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Smoked mullet — Caspers Express BBQ, St. Petersburg
Millions of visitors flock to Florida each year for its glorious beaches, vibrant culture, and bustling nightlife. But locals know the food alone is worth the price of the flight to get there.
The Sunshine State is where you'll find cuisine distinct from anywhere else in the South — from nitrogen ice cream made with Key limes and guava to fresh-caught mullet smoked over mangrove wood.
Here's where to find six Florida foods beloved by locals.
Conch fritters — Chef Creole, Miami
Celebrity chefs like Eddie Huang and Andrew Zimmern trek to Chef Creole in Miami's Little Haiti to devour some of the best conch fritters in Florida — and you should, too.
Owner Wilkinson "Ken" Sejour knows that it's hard to get this beloved Florida delicacy just right — the batter can't be too thick or too flaky, and you can't be skimpy with the conch. For just you get five to six large conch fritters served with two dipping sauces.
Chef Creole has sprouted four new locations since opening in 1992, but we like the outdoor gazebo at the 54th Street restaurant for its relaxed vibe and fantastic people watching. Heads up: You might want to wear pants with an elastic waistband.
Nitrogen ice cream with locally sourced milk and fruit — Lulu's Nitrogen Ice Cream,Miami
Lulu's Ice Cream
Miami is jam-packed with ice cream and gelato shops, but Lulu's is different. The shop's owner, Luisa Santos, makes popular nitrogen ice-cream flavors like honey lavender and guava goat cheese by swirling together locally sourced fruits from the Florida Redlands and milk from Dakin Dairy Farm's grass-fed cows at a staggering minus 321 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lulu's is the ideal treat on a warm Miami afternoon, and the parlor's interior is so cute you'll feel as if you've stepped into the physical manifestation of an Etsy shop. Make sure to check out the weekly menu to sample ice cream made with the seasonal ingredients such as Key lime and passion fruit.
Gator sandwiches — Skipper's Smokehouse, Tampa
If you consider yourself to be an adventurous eater then you have to try alligator, and Skipper's Smokehouse is one of the best places to go for it. Locals know that while gator sounds exotic, its flavor is surprisingly mild, making it the perfect base for delicious seasonings and smoked goodness. Order Smokehouse's gator ribs, gator sandwiches, or fried gator tail — and then finish your dinner with a slice of Key-lime pie before rocking out to live music at the Skipperdome backyard concert area next door.
Local produce from a 7,000-square-foot organic farm — Whisper Creek Farm: The Kitchen, Orlando
"Farm to table" is a foodie buzz term, but Whisper Creek Farm: The Kitchen doesn't play around. You'll find the real thing on this 7,000-square-foot organic fruit and vegetable garden surrounded by 120 pineapple plants.
While the menu changes with the seasons, locals love to start with the Daily Harvest Salad before moving on to dishes like the spring vegetable baked rigatoni with broccoli, peas, artichokes, and sharp cheddar or the surplus-brined chicken with corn succotash. And yes, there's a chicken coop on site.
After dinner, lounge in one of the hammocks on the adjacent 11,000-square-foot lawn, or go for a stroll under the 18 citrus trees bearing tangerines, kaffir limes, and kumquats.
Minorcan chowder with datil peppers — Sunset Grille, St. Augustine
Sometimes you have to venture to an old city to taste new flavors. Locals are obsessed with St. Augustine's Sunset Grille for its bounty of fresh Gulf Coast seafood, but if it's your first time you must order the Grille's signature dish: Minorcan clam chowder with datil peppers.
Datil peppers arrived in Northeast Florida in the 1500s with Spanish settlers and quickly became a cornerstone of St. Augustine cuisine. Their unmistakable blend of spicy and sweet adds just the right amount of heat to balance Minorcan chowder's creamy base. Sunset Grille's version is so good that it repeatedly places in the top three chowder joints in St. Augustine at the city's annual Great Chowder Debate.
Smoked mullet — Casper's Express BBQ, St. Petersburg
Venturing into a shack on the side of a country road is one of the best ways to enjoy authentic Floribbean specialties like smoked mullet and amberjack. Dan Cantera, owner of Casper's Express BBQ, catches fresh fish every morning and then barbecues or smokes it over mangrove wood, the original fuel used by Tampa Bay fisherman to smoke fish.
Whatever you do, don't skip Casper's smoky and creamy Florida fish dip. Cantera blends smoked mullet with cream cheese, sour cream, and a dash of Tabasco to create a heavenly Gulf Coast spread. For the freshest fish, visit during peak mullet season, September through December.
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