It was a small place with every table filled. The music playing was tropical, the walls were painted vibrant colors and on them hung pictures and painting from local artists that were for sale. There was a chalk board up front showing the daily drink and food specials. Our waitress was happy, energetic and eager to serve us. We started with a vegan kale Caesar salad that was so good and flavorful; the portion size was big enough for two, topped with avocado and homemade croutons. We went back each day and had it again. Then for an entree, we tried the falafel in a pita which had a peanut sauce with veggies. This was a bit messy and tough to pick up and eat, but the flavor was fantastic. For dessert we had the only vegan Key Lime Pie on the island which was, let’s just say, something that makes you sit there, close your eyes, moan out load saying, “Wow, amazing!” while savoring each bite slowly to make it last just a little longer. On the other days we tried the chocolate tart, which was equally mouthwatering, as well as other great sandwiches.
The next day, we tried Help Yourself for lunch. This cafe/health food store was also one that we visited more than once. This little place, painted a bright lime green, looked like a converted old gas station or convenient store. There was no seating inside. The only seating was outside, where there were chairs that lined beautiful planters, and a ledge where you could set down your food under big cloth umbrellas to keep the hot sun or the rain off of you. Inside we ordered our lunch. I had a green juice loaded with green veggies and banana, and a veggie wrap with pesto, sprouts, peppers, lettuce and other veggies. My husband had a mango smoothie and a hummus wrap with salad greens and tomatoes. While we waited for our food we walked around the small, quaint store looking at what they had. They carried everything from fresh produce, canned products and pastas to herbs and sports powders. They even had a frozen food section. When our food was ready we picked it up at the counter and took it outside. My wrap was amazing—so simple, yet had huge flavor. It was just enough to fill me up for lunch. We relaxed, watching the people walk by who would occasionally glance over at us. Before we left we bought some organic mixed nuts to snack on for the day.
Our experience in Key West was nothing less than fantastic. We plan on going back again next year and we will revisit our favorite vegan restaurants again. For anyone who is planning on traveling to this paradise island and is looking for something away from the crowds on the tourist strip, I highly recommend all 3 of these places.
Image sources: Help Yourself Cafe-Helpyourselffoods.com | The Cafe-Keywesttravelguide.com
About Author Cheryl Coelho: New Years Eve 2008 and a resolution changed my life forever. I wanted to become healthier so I trained for a 5k. I was instantly hooked. Then, I decided to go back to school and earn my Bachelor’s in Health & Wellness and my personal trainer certificate. After watching the movie Food Inc., I decided to become vegetarian, which then led to reading, researching and watching everything I could to learn about the food industry. About a year after that I became vegan and earned my certificate in plant based nutrition at Cornell University. I now run marathons, bike, lift weight, yoga and have been featured in Vegan Health & Fitness magazine. As I continue to grow, it is my passion to educate other on becoming vegan for life.