El Meson de Pepe – El Meson de Pepe is a lovely Cuban Restaurant located on the edge of Mallory Square in Key West. It’s located in an old brick warehouse that used to be a holding area for the wrecking industry in the bad old days of Key West’s salvaging heyday. The location of El Meson de Pepe couldn’t be better, since one of the main entrances to the waterfront area of Mallory Square is right past their doors. The bar and indoor dining area are located inside the mammoth brick building and the outdoor patio area is across a small pathway, along which hundreds of tourists on their way to from the Sunset Celebration in Mallory Square pass every day. The patio area is gorgeous, with a crumbling wall surrounding cobblestone floor, fountain in the center and overhanging large canopy of trees overhead. It’s picture-perfect and you couldn’t find a better setting for dining in Key West, especially a Cuban restaurant.
That said, the food was disappointing. Our party of four ordered the squid-shrimp-mushroom appetizer and it was pretty tasty although pretty expensive for an appetizer at $16. It arrived with the meals so by the time it arrived we would have gobbled up anything. The basket of bread and crackers they gave us in the meantime was full of dry strips of bread with fake butter spread on them, and the crackers were stale. Compared to another Cuban restaurant across town, even the bread basket was very disappointing. One of us got Ropa Vieja, a very small helping of it by the way. Very small! Another of our party got a combination platter whch included tamales so dry and tasteless we weren’t sure whether we were eating corn meal or corn husks. One thing which was excellent was the side orders of plantains that came with each dish. They were simply divine, with perfect smooth texture, rich sweet taste. One us had ordered the “marinated then deep golden fried pork cubes” and they were so tasteless they couldn’t be eaten. Thank goodness for the plantains! The pork cubes were dry and rubbery and definitely not deep fried at all, and no signs of any golden batter. They were just strange tasting cubes of pork, and not so fresh tasting.
Our waiter was very pleasant and pretty good at being attentive. She was there when we needed her, but not overbearing. When we asked for a wine list, she brought it right away, but then forgot to come back to take our wine order. But otherwise she was great. She added to the great ambiance of the Cuban restaurant atmosphere. Also adding to the ambiance were the small group of feral cats hanging out on the wall that surrounded the restaurant. They lurched over diners’ tables eyeing the food but never jumped down to take action until the diners left. The polite feral cats definitely counted as one of the highlights of El Meson de Pepe Cuban restaurant.