El Siboney is a cool, clean eatery that serves Cuban lunch and early dinner, mostly to locals. It’s off the beaten path, far from Duval Street commotion, and its prices are very reasonable compared to Key West’s more tourist-oriented eateries. The primary language spoken is Spanish (but English is understood), and the walls are covered with pictures and plaques of Latino Native Americans.
Here is a first-rate place to taste grilled garlic chicken, a half-bird with a crisp skin and meat so tender that it slides off the bone when you try to cut it. Plantains on the side are slightly crusty and caramelized around their edges. And yuca, a side dish served with roast pork, beans, and rice, is a revelation not quite like any other vegetable. Soft and glistening white hunks, reminiscent of a well-baked potato, but more luscious and substantial, are served in a bath of heavily garlicked oil and garlanded with onion slices.
Cuban sandwiches are picture-pretty. Made on a length of fragile-texture press-toasted bread that is cut in half at a rakish angle, this Cubano contains ham, roast pork, salami, and cheese with pickles, lettuce, and tomato, mayo and mustard. It is one of many hero-style sandwiches on El Siboney’s menu; other choices include steak, burgers, pork, and fish.
Conch chowder is hale and hearty, loaded with conch and a great opportunity for dunking shreds of the buttered Cuban bread that comes with every meal. The grandest dish in the house is paella Valenciana for two (call ahead; it takes an hour to prepare), a vast fisherman’s stew served with rice, black beans, and plenty of Cuban bread to mop juices. For dessert, you can have Key lime pie, flan, or rice pudding, accompanied by café con leche.