Florida's food scene—from fresh seafood to Publix subs to Mickey-shaped treats—is worth writing home about. 
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Seagrove Village MarketCafé
Credit: Hector Manuel Sanchez

People visit Florida for a variety of reasons: the endless sunshine, the gorgeous beaches, the warm weather, the theme parks, the greenery, the tropical air, the laid-back and breezy style of living…. But the Florida food scene—from fresh seafood to Publix subs to Mickey-shaped treats—is also worth writing home about. 

Across the state, there are regional and statewide specialties to try, all promising to delight your palate with the same zest that makes the Sunshine State famous. From the buzz of Cuban coffee to the euphoric pleasure of a bite of just-right Key lime pie, these are the nine things everyone needs to eat on a Florida vacation.

A Publix Sub

Have you really lived until your appetite has been sated by a Pub Sub? A Floridian would say no. The motto at Publix is "Where shopping is a pleasure," and it's true: Publix grocery stores are the best in the world, hands-down, bar none, and their made-to-order subs at the deli counter are every Floridian's favorite way to get fed fast. You can pick up a Pub Sub for any occasion, from a day at the beach (one Florida couple even created a container specifically designed to keep your Pub Sub dry and sand-free) to a romantic picnic dinner. There's even a dedicated website and Twitter to check whether Publix chicken tender subs—yes, Publix fried chicken tenders on a sub, and, yes, as delicious as they sound—are on sale.

Publix Pub Sub
Credit: Publix

Mangoes

There's a lot to love about a Florida summer, and the arrival of mango season is one of them. The syrupy-sweet fruit may be expensive in your home grocery store, but in a Florida grocery store in the summertime, expect to pay $1 or less per mango (sometimes they go as low as five for $1). And that's if you have to buy one at all—mango tree branches hang heavy all season long, and you'll be doing the owner a favor if you pick a few off their tree to eat (with permission, of course). In neighborhoods throughout South Florida, you'll often see boxes of free-to-take mangoes on any street with a mango tree growing.

Key Lime Pie

You may have tried Key lime pie before. You may even think you don't like Key lime pie. But until you've had a cold slice of Key lime pie made the right way—with tongue-tinglingly tart juice from freshly squeezed Key limes, which are not the same as your typical grocery-store Persian limes—you really haven't tried this craveable dessert in its fullest and most delicious expression. 

Every Floridian has their own signature recipe, and the meringue-vs-whipped-cream debate is controversial in the Sunshine State (the graham cracker crust, however, is not up for discussion, and neither is the proper yellow hue—no Key lime pie should ever be green for any reason). 

The best way to find your personal favorite? Taste-test them all. If not my mom's homemade version, which no store-bought pie could ever beat, my go-to is an ice-cold slice from Mrs. Mac's Kitchen in Key Largo or, for a real indulgence, a frozen chocolate-covered slice on a stick from Mattheessen's or Kermit's in Key West.

Key Lime-Buttermilk Icebox Pie
Credit: Hector Sanchez; Food Styling: Erin Merhar; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

Mickey-Shaped Anything

Disney World is an integral part of the Florida experience, and inside these magical parks awaits another culinary highlight: Mickey-shaped food. My personal favorite is the simple Mickey Mouse ice cream bar, available at snack carts throughout the parks, but you can also get Mickey-shaped pretzels, waffles, cookies, cake pops, Rice Krispie treats, and candy apples for a true only-in-Florida feast. Snap a photo with your foodie finds to capture one of the most classic "Florida vacation" memories to be had.

Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice

If Florida wasn't known as the Sunshine State, it could alternatively be called the Orange State. There are 422,421 acres of oranges growing in this citrus-scented wonderland. Many grocery stores in Florida have orange juice squeezing stations so you can fill your own bottle at the push of a button, but it's also worth acquiring a sack of locally grown oranges and a squeezer to experience the pure liquid sunshine that is freshly squeezed Florida orange juice. Have a cold glass with breakfast to start your day like a true Floridian—and enjoy an immune-boosting blast of Vitamin C.

orange juice
Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Cuban Coffee

If you're in Tampa or Miami, you'll want to start your day with a jolt of caffeine from an authentic Cuban coffee spot. Order a cafecito or a café con leche to experience what makes this Hispanic specialty such a delight to drink. Pair it with a guava-and-cheese pastelito for the full effect, and go back for lunch or dinner: Cuban food is full of spirit and flavor and has been intimately woven into the fabric of the Florida food scene for decades (but you may forever drool over your memories of Florida's impossible-to-replicate ropa vieja and picadillo).

BBQ

Yep, BBQ! While Florida's not exactly known as the BBQ capital of America, its unique take on the mouthwatering cuisine could rival anywhere in the South but is unlike any BBQ you've tried before. (We Floridians also like to point out that BBQ actually originated here with the Taíno tribe slow-roasting meat over a grill, thank-you-very-much.) 4 Rivers Smokehouse, with locations throughout central Florida, is one famous option, but to experience true Florida-style BBQ, head to Tropical Smokehouse in West Palm Beach. Here, you'll find specialties like spicy wahoo dip, mojo pulled pork, BBQ jackfruit, Cajun gator sausage, and brisket empanadas.

Slow-Cooker Chipotle Brisket Sliders
Credit: Victor Protasio; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis

Stone Crabs

Yes, stone crabs belong in the fresh seafood category, but they deserve an entry of their own. This only-in-Florida specialty is in season only from October 15 through May 15, outside of which you can't (or shouldn't) get them. Unlike most Florida seafood, stone crabs are served cold, usually atop a bed of ice. You can get a few small claws or one to two jumbo claws and they're typically quite pricey unless you purchase directly from a local fishmonger. Have them cracked so the hard work is done then dig in, but don't bite down too hard: you pull the sweet, delicate meat from around a thin shard of cartilage with your teeth (sort of like eating an artichoke). Stone crab pairs best with a side of melted butter and mustard sauce. Don't want to DIY this famous Florida feast? Book a reservation at Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach.

Fresh Seafood

You might think you don't like seafood, but keep an open mind when visiting the Sunshine State. From Key West pink shrimp to Apalachicola oysters to bay scallops to Florida lobster to mahi-mahi, grouper, and snapper, the seafood selection in this pleasant peninsula is unparalleled. 

The trick to getting good seafood (and learning to like it if you don't) is to only eat seafood near the sea, where you can confirm with the restaurant that what you're eating is fresh from a local fisherman—never frozen. If you ask for details on the origin of the fish and the waiter can't tell you, order something else. If they say something along the lines of, "It just came in off the boat—our fresh catch of the day was still swimming this morning," you're in the right place. You'll find the best and freshest seafood anywhere close to the ocean. 

When a fresh catch is available, ask for the restaurant's recommended preparation for your order, but my personal favorites are blackened mahi (or grouper or wahoo), seared scallops, lobster served with a side dish of hot drawn butter, and grilled shrimp (though, admittedly, coconut shrimp and fried shrimp are the crowd-pleasers). Just remember that seafood here is so fresh, there's no need to cover the flavor by frying.

Roasted Gulf Shrimp with Romesco Sauce
Credit: Hector Sanchez; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller