Florida is known for a couple of different things, but nothing more iconic than our mix of food and flavors. Every local and visitor alike is sure to indulge in at least one of these iconic Florida foods, but as always, the more the merrier. Whether you are on the beach waiting for a fresh catch, or in the fields picking local produce, there is such a variety of food here, you are certain to find your new favorite dish. So here are 12 iconic Florida food that we highly suggest you don’t miss.
12 Iconic Florida Foods That Can’t Be Missed
Key Lime Pie
The official food of the State of Florida, Key Lime Pie is one of those things you just can’t skip if you’re looking to experience quintessential Florida. The key lime is different than your standard lime in that it is about a third of the size and has a unique flavor from a traditional lime. They are super tart and are used in a wide variety of applications across Florida but Key Lime Pie tops the list for things you can’t miss when you’re in Florida. You can get it frozen on a stick and dipped in chocolate, too! Most abundant in Key West, Florida “aka The Keys” you will find some of the most popular and famous pie shops that sell this treat. From Kermit’s Key West to the Key West Key Lime Pie Company, there’s no shortage of places to pop in and get yourself some Key Lime Pie. You can even order online and have one shipped to your home when you are looking for a slice of Florida sunshine but can’t get that PTO approved to fly on down!
If you’ve ever visited Florida before, you’ve probably noticed that almost any restaurant you go, Grouper is on the menu. You can have Grouper in any way imaginable. From tacos, grilled, blackened, fried on a sandwich to our favorite… right on the beach, served up in the style of a rueben at Caddy’s on the Beach in Treasure Island. Fresh from the Gulf Waters of Florida, nothing beats a delicious Grouper dish while situated on the beach somewhere at sunset, listening to the stylings of some Jimmy Buffet wannabe and sipping a cocktail. That’s Florida, baby. Grouper does come at a premium price tag because of its scarcity and difficulty to fish and the high demand for fresh grouper. Anywhere from $11-$13 per pound typically, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $15-$30 for a grouper dish. If you see a grouper dish that is on the less expensive side, BEWARE! Some restaurants in the past have been busted for selling “Grouper” at the grouper price but it was really a less expensive fish because people didn’t know better. The Florida Department of Agriculture declared it illegal to misrepresent or mislabel seafood in the State of Florida because this was happening so regularly! Grouper is mild and flaky, and is not one of the more “fishy” flavored fish. Give it a shot. It doesn’t get any better than in a fish taco with some mango salsa!
Florida Shellfish – Stone Crab, Shrimp, Oysters
It’s no secret that Florida is LITERALLY surrounded by water. No, really… it’s surrounded, that’s why we are a peninsula, ya know… the whole water on three sides thing? Anywho… Florida shellfish is something you will see plastered across every menu, everywhere you go. If you are planning a trip to ANY beach community in the State of Florida, the sheer number of seafood restaurants will be sure to leave you feeling like you’ve got the toughest decision to make! Fear not, if you choose Fresh from Florida seafood, you can’t go wrong. From Key West Pink Shrimp to Apalachicola Oysters to the coveted Stone Crab, there’s truly something for everyone’s tastes. We Floridian chefs have really had time to perfect the preparation and we are really excited to share with you all of the ways in which these Gems of the Gulf can be prepared for your enjoyment. There are even opportunities for you to go diving for scallops and clams as well, so if you’re looking for adventure be sure to find an opportunity where you can dive for your dinner! That’s right. You can dive or fish for your own dinner, and then a chef will prepare that food for you to enjoy that very night! Many hotels in Florida offer that service. If you’ve spent a day at sea and have caught something awesome and would love to have it for dinner, ask the chef where you’re staying.
One of perhaps the “strangest” things we have on our list is Gator. That’s right… you can EAT gator! Many restaurants across the State of Florida, especially along the water, you will see this Florida delicacy on the menu. Most typically as “Gator Nuggets” or “Fried Gator Tail”. The edible portion of the alligator is the tail meat. It is most often served lightly breaded and fried with some sort of cajun or spiced dipping sauce. You’ll hear people tell you “it tastes like chicken” and indeed it does have a similar texture, but there is no denying that it came from the water. It’s definitely a unique Florida treat and I highly encourage EVERYONE who visits Florida to try it out!
I’m pretty sure if you’ve ever heard of the Tampa area, you’ve heard of Ybor. If you’ve heard of Ybor, you’ve heard of the Columbia Restaurant and the large Cuban influence on our community in that neighborhood. All across Florida there is a large Cuban influence. From Miami all the way up to Tallahassee. They are our close neighbors to the south of Key West and so their cuisines and culture have made their influence on Florida over the years and MAN am I glad for that!! The Cuban sandwich is one of those things that if you miss out on an authentic one while you’re in Florida, you didn’t “do Florida” right. Cubans are delicious and there are MANY places that serve them. You can do tons of research on where the best place to get a Cuban sandwich would be, but my best advice? Try a few and decide for yourself! It’s all subjective. Some of the best places to grab a Cuban in the State of Florida are The Columbia Restaurant, Brocato’s Tampa, Casa Rojas in Coral Gables/Naples, or Versailles in Miami. There are a couple of versions. You can have a Cuban sandwich “Tampa Style” with salami or “Miami Style” without salami. One thing for sure… don’t skip them. You will be so sorry you did!
Plant City, Florida is the home to ALL THINGS STRAWBERRY. Annually, the Florida Strawberry Festival is held during the first week of March because this is when the strawberries are at their peak freshness and are the MOST delicious. The thing you’ll see EVERYONE walking around with when they’re at the festival is a strawberry shortcake. Something you will see on many menus around the state but especially as you get closer to Plant City on the dessert menu is Strawberry Shortcake. You’ll see it in different ways and there are different versions that people enjoy. Some like it with cake, some like it with a biscuit. That’s the main difference. There really are only three components and you can’t really mess it up unless you DON’T use Plant City strawberries! Strawberries, fresh whipped cream and your choice of cake/biscuit = a DELICIOUS treat. Many out there will riff on the classic by adding other fruits or putting some fresh herbs or balsamic vinegar to “make it fancy” but it’s just not needed. Let the strawberries speak for themselves! Plan a trip to Florida during the Strawberry Festival and check it out.
This is one of those staple items that Ted Peter’s Famous Smoked Fish in Pasadena, Florida has made famous. They’ve been around since 1951 and have been featured on TV shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri because they just do it right. They are a community fixture and they have kept their menu simple and largely unchanged in the 70+ years of business. Smoked Fish. Whole fish, fish spread, chowder. Pull up, outside seating, cash only. Real simple joint. If you’re in the St. Pete Beach/Pasadena area, PLEASE do not miss the chance to go to Ted Peter’s Famous Smoked Fish!
Florida is the Sunshine State. Because of that, citrus grows REALLY well here. Our state flower is the Orange Blossom and the state fruit is the Orange. Florida was once all orange groves! Florida is the single largest grower of oranges for orange juice in North America. While you’re in Florida, if you see an orange grove on the side of the road, STOP. DETOUR. GO. You’ll have a life changing, liquid sunshine experience at your fingertips and you can take some gallons with you! While you’re there, they most likely will have citrus baskets you can ship home as a gift to family members or even to yourself as a memory of your trip to Florida once you return home! You can also pick up the iconic orange and vanilla swirl ice cream that is commonly found at Florida Citrus groves across the state. This is a combination of orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream and is Florida childhood in ice cream form! Enjoy the fruits of our labor and all our state has to offer! The smells, tastes and memories are endless!
Anyone who doesn’t live in a region where Publix grocery stores exist just don’t know about Pub Subs. The whole… IYKYK thing really applies here. But, if you’re in Florida and you don’t pick one up during your trip, maaan I feel sorry for you because you are truly missing out on a culinary treat! They’re perfect. The bread is great, the Boar’s Head meats they use are excellent and their produce/toppings are fresh and amazing and they’re made fresh right in front of you. They’re SO popular, they have their own Instagram page dedicated to people showing themselves enjoying their Pub Sub on the beach. One of the more popular sandwiches is the Chicken Tender sub. The Publix fried chicken tenders get all chopped up and put into the sub roll and topped how you like. WHAT!? There’s a WHOLE website that exists PURELY to keep people informed as to whether or not the Publix Chicken Tender sub is ON SALE OR NOT! Cult-like following ya’ll… but that’s just because they’re stupid good.
Just like our other seafood options, we have an abundance of conch fritters that you will see showing up on menus all around the state. The plethora of coastline allows for easy access to the islands to our south which brings more cultural influences. One of those influences is that of the conch fritter from The Bahamas. Now, let me tell you something… you’ve never had a better conch fritter than the ones my friend LeRone makes who is from the Bahamas. I have special access to him. He’s my friend and you can’t have him, sorry (not sorry). I digress… if you see conch fritters on a menu while you’re dining out, give them a shot! They’re sort of like a hush puppy with diced conch (which they hopefully tenderized) with things like bell peppers, celery, onion and spices mixed in. They’re deep fried and served with a remoulade type dipping sauce. DELICIOUS!!!
Florida is known as “The North of the South” but we have NO shortage of BBQ joints down here to say the least. Driving through different towns and neighborhoods, you’ll see old Joe’s truck parked at the gas station with his smoker and he’s got the most tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs you’ve ever had. The beautiful thing about Florida (in my humble opinion) when it comes to our cuisine is the many cultural influences from around the globe. For BBQ, we have our traditional diehard BBQ joints, but we also have an abundance of Jamaican Jerk BBQ, Brazilian BBQ and Korean BBQ. You really can find something to fit your tastes here but the true “southern” BBQ is what really shines here. There are establishments all across Florida from shacks and grills on the side of the road to chains and brick-and-mortar locations that will leave you needing a wet nap the size of Cinderella’s Castle.
Craft Cocktails – Beer, Wine and Liquor
The craft cocktail scene is something that has really expanded all across the world over the last few years, but in Florida, the number of wineries and microbreweries and distilleries has increased exponentially. Putting forward things like Florida citrus as the base with the Florida Citrus Groves Winery, the St. Augustine Distillery using Florida sugarcane and breweries like Green Bench, Big Storm, Two Henry’s and Anclote Brew, just to name a few in my area. Anywhere you turn you can find a good local brew or wine to try. Grapes do not grow particularly well in Florida due to the climate so our wines are unique in that their base is fruit juice from other fruits like apples, oranges, mango, strawberries and blends as well. Mixing this trend with local Florida flair, you can find things like Florida Key Lime Pie Wine, Strawberry Wine, Blueberry Beer and other cocktails like a Creamsicle Martini or Key Lime Pie Margarita. Supporting local is a staple anywhere and there are many ways to do that in Florida with our Craft alcohol industry.
As you can see, the iconic Florida foods range widely from sweet, to savory to beverages. With the diversity on our list you really do get a little bit of everything that makes our food great. We definitely think you should try and sample everything on this list, but what is the iconic Florida food that you are looking forward to the most?