Last Updated on April 24, 2023
Who would’ve thought a citrus tree brought to the Americas by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 14th century would become the most beloved dessert in the Florida Keys? The best Key lime pie in Key West owes its origin to this global culinary exchange.
Key lime pies in Key West can be traced back to the 1800s. Several theories speculate the creation of the cherished tarte dessert. The first being the story of Aunt Sally, who may very well have baked the very first key lime pie in the late 19th century.
Aunt Sally was a cook for William Curry, a ship salvager and Florida’s first self-made millionaire. It is rumored that she created the recipe by using Key limes instead of regular lemons for a lemon icebox pie.
Another origin story posits the pie’s creation to the sponge fishermen in the late 1800s. At the time, sponge fishing was a rapidly growing business in South Florida, and during excursions food was rationed. Sugar, eggs, condensed milk (a new invention of the era), soda crackers, nuts and citrus fruit were available to sailors. What does that sound like? A little like the best key lime pie in Key West!
On the ships, trial and error lead to the birth of the Key lime pie. The recipe was circulated to locals when the ships were docked.
It wasn’t until the 1930s, however, that the first recipes were widely recorded on paper. It was also during this time fresh milk, refrigeration and ice was brought to Key West with the advent of the Overseas Highway.
The Key Lime Pie has been the official Florida state pie since July 1, 2006. Distinction of Florida’s state dessert goes to strawberry shortcake thanks to the strawberry lobby and boneheaded legislators.
Key lime pies still remain a dessert staple throughout the Keys, Florida and America. If you find yourself wandering Key West and in need of a refreshing, tarte pick-me-up, Sloan – a Key lime pie connoisseur – gives these recommendations for finding the best Key lime pies in Key West.
The best Key Lime Pie in Key West
Red Shoe Island Bistro
For Sloan, the Red Shoe Island Bistro boasts one of the best Key lime pies in Key West.
Located on 411 Petronia Street, the small, family-run seafood spot started to thrive after the pandemic. Every ingredient of the dish is made from scratch and given close attention, as every key lime is hand-squeezed and zested.
Its homey ambiance and outdoor seating is open to all. But don’t worry, you can order a whole pie online and take it to go if you’d like to enjoy it at home.
The restaurant is open 6 PM to 9 PM Monday through Saturday, but closed on Sundays.
Kermit’s Key Lime Pie Shoppe
Getting his start over 30 years ago, local chef Kermit Carpenter has become a Key West icon and pie guru. Out of its two locations – on 200 Elizabeth Street and most recently opening in 2011 on 335F Duval Street – Sloan recommends the original location.
Located in the Key West Historic Seaport, customers can enjoy their sweet treat while perusing the twenty-acre area.
“Having that Key lime taste and that chocolate with it as you walk along where so much history happened – it’s an experience,” Sloan says.
This location is also home to Kermit’s Cafe, which boasts a breakfast and lunch menu from 7 AM to 3 PM alongside its must-have desserts.
Head on down to Elizabeth Street for a taste of this iconic pie, you definitely won’t miss the vibrant yellow and lime green building!
The Conch Republic Seafood Company
This seafood spot was previously home to the Singleton Fish House and Ice Plant. Built in the late 1940s to process the newly discovered Key West Pink Shrimp, customers get a blast from the past with its original preserved concrete floor, salvaged wood from original docks and authentic shrimp doors.
Located on 631 Greene Street right on the water, seafood isn’t the only attraction. Sloan said people love everything they do, especially their incredible Key lime pie.
Their pies feature a crust infused with nuts and adorned with raspberry sauce, definitely check out this historic spot.
It’s open daily at 11:30 AM. but closing times vary – Island time y’all – so call ahead if you’re planning to visit.
If you like meringue, you’re in luck! Deemed the most “Instagrammable” pie by Sloan, this popular spot located on 729 Thomas Street is known for its whimsical décor and beautiful food.
The restaurant/bar is open from 8 AM to 2:20 PM and 5 PM to 10 PM Monday through Saturday. Sunday’s Blue Haven is open from 8 AM to 10 PM. You can even enjoy some live music as you dine!
This spot is very popular, so getting a seat might be a challenge. If there’s long lines, head on down to their sister property, Salute! On The Beach. Located on 1000 Atlantic Boulevard from noon to 8:30 PM, you can grab a slice of the beautiful pie here too!
Bagatelle Island Restaurant
The fifth and final spot in the running for best Key lime pies in Key West is the Bagatelle Island Restaurant.
Standing on 115 Duval Street, Bagatelle was originally built in the 19th century, and was transformed into a restaurant in 1979. Serving a mouth-watering brunch seven days a week from 9 AM to 4 PM, the restaurant is home to an American-Caribbean style dinner menu and two happy hours from 9 to 11 AM and 4 to 6 PM daily.
Key lime pies in Key West
To round out his rankings, Sloan quoted friend Tom Watson, who likes to say: “The best key lime pie is 100%, all the time, the pie you’re about to eat.”
For Sloan, Key lime pie is definitely about the experience and where you go to eat it. Despite the differences between ingredient elements – meringue or whipped cream, pastry or graham cracker crust – it’s always reminiscent of where it came from.
“Even if you’re back home in Ohio, you grab a slice there, it’s still going to take you back to the place where it was first created,” Sloan says.
Key Lime Pie beyond Key West
Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie Brooklyn, NY
Although Steve’s is located in Brooklyn, NY, its pies are so tasty they earned a feature on Sloan’s list.
With an emphasis on authenticity, CEO Steve Tarpin has been specializing in key lime pies for 29 years and running his business for 23. The Miami native imports cases of limes, hand squeezes them himself and bakes his own graham crackers to include in the crust.
“He does everything 100 percent from scratch,” Sloan said. “He’s authentic to a tee.”
Located on the Red Hook waterfront, Steve’s is open Monday-Thursday noon to 6 PM, and Friday-Sunday noon to 7 PM. On Saturdays and Sundays it’s open at 11 AM.
Blue Collar Miami
Florida is an enormously long state. Most people don’t realize this, but it’s a full 540 miles from Key West on the southern end to Fernandina Beach at Exit 1 on I-95 across the border from Georgia. Key West is 165 miles from Miami even!
If going all the way down to the southernmost point in the continental U.S. is a “bridge too far,” great Key lime pie can be found in Miami at Blue Collar.
Blue Collar’s “Hand Squeezed Key Lime Pie” features a graham crust with fresh whipped crème.
6730 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33138
Open daily, Sunday through Thursday 11:30 AM through 3:30 PM and 5:30 PM to 10 PM; Friday and Saturday 5:30 PM to 10:30 PM.