Florida’s Best Cuban Sandwich is Awarded to Columbia Restaurant

The tradition began in 1903 at a small pub in Tampa where trolley conductors and cigar manufacturing workers drank strong coffee. Columbia Restaurant was established in 1905, and it is now Florida’s largest dining facility, seating 1,700 people.

Columbia Restaurant’s Famous Cuban Sandwich

Florida's Best Cuban Sandwich is Awarded to Columbia Restaurant

Nowadays, you could be forgiven for believing you’re going into a tourist trap. There has to be a catch if a location is constantly listed in vacation guides and “best of” lists (including this one), right? Locals would not bother with something so overhyped. Except that, on any given day, a large portion of those 1,700 seats are filled with Tampa residents.

The entire 52,000 square feet of area smells of baked bread, garlic, and spices. However, it does not feel overly large or commercialized—rather, it resembles a mythical gastronomic castle covered in Spanish tiles, where everyone is invited to the feast.

The Original Cuban Sandwich is the most popular order among both new and returning customers, regardless of whether they are Tampa bronzed or snowbird pale. In fact, Southern Living readers chose it as the finest Cuban sandwich in Florida for our 2024 South’s Finest Awards.

Andrew T. Huse, Tampa Bay historian and primary author of The Cuban Sandwich: A History in Layers, emphasizes that Cubans never referred to it as such. “It was called a mixto (mixed sandwich),” he recollects, “and the ingredients changed over time.”

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What Makes the Best Cuban Sandwich?

Florida's Best Cuban Sandwich is Awarded to Columbia Restaurant

Columbia’s meat sandwich, which includes salami, ham, and roast pig, is based on a century-old classic. So, what makes it special? Huse believes the three most important factors are sugar, fat, and bread.

“They use a form of glazed ham that has a subtle sweetness,” he said. This replicates the technique of Tampa’s early mixto makers, who pressed the meat with heavy tailor’s irons to sear the sugar and create a glaze. Columbia’s sandwich is constructed using pork shoulder rather than pig loin. More marbling helps to keep the meat moist and delicious.

According to The Bread House, a Columbia Cuban’s most valuable asset may be their bread, not their contents. It comes from La Segunda Central Bakery, another century-old Tampa institution that has consistently eluded mass production. “A combination of fan cooling and hearth heating produces a tissue-thin crust on the outside and soft bread on the inside.” “It’s crisp and crumbly, resulting in a ‘bread confetti’ that’s very popular,” he explains.

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The Final Touches

Huse recommends removing the lettuce and tomato from the sandwich and moving them to the side of the plate. “The sandwich is built around fat,” he said. “Adding water (from the toppings) to a hot sandwich just makes it sad.”

Huse believes Columbia’s diagonal cut is their final success. “For the same reason we serve pizza in wedges—it’s more fun to eat corners!”


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