The Cuban sandwich, or Cubano, originating in Cuba’s late 19th or early 20th century, has found a special place in Tampa’s culinary scene. It was popular among Cuban workers, particularly in the cigar factories and sugar mills, who needed a filling and portable meal to take to work. The Cuban sandwich Tampa boasts today is a testament to its creation as a fusion of Cuban, Spanish, and American ingredients, reflecting the diverse influences in Cuban culture at the time.
Featured Image – jeffreyw, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
What We Will Cover
Cubano’s Popularity Began in Florida
The Cuban sandwich gained popularity in the United States, particularly in cities with large Cuban immigrant populations, such as Miami, Tampa, and Key West in Florida. In Tampa, the sandwich evolved to include ingredients like Genoa salami, reflecting the influence of Italian immigrants in the area. As a result, the Cuban sandwich has regional variations, with the Tampa version being distinct from the traditional Cuban and Miami versions.
Today, the Cuban sandwich is popular in many Cuban and Latin American restaurants, delis, and sandwich shops across the United States and beyond. Its combination of flavors and textures has made it a favorite among food enthusiasts worldwide.
Ybor City And the Cubano
Ybor City, a historic neighborhood in Tampa, Florida, played a significant role in popularizing the Cuban sandwich in the United States. Founded in the 1880s by cigar manufacturer Vicente Martinez-Ybor, Ybor City became a thriving industrial hub for cigar production. Workers from various backgrounds, including Cuban, Spanish, Italian, and German immigrants, came to work in the many cigar factories.
This diverse population contributed to the evolution of the Cuban sandwich, as people brought their culinary traditions to the area. In Ybor City, the Italian community influenced the traditional Cuban sandwich, which led to the addition of Genoa salami. This unique variation became known as the “Tampa Cubano” or “Cuban Mix.”
Ybor City’s cigar factories served as a meeting point for workers from different cultural backgrounds, and the Cuban sandwich became a popular lunch choice as a convenient and filling meal. As a result, the Cuban sandwich became strongly associated with Ybor City and the city of Tampa, where it continues to be a celebrated part of the local culinary scene.
In 2012, the city of Tampa even declared the “Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich” as its signature sandwich, highlighting its importance to the local culture and history.
The Best Places to Find a Cuban Sandwich in the Tampa Area
The Columbia Restaurant (Ybor City)
Address: 2117 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605
The Columbia Restaurant is a historic and iconic Ybor City, Tampa, Florida, establishment. Founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez Sr., it is the oldest continuously operated restaurant in Florida and the oldest Spanish restaurant in the United States. The Columbia Restaurant has been owned and operated by the same family for over a century, with the current management being the fifth generation of the founding family.
The restaurant is famous for its authentic Spanish and Cuban cuisine, including its version of the Cuban sandwich. Their Cuban sandwich, also known as the “Original Cuban Sandwich,” is prepared using the traditional ingredients of roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and Cuban bread. It is then pressed to perfection, creating a delicious and crispy sandwich that has become a staple in the Ybor City community and beyond.
In addition to the Cuban sandwich, the Columbia Restaurant is also known for its other signature dishes, such as the “1905 Salad,” paella, and various tapas. The restaurant has expanded over the years and now has multiple locations throughout Florida. Still, the original Ybor City location remains its flagship and is a popular dining destination for locals and visitors alike.
La Segunda Bakery & Cafe
Address: 2512 N 15th St, Tampa, FL 33605
La Segunda Bakery & Cafe is a family-owned and operated bakery in Tampa, Florida, with a history of over 100 years. Established in 1915 by a Spanish immigrant named Juan Moré, the bakery began as a small operation catering to the local Ybor City community. Over the years, it has become an iconic institution in Tampa, renowned for its authentic Cuban bread and delicious Cuban sandwiches.
La Segunda Bakery & Cafe prides itself on maintaining the traditional methods of baking Cuban bread, which is still made by hand using a recipe passed down through generations. The bakery uses only high-quality ingredients and is strongly committed to providing fresh, flavorful products to its customers.
La Segunda Bakery & Cafe has two locations in Tampa, one in Ybor City and another on Kennedy Boulevard, allowing locals and visitors to experience their delicious baked goods and sandwiches at multiple sites. The bakery also ships its famous Cuban bread nationwide, allowing customers from all over the United States to taste Tampa’s culinary history.
Brocato’s Sandwich Shop
Address: 5021 E Columbus Dr, Tampa, FL 33619
Brocato’s Sandwich Shop, established in 1948 by Roy Brocato, is a family-owned eatery in Tampa, Florida, celebrated for its delicious sandwiches, including its famous Cuban sandwich. The shop has a loyal following, thanks to its freshly made sandwiches, generous portions, and welcoming atmosphere. Its Cuban sandwich, made with high-quality ingredients like roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard between fresh Cuban bread, showcases Tampa’s rich culinary heritage.
Brocato’s Sandwich Shop’s unassuming appearance and the casual vibe are part of its charm, as the focus remains on serving great food at affordable prices. This Tampa institution is known for its mouthwatering sandwiches and friendly service, making it a must-visit spot for anyone seeking a delicious, authentic Cuban sandwich experience in the area.
West Tampa Sandwich Shop
Address: 3904 N Armenia Ave, Tampa, FL 33607
West Tampa Sandwich Shop is a beloved local eatery in Tampa, Florida, known for its wide variety of sandwiches, including its popular Cuban sandwich. Established over 20 years ago, the shop has earned a strong reputation for its high-quality ingredients, generous portions, and friendly service. West Tampa Sandwich Shop’s Cuban sandwich, featuring roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on fresh Cuban bread, is a delicious homage to Tampa’s diverse culinary culture.
The casual atmosphere and unpretentious exterior of West Tampa Sandwich Shop invite patrons to focus on the delicious food and reasonable prices. The shop’s popularity has even attracted the attention of celebrities and politicians, including former President Barack Obama, who visited the shop in 2012. West Tampa Sandwich Shop is essential for those seeking a tasty, authentic Cuban sandwich experience in Tampa.
Bodega on Central (St. Petersburg)
Address: 1120 Central Ave, St. Petersburg, FL 33705
Bodega on Central, located in St. Petersburg, Florida, is a vibrant eatery known for its mouthwatering Latin American street food, with a particular emphasis on Cuban cuisine. Established in 2013, Bodega quickly became a local favorite, drawing customers in with its bold flavors, fresh ingredients, and laid-back atmosphere. Their Cuban sandwich, made with succulent roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on fresh Cuban bread, is one of the standout items on their menu, showcasing the best of Tampa Bay’s culinary traditions.
The open-air, casual setting of Bodega on Central perfectly complements its menu of flavorful dishes. The restaurant also offers a variety of other Latin-inspired options, including tostones, empanadas, and their popular “Pollo Asado” sandwich. Bodega on Central is a must-visit destination for food lovers seeking an authentic Cuban sandwich experience and a taste of Latin American street food culture in St. Petersburg.
These are just a few of the many establishments that serve delicious Cuban sandwiches in the Tampa area. Each place has its unique take on the classic Cubano, so be sure to visit a few to experience the full range of flavors and styles available in the region.
Make Your Cuban Sandwich at Home
A Cuban sandwich, also known as a Cubano, is a delicious pressed sandwich made with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and sometimes salami, all layered between slices of Cuban bread. Here’s a recipe to make a Cuban sandwich at home:
- One loaf of Cuban bread (alternatively, you can use French or Italian bread)
- 1/2 lb roasted pork, thinly sliced
- 1/2 lb ham, thinly sliced
- 1/4 lb Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
- 1/4 lb dill pickles, thinly sliced lengthwise
- Yellow mustard, to taste
- Optional: 1/4 lb salami, thinly sliced
- Butter, for spreading
Making A Cubano:
- Preheat a sandwich press, panini press, or a large skillet over medium heat.
- Cut the bread loaf into sandwich-sized portions, about 6-8 inches in length, and then slice each portion in half horizontally.
- Spread a thin layer of mustard on the inside of both halves of the bread.
- Layer the sandwich ingredients on the bottom half of the bread in the following order: Swiss cheese, roasted pork, ham, optional salami, and pickle slices.
- Place the top half of the bread over the ingredients.
- Lightly spread butter outside the sandwich’s top and bottom halves.
- Place the sandwich on the preheated sandwich press or panini press. If using a skillet, place the sandwich in the skillet and press down with a spatula or another heavy pan to flatten the sandwich. Cook until the bread is golden brown and crispy and the cheese is melted, about 3-4 minutes per side if using a skillet.
- Remove the sandwich from the press or skillet, let it cool for a minute, then cut it diagonally in half.
Serve immediately and enjoy your Cuban sandwich!
Note: Traditional Cuban sandwiches do not have lettuce, tomato, or mayonnaise. If you’d like to experiment with different ingredients, feel free to do so, but remember that this will deviate from the classic Cuban sandwich recipe.
Video: Making A Cuban Sandwich
Final Thoughts On Cuban Sandwich Tampa
The Cuban sandwich is more than just a delicious and satisfying meal; it represents the rich history and cultural diversity of Tampa and its surrounding areas. As you embark on your Cuban sandwich adventure, don’t forget to try the different variations and visit the iconic eateries we’ve discussed in this chat. Each establishment offers a unique take on this classic sandwich, providing a true taste of Tampa’s culinary heritage. Whether a local or a visitor, exploring the best Cuban sandwiches in Tampa will surely delight your taste buds and create lasting memories.