By: Katy Harrison

Different people travel for different reasons; some travel for scenery, others for art, some for adventure. I travel for food. Every trip I take involves hours of reading reviews and asking for local recommendations and seeking out the most locally authentic and delicious meals possible. This means I make my way into some incredible Michelin-rated restaurants with James Beard award-winning chefs and I spend plenty of time in hole-in-the-wall restaurants or eating from carts on the sidewalk.

As someone who plans entire trips around meals, you can imagine my disappointment when I ate at two of the most highly rated restaurants in Key West, only to leave one sick and the other hungry due to a natural inability to eat over-cooked, rubbery food. It seems I had forgotten my tried and true rule: the best places to eat tend to lie away from main roads and squares, and nothing is a better sign than any variation of the words “cash only.”

In hopes of salvaging what was turning out to be a terrible culinary experience, I made my way to The Conch Shack. It breaks my rule regarding location; it’s situated on Duval Street, Key West’s main tourist drag, nestled in a parking lot between novelty shops, a touristy bar, and a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum. If it hadn’t been for the “cash only” sign and the tip jar by the window so cleverly named, “Phil,” I would never have considered eating here. But my empty stomach begged, and this stand immediately became a staple for the rest of my trip. In the remaining five days, I ate at The Conch Shack six times and enjoyed every bite.

My first meal at The Conch Shack consisted solely of conch fritters, which seemed like a necessity for experiencing Key West fare. They were delicious enough to bring me back for more, but having enjoyed so many other amazing dishes, it’s hard to even remember how delightful the conch fritters were. The shrimp basket was excellent, the lobster rolls were the best I’d ever tasted, the french fries were to die for, and the cracked conch was simply out of this world. Of course, the sauces served with each dish were delicious.

Next time you’re traveling and searching for good food, remember to save a little time and money by trying at least a few local dives and street stands. If you find yourself in Key West, stop by The Conch Shack for a delicious, laid-back, but still made-to-order experience.