Exploring Key West: Cuban Coffee
So, maybe you're a newbie when it comes to Key West, or perhaps you've visited this southernmost Florida island a hundred times. Either way, there are the Key West classics that you can't miss, like the sunset celebration at Mallory Square, cocktails at the Green Parrot Bar, and brunch at Blue Heaven. Part of the enjoyment of spending time here is that many of the bars, restaurants, and attractions become institutions over time. It's comforting, to be able to return to a place and find the same bar stool, just there where you last left it. Don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with change. But too much change can feel bewildering, or tiresome, and it's a relief to escape to Key West Old Town, where the houses have been lovingly preserved and our favorite businesses seem to stay...in business. All this being said, on our last island runaway here, we were determined to discover some new places, which brought us here:
(In Key West Cuban Coffee Queen is somewhere we want to try. Photo by Island Runaways/Z.A.)
I had heard about Cuban Coffee Queen, but never made the journey to find it for one reason or another. This time, I got the address on my cell phone (284 Margaret Street) and Zickie and I strolled on over. It's about four and a half blocks east of Duval, very close to Pepe's, the oldest restaurant in Key West. In fact, this little stand is situated in a parking lot, but you can spot the vivid Key West mural from a distance. Immediately, as you approach, you feel the funky vibe of Key West is alive and well.
(Just the kind of place for an island travel blog. Photo by Island Runaways/Z.A.)
So, you may ask, does Cuban Coffee Queen serve only Cuban coffee? Nope! But as we found out for ourselves, their Cuban coffee is excellent. (And since we live in Miami, we have a good bit of experience with cortaditos, coladas, cafe con leches, etc.) But let's say you come here for lunch. You may want the delicious rice and black beans, or the Jose Marti sandwich, with roasted mojo pork, provolone cheese, and fixings on pressed Cuban bread. Perhaps you're in recovery from a late night: their smoothies contain healthy fruit and pack plenty of vitamins.
(One of the smallest Key West restaurants. Photo by Island Runaways/Z.A.)
If too many heavy meals having your craving something light, there are also salads. I can't forget to mention their breakfast offerings, like the egg and cheese sandwich with butter on Cuban bread. Or just plain "pan Cubano," pressed, slightly toasted Cuban bread with melted butter. I don't think you've lived until you tried that with a cafe con leche (Cuban coffee with warmed milk and sugar). It's simple, but yummy. I highly recommend dipping the end of the bread into your warm, milky coffee. Heaven.
(In Key West Cuban coffee is a must. Photo by Island Runaways/Z.A.)
Some people may ask, "Why get Cuban coffee in Key West, Florida?" Well, the fact is that Cuba is closer to Key West than Miami, and Cubans have been coming to this island for centuries. Cuban fishermen sailed these waters when La Florida belonged to Spain; when Key West and Florida became part of the United States, Cubans still came here to trade. With the establishment of the cigar industry in Key West in the 1800s, many Cubans moved to the island permenantly. All this to say that the Cuban culture and cuisine are an integral part of Key West's past -- and present. But back to Cuban Coffee Queen...
(A Cuban Coffee Queen bike. Photo by Island Runaways/Z.A.)
There are three basic reasons to make Cuban Coffee Queen part of your Key West island getaway:
1) The price is right. In a town where eating can quickly burn a hole in your wallet, the prices here are very refreshing.
2) The quality is there. From the coffee itself to the ingredients in each sandwich, the food is very good. Don't be fooled by the simplicity of the stand itself: this is a joint that takes real pride in serving the best it can offer.
3) It exudes Key West quirkiness. Let's face it: no one comes to Key West for slick, modern experiences. That's not to say there aren't innovative kitchens and sleek boutique hotels rooms on the island, but the allure of Key West lies in its eccentricity and authenticity. Cuban Coffee Queen has got that down pat.
(This Key West rooster was hoping for some crumbs. Photo by Island Runaways.)
My only regret was that I had not tried this place sooner. Zickie and I will be going back on our next Key West island runaway, that's for certain. Maybe we get coffees and nurse them right at the stand, or order lunch to go and eat sandwiches at Mallory Square overlooking the ocean. In fact, as we waved good-bye to the friendly guy staffing the counter, we said to each other, "I wish they had this place back home." Because we'd be regulars, for certain.
Afterward our trip, we learned that Cuban Coffee Queen has a second location at 5 Key Lime Square, at Southard and Duval. They also do delivery. For more details, check their website.