Let’s first consider one potentially surprising debate: The Cuban sandwich did not originate in Cuba. The toasty handheld is said to have originated right here in the Sunshine State — depending on who you ask, the answer could vary from somewhere in Miami, to somewhere in Tampa.
However, Cuban sandwich experts claim that it could’ve actually originated from the Taino tribe in Cuba. Long story short, we don’t really know for sure.
Depending on who you ask in the restaurant scene in Ybor City, it’s said that the first Cuban sandwich of today, was constructed a little over a century ago by regionally famous spots, such as the Columbia. It was engineered within Ybor City to feed the Cuban workers over at cigar factories dotted around the city and then became what we know today (white bread with pork, ham, turkey, Genoa salami, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard).
How do they vary?
If the Taino 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 fish and bird inside the cracker-like sandwich.
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 is, well, not certain. Historically, Tampanians include salami, among the other meats atop their version of the Cuban, while Miamians feel strongly against the inclusion of the lunchmeat.
The Miami version also excludes any lettuce, mayo, or tomatoes, while in Tampa, you might find some, if not all of those additions, atop your sandwich. On top of the meat + toppings debacle, neither side can agree on whether or not the sandwich should be pressed or cold.
Where can I grab one in Lakeland?
We asked our followers on Instagram where the best Cuban sandwich in Lakeland is and here’s what some of you said:
- Highland City Diner | 5221 US-98 | Order their “My Little Friend Cuban” featuring homemade mojo pork.
- Silver Ring Cafe | 106 N. Tennessee Ave. | This spot is cash only, so be sure to bring your money, honey.
- Divicious Deli | 128 E. Main St. | Order the Divicious Cuban, and, if you’re feeling extra, order it with avocado.
- La Imperial Bakery | 830 E. Main St. | La Imperial offers two Cuban sandwich options, including a “Tampa Cuban” featuring, you guessed it, salami.
- Elena’s Cuban Cafe | 2246 E. Edgewood Dr. | At Elena’s, be sure to try their Cuban sandwich stuffed with two croquettes.
- Cuban Delights Cafe | 1039 E. County Rd. 540A | Regulars here rave about the Cuban sandwich, as well as the rice + beans, and the croquettes.
- Julio’s Sandwich Shop | 1825 E. Edgewood Dr. | Our follower, @kimknaisch, claims that Julio’s is the place for a great non-pressed Cuban sandwich.
- Strawberry Hut | 743 E. Memorial Blvd. | With two locations in Lakeland + Plant City, Strawberry Hut offers eight variations of the Cuban sandwich.
- Ole Tampa Cubans | 4525 Florida Ave. S. | Featuring a Mulberry, Lakeland, and Plant City location, Ole Tampa Cubans is a popular spot, not only for Cuban sandwiches but deviled crabs.