But, really. There’s no way to properly execute this year’s Food Issue without paying a little extra homage to the sandwich that keeps Tampa Bay — and its visitors — coming back for more: the Cuban, traditionally composed of roast pork, ham, Swiss, pickles, mustard and, yes, salami.
Food Network star Alton Brown was remarkably unsatisfied with the four Cuban sandwiches his fans suggested he try while in the neighborhood a couple months ago (though he did take Tampa’s side in the never-ending argument about the not-Miami birthplace of the sando.) I believe he said, “In reality, I don’t have a perfect Cuban,” after completing his blind tour-bus taste test.
Luckily, this rundown of our 10 favorite Cubans around the region, as chosen by CL staff and readers, offers options with both classic elements of the local staple and some rule-breaking dressings, including tomato, lettuce and avocado. It’s a list that everyone, no matter where they fall on the that’s-not-a-true-Tampa-Cuban spectrum, can enjoy.
AGUILA SANDWICH SHOP
No list of beloved Cubanos is complete without a visit to this West Tampa mainstay. Here, the sandwich, which you should order traditional style (aka no mayo, lettuce or tomato), is how you’d imagine the Cuban’s inventors intended it to taste those many years ago, and considering Aguila has been around for 30 years, I’d say the place has pretty good authority. 3200 W. Hillsborough Ave., Tampa, 813-876-4022. —Chris Fasick
Ybor City is lacking in true veggie options. But at this hip spot, the veggie Cuban dazzles. Vegans need to ask for it without cheese or honey mustard — and even without those two ingredients, the sandwich is still pretty tasty. Admittedly, it’s the honey mustard and avocado slices that really hit the spot. 1327 Seventh Ave., Tampa, 813-247-1785, thebricksybor.com. —Kate BradshawCITGO
When Gulfport elected Mayor Sam Henderson the first time, he served the Citgo Cuban at his victory party. Sammy (no need for a last name — locals know him and his now-famous Cuban) makes a fresh batch every morning, pressing them to order, and come lunchtime, you’ll find a crowd waiting for perfectly smushed compilations of ham, bread, mustard and all the rest of your traditional Cuban fixin’s. I’d say this is not only the best local gas-station Cuban, it’s the best Cuban I’ve tasted. Ever. 5227 22nd Ave., Gulfport, 727-328-9178. —Cathy Salustri
Ordering your sandwich Cubano, or con todo (with everything), from Florida Bakery is just about as fun as taking a seat on a barstool and people-watching as you eat. The portion is probably one of the heartiest in the area, and while there isn’t anything particularly jaw-dropping about individual elements, the sandwich as a whole (lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard, ham, pork, Swiss and perfectly pressed Cuban bread) is one of the most glorious things that could ever land in a hungry belly. Factor in a fast-paced, take-no-shit staff and what you have is a must-do West Tampa experience. 3320 W. Columbus Drive, Tampa, 813-870-0756, floridabakerytampa.com. —Ray Roa
Now here’s a proper Cuban. Thirty-odd miles removed from Ybor City, Largo is home to Havana Harry’s, a market and café that houses arguably the best-crafted Cuban on the peninsula. The pork is second-to-none. The ham is perfecto. And in true Tampa fashion, it’s equipped with salami. Swiss, mustard, pickles and not-so-Tampa mayo, all loaded and toasted on bread delivered straight from Ybor’s La Segunda Central Bakery. 13932 Walsingham Road, Largo, 727-596-5141, havanaharrysmarket.com. —Colin O’Hara
LA SEGUNDA CENTRAL BAKERY
It’s the bread, stupid — the bread (see last item) that has launched countless Cubanos since the Moré family set up shop in Ybor more than a century ago. The rest of the ingredients ain’t too shabby, either, the pork, salami, ham, swiss, pickle and special sauce all in order and all fresh and delicious. But a warning: If the cashier asks if you want everything on your Cuban, and you say yes, then expect to get (“Horrors!” scream the traditionalists) lettuce and tomato. You’ll still want to eat the whole thing anyway. 2512 N. 15th St., Tampa, 813-248-1531, lasegundabakery.com. —David Warner
LA TROPICANA CAFÉ
There’s a breakfast Cuban here, but go for the O.G., even if it’s 8 a.m. Lightly toasted Cuban bread, a thin slice of Swiss and moist jamón, plus authentic and charmingly wizened roast pork, come together with dabs of mayo, mustard and the cutest little pickle slices for a sandwich that goes great with the Ybor joint’s fantastic Spanish bean soup. 1822 E. Seventh Ave., Tampa, 813-247-4040. —Ray Roa
LATIN AMERICAN SUPERMARKET
A white paper bag printed with the word “Delicious!” contains your mix of ham, pork, salami and Swiss — all freshly sliced — from the Latin American Supermarket. Authentic is the first thing that comes to mind for this Cubano and the grocery store, complete with meat market and deli. The sandwich tastes better than it looks (and really, as a rule, if it looks a bit iffy, that’s actually a good sign) and yes, it highlights a few American embellishments. But the meat is flavorful and fresh and the bread is undeniably Cuban: not too doughy, crunchy yet soft, and ever-so-lightly grazed with hints of butter. 7601 Palm River Road, Tampa, 813-623-3701. —Lis Casanova
MICHELLE FAEDO’S ON THE GO
If I had to pick one word to describe what sets apart Michelle Faedo’s celebrated traditional Cuban from the others locally, it’d simply be: taste. A fixture of this now-mobile mainstay, Michelle Faedo’s Cuban is packed with flavor all the way through, from the fresh herbs pressed onto the bread to the uber-juicy, piled-high pork. Various locations, Tampa Bay, 813-784-6933. —Chris Fasick
WEST TAMPA SANDWICH SHOP
In the shadows of what seems like a picture of every politico in Tampa, a very unique (and now presidential) take on the city’s beloved sandwich, the Honey Cuban “Obama Sandwich,” lives to make sandwich-eaters smile. As the story goes, former President Obama ordered the house specialty — a Cuban with a brush of honey on one bun — on a September 2012 afternoon, and the West Tampa Sandwich Shop subsequently named it after him. With its juicy sliced ham and moist roast pork, all buoyed by a healthy slathering of mayo, it’s truly one of the best Cubans in town no matter who you voted for. 3904 N. Armenia Ave., Tampa, 813-873-7104, westtampasandwichshoprestaurant.com. —Ray Roa