The Cuban sandwich’s connection to Florida + where to get one in Lakeland

This classic Florida menu item was created just down the road in Ybor City — since then, it’s become a favorite for Lakelanders on lunch.

A cuban sandwich with avocado.

Customize your Cuban at Divicious, because what’s a classic without a few remixes?

Photo by @eataduck

Table of Contents

White bread with pork, ham, turkey, Genoa salami, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard — the Cuban sandwich is a lunchtime staple here in the Sunshine State. But where did it come from?

The history

Department of Commerce Collection

Cuban sandwiches being made in Ybor City | Photo via Florida Memory

State Archives of Florida/State Archives of Florida

The toasty handheld is said to have originated either in Miami or Tampa. Some also claim that it could’ve actually originated from the Taíno tribe in Cuba.

If you ask anyone in Ybor City’s restaurant scene, you’ll likely be told that the Cuban sandwich you know and love was constructed ~100 years ago at a regionally famous eatery: The Columbia. It was popular among Cuban workers in the cigar factories that dotted the city.

Long story short, we don’t really know for sure. We do know they’re delicious, and you can find them on menus all over Swan City.

Who made it best?


Strawberry Hut Cubans | Photo via @todaywithrae_

If the Taíno tribe really did build the first Cuban sandwich 500 years ago, it was constructed with a yucca bread called casabe. Back then, pork wasn’t readily available, so the tribe would’ve stuffed the cracker-like sandwich with fish and poultry.

Meats such as ham and pork weren’t introduced until Spaniards made their way to Cuba, along with softer bread. Fast-forward to Florida in the 1800s, and the tobacco industry was booming, particularly Cuban tobacco in cities like Ybor, which housed Cuban immigrants. Once variations of the sandwich were brought over to Florida, so too were other influences such as Spanish + Italian (hence the salami).

From the beaches of Miami to the antiquated streets of Ybor, one thing’s for certain: The way a Cuban is made differs regionally. Historically, Tampanians include salami among the other meats, while Miamians feel strongly against the inclusion of lunchmeat.

The Miami version also excludes any lettuce, mayo, or tomatoes, while in Tampa, you might find some, if not all of those additions. On top of the meat + toppings debacle, neither side can agree on whether or not the sandwich should be pressed or cold.

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Cuban Sandwich at Silver Ring Cafe | Photo via @theaustinwalker

Where can I grab one in Lakeland?

Now that you’re good and hungry, try one for yourself at one of these eateries.

  • Cuban Delight Cafe | 1039 E. County Rd. 540A | Regulars here rave about the Cuban sandwich, as well as the rice + beans and the croquettes.
  • Divicious Deli | 128 E. Main St. | Order the Divicious Cuban, and, if you’re feeling extra, order it with avocado.
  • Elena’s Cuban Cafe | 2246 E. Edgewood Dr. | Ask for the Cuban sandwich stuffed with two croquettes.
  • Julio’s Sandwich Shop | 4525 S. Florida Ave., Ste. 33 | Our follower @kimknaisch claims that Julio’s is the place for a great non-pressed Cuban sandwich.
  • The Sandwich Factory | 5024 Lunn Rd. | Multiple readers wrote in to share their love for this shop located off of Pipkin Road.
  • Strawberry Hut | 743 E. Memorial Blvd. | This spot was voted “Best Cuban Sandwich” 15 years in a row — try it for yourself at the Lakeland or Plant City location.
  • Ole Tampa Cubans | 4525 S. Florida Ave., Ste. 31 | This biz has locations in Mulberry, Plant City, and Lakeland — the Lakeland location is in the same plaza at Julio’s Sandwich Shop, just in case you want to try both + compare.
  • West Caribbean Cuban Restaurant | 2215 S. Combee Rd. | Reader Terry D. shared this spot with us. Try the Cubano, an “authentic Cuban sandwich,” for $7.50.
  • Ybor’s Cuban Cafe (formerly Silver Ring Cafe) | 306 S. Central Ave. | This spot claims to serve the “best Cubans in town,” and based on the post’s comment section, they may be right. You can be the judge Monday-Saturday.

Is your favorite Cuban-serving biz not on this list? Tell us about it.

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