Chico’s Cantina (Mexican Food)
5230 US Hwy 1, Stock Island, Florida
Phone: (305) 296-4714
Price Range: Low Moderate
Parking: Free parking Lot
We all have a yen for Italian or Chinese food from time to time. If you’re visiting the Florida Keys, then I’m a firm believer that you use the little time you are here to eat the local foods and experience local cuisine. If you live here then you will want to broaden that spectrum to include what anyone would want if they were home. I think with the infusion of the Spanish speaking cultures in the U.S. I have to add Mexican food to the list of what we now seek in our regular rotation of dining choices. In the instance of Key West specifically I’m afraid you will have to go off island to enjoy this particular ethnic specialty to Chico’s Cantina Restaurant on Stock Island. Of the one or two Mexican restaurants available on Key West proper one is relatively new and yet to prove itself and the other is very beautiful ambiance wise, but expensive for the somewhat unoriginal menu it offers. It’s worth the 5-minute drive to experience Chicos.
I happened on Chico’s about 3 years ago when some friends invited me along after we had a nice day on the water. I was very hungry and I knew Mexican food would be hearty enough to satisfy the depth of that days’ appetite. Unfortunately, Stock Island has gotten a bad rap over the years. It’s expensive to live in Key West proper and this island just over the Cow Key channel bridge from the entrance to the southernmost island has become the affordable residence of choice for those making lower wages in the dominant service industry. Hence, trailer parks, waste disposal, jail, hospital, community college and other lines adding to the Key West support system exist here. Its reputation is slowly improving and you need to head up there on occasion to enjoy some of the “good stuff.”
I consider Chicos one of the best things about Stock Island. You enter just off the main road (route one) into the parking lot, which is pretty full most of the time speaking to its popularity. The greeters are smiling and actually seem to be glad to see my party and me. You can chose indoors with the air conditioning or the rear outdoor garden section. I don’t care if it’s 100 degrees, I always like it in the garden with it’s up lighting and natural surroundings. The Mexican décor is muted enough so as not to be overdone, but representative enough to be true to form if you’ve been to Mexico.
You will be a bit overwhelmed at the choices on the menu, but I haven’t had a reason to be disappointed yet. My favorite is the shrimp enchiladas. I’ve also enjoyed the fish tacos, but you can get as deep into the Mexican cuisine as you like or you can keep it light. I prefer the sangria as beverage of choice to put an exclamation point on the meal. Like all Mexican food you will not come out hungry as it is very rich, but the originality in their menu does flow into the desert section so plan accordingly. I must also mention the creative and distinctive soups and appetizers often using a blend of ingredients I would never have thought of myself.
I don’t claim to be a food expert like a number of chefs I know in Key West, but I know what I like and I know where I feel comfortable. Chico’s wins on both counts. I like to eat here as often as I can and I heartily recommend that you visit this off island Mexican spot whether you’re a local or if you are visiting and the brain is just screaming “Mexican food now!”
Doug Heyman in Key West for the Food Reference Website