Which restaurants make the best Cuban sandwiches in Florida? Here are 10 of our favorites
Totally craveable Cubanos from Tampa to Miami, Jacksonville to Sarasota, and lots of other cities across the Sunshine State.
Of all the great Florida food and drink creations — and, yes, we're responsible for more here in the Sunshine State than just Key lime pie and rum runners — none have a richer legacy than the Cuban sandwich.
Credit the Tampa neighborhood of Ybor City. That's where Cuban, Spanish and Italian immigrants worked in cigar factories and built up big appetites for the hulking, hand-held meat and cheese masterpiece that premiered there around 1890.
The most famous purveyor of Cuban sandwiches, in fact, still operates in Ybor (pronounced EE-bor), serving the same winning combination of ham, pork, salami, Swiss, pickle chips, yellow mustard and soft butter on traditional Cuban bread, which is made with the assistance of fresh palmetto leaves. Of course, the beloved sandwiches are served throughout the state now, everywhere from public school cafeterias to fine-dining establishments, both Tampa style (with salami) and the Miami version (no salami).
To find out which restaurants make the most craveable Cuban sandwiches, check out the picks from our USA TODAY Network contributors based in communities across Florida. Presented in alphabetical order, these are restaurants that have been perfecting their Cubanos for decades, with that certain Ybor City restaurant recently celebrating its 115th anniversary.
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Casa Rojas Cuban Bakery
728 Pine Island Road, Cape Coral; 239-573-9998; find it on Facebook
In Cape Coral, halfway between Tampa and Miami on the state’s Gulf Coast, Cuban sandwiches are ubiquitous. You’ll find them at gas stations, at farmers markets, at waterfront fine-dining restaurants. But none of those places can compete with Casa Rojas. This Cuban bakery does not play when it comes to its Cubanos. It starts with the bread, baked in house with just the right touch of lard to keep the dough supple with a shattering crunch to the crust. Then there’s the lechon, slow roasted till juicy and tender, offering a savory balance to the layers of sweet ham.
Tying it all together are melting slices of Swiss, bright mustard, dill pickles. Casa Rojas doesn’t skimp on any of these things. It packs in as much as its warm-from-the-oven loaves can handle, then smashes it all together in a press, fusing this mass into something hefty yet mouthwatering. The result is greater than the sum of its parts: crunchy, salty, gooey, meaty. It’s a Cuban sandwich unlike the others, and it’s flat-out delicious. — Annabelle Tometich, The (Fort Myers) News-Press
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multiple locations; columbiarestaurant.com
Founded in Tampa's Ybor City and recognized as the oldest restaurant in Florida, Columbia has been owned and operated since 1905 by five generations who've all thoroughly understood that their Cubano is much more than merely an outstanding sandwich, it's hand-held history. "Tampa was like the sandwich, a mixture of cultures and food," Columbia's website notes. "The Spanish brought the fine ham, the Sicilians the Genoa salami, the Cubans the mojo-marinated roast pork, the Germans and Jews the Swiss cheese, pickle and mustard."
The ingredients, as tasty as they are culturally significant, are placed on freshly baked Cuban bread from nearby La Segunda Central Bakery — which was established in 1915 and still places a fresh palmetto leaf across the top of the dough to contain the moisture — and then pressed. The pressing process toasts the bread to crispy perfection and melts the cheese, as well as brings all the flavors together, or, as the Columbia puts it, "renders the juices of the ingredients." The sandwich is served with a side of lettuce and tomato, which I have never once used.
In addition to the iconic original in Tampa’s historic Ybor City neighborhood, Columbia has a beautiful, largely open-air restaurant on Sarasota's St. Armands Circle that opened in 1959, as well as locations in St. Augustine, Sand Key on Clearwater Beach, Central Florida’s town of Celebration, the Columbia Cafe on the Riverwalk in downtown Tampa at the Tampa Bay History Center, and the Columbia Restaurant Cafe at Tampa International Airport. Plus, during its monthlong, 24th annual Community Harvest program in September, Columbia donates five percent of all diners’ checks to charities selected by the guests at each of its locations.— Wade Tatangelo, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
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Fernandez the Bull
multiple locations; fernandezthebull.com
Fernandez the Bull might be something of an introduction for the less knowledgeable of the finer joys of Cuban cuisine. Like golden ham croquetas, steaming hot, and Cuban coffee so packed with caffeine you’ll vibrate for a week.
This family operation opened in Southwest Florida thanks to Luis Fernandez more than 30 years ago and has two Naples locations and one in Key Largo. The team dishes yuca bites, mini empanadas, and four different kinds of a Cuban sandwich. There’s the “traditional,” stacked with ham and roasted pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and mayo. There’s the Naples Cuban, replete with bacon. The Keys Cuban comes with homemade lobster mix.
Or you can go for their namesake iteration: The Fernandez Cuban, which is served with shredded pork and sliced ham, white American cheese, pickle and mustard. Whatever you pick, you can expect it to be delicious.— Andrew Atkins, Naples Daily News
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Havana Jax Café
2578 Atlantic Blvd., Jacksonville; 904-399-0609; havanajax.com
“So good, so good,” the waiter, dressed in a shirt and tie, says as you order the Cuban sandwich at Havana Jax. He’s not wrong. No salami in this sandwich, but piles of ham and roasted pork, topped with Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles, just the way a (Miami-style) Cuban sandwich is supposed to be, with just the right blend of sweet and savory on pressed Cuban bread.
Havana Jax shares a space with a nightclub, so the lunch and dinner experiences can be quite different. Stop in at lunch (it’s just off I-95, in the bustling St. Nicholas neighborhood across the river from downtown) and you’ll find a big, airy room, and another one next door.
You can order a whole Cuban, a half Cuban and soup, or a Midnight, which has the same ingredients but is served on sweet egg bread. Hard to beat that for 10 bucks. — Tom Szaroleta, The Florida Times-Union
J.R.’s Old Packinghouse Cafe
987 S. Packinghouse Road, Sarasota; 941-371-9358; packinghousecafe.com
Built around a funky shack of a structure found in a part of Sarasota rarely visited by tourists, J.R.’s Old Packinghouse Cafe brims with Old Florida charm. It also serves a sublime Cubano, Miami style. That's because owner and chef J.R. Garraus is from Miami, and to him and others from South Florida, that means no salami, no matter what, on a Cuban sandwich. Like Columbia Restaurant, though, J.R. employs Tampa's La Segunda Central Bakery for their premium Cuban bread.
The sandwich arrives at the table bursting at the seams with filling, the crisp finish to the bread just begging to be clutched, crunched and devoured. Sink your teeth through the exterior that explodes with flaky crumbs and you find a generous helping of gooey Swiss cheese, firm sliced pickles, sweet ham, and, at the bottom, the star of the show, a pile of slow-roasted shredded pork. The bread, by the way, is slathered with just the right amount of butter and a dab of spicy brown mustard, instead of the traditional yellow. It's a small, judicious, variation that really sets off each of the pork products. — Wade Tatangelo, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Luis Galindo Latin American
When I think Miami-style Cuban sandwich, I’m transported decades back in time. I’m seated at a counter stool at the old Galindo brothers’ Latin American Cafetería on Coral Way, watching the sandwich-maker carve pork and ham with ninja-like sweeps of his knife. In the eyes of a hungry reporter on lunch break, this was the best midday show in town.
Each sandwich assembly sparked its own percussion as the Cuban ninja’s knife tapped the cutting board. He’d warm up the meats on the sandwich plancha before layering them neatly with Swiss cheese slices upon mustard-schmeared and pickle-dotted Cuban bread. He’d butter the top and toast the creation on the sandwich plancha. The result was a masterpiece of perfect edges, toasty bread that held the meats and the slightest swoon of Swiss. That cafetería is long gone, but the Galindo’s Latin American name and influence lives on in a couple of other cafés. — Liz Balmaseda, Palm Beach Post
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Mervis’ Café & Grille
402 S. Fifth St., Fort Pierce; 772-462-6600; merviscafe.com
Mervis’ Café & Grille is popular on the Treasure Coast for its Cuban sandwich — featuring mustard, salami, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and pork — as well as its various other authentic Latin dishes and café con leche. It’s named after owner Ivel Sierra’s mom. His grandparents and parents, all born in Cuba, moved from Miami to West Palm Beach in 1970 and opened a convenience store with Cuban food. Sierra’s grandfather called it Mervis’ Grocery. “At that time in West Palm Beach, there was a very small Cuban population, and most of that Cuban population was in the downtown area,” Sierra said. “Where we were at (west of town), there wasn’t really that accessibly of that food.”
Three decades later, as the family faced losing the store to eminent domain because of the expansion of Southern Boulevard, Sierra’s brother opened the cafeteria-style restaurant in Fort Pierce in 2001. The whole family moved to town, and Sierra took over in 2008. His wife, Ivelisse, who was born in Puerto Rico, manages the finances of the café and helps out everywhere. “Everybody loves this type of food, this type of culture,” Sierra said, “and they enjoy it.” — Laurie K. Blandford, TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers
Mi Apá Latin Café
114 SW 34th St., Gainesville; 352-376-7020; miapalatincafe.com
Though many confine the great Cuban sandwich debate to Tampa and Miami, North Central Florida residents need look no further than Gainesville’s Mi Apá. The cafe was founded in 2003 by Peter Ynigo, who was born and lived in the Cuban countryside, Pinar del Río, until he was seven years old. His family then moved to Miami to join his grandparents, who had immigrated years before because of the revolution. Ynigo said his favorite traditional Cuban sandwich is the one he grew up with: Miami-style without salami. It is Mi Apá’s bestseller.
But his restaurant also offers three other versions for customers who disagree or want to sample the other Cuban sandwich options. You can try Ybor-style, with salami; Key West-style, with lettuce and tomato; or Miami-club-style, with lettuce, tomato and turkey. Mi Apá is named for Ynigo’s father, who helped source authentic Miami ingredients for the restaurant, and it is known for its fast service and affordable pricing. The cafe has a second location in Alachua and has announced plans to open a third in Jonesville.— Danielle Ivanov, The Gainesville Sun
8010 N. Atlantic Ave. Cape Canaveral; 321-783-9519, find it on Facebook
These days, lots of fancy, schmancy places offer equally fancy versions of the humble Cuban sandwich. But some things can’t be improved with aioli and artisan cheese; the best Cuban sandwiches are found at cafes tucked into older shopping centers off the main drag. Such is the case with Vargas Café in Cape Canaveral.
Vargas isn’t a big place, with two tables and three seats at the counter. The bread on the Vargas Cubano is pressed to perfection, crisp enough to have texture, while still easy to bite. The pork is tender, the cheese gooey-delicious. It comes in regular or spicy, but don’t let “spicy” scare you away. Pico de gallo and a sprinkling of hot sauce add zing, not tongue blisters. Enjoy with a side of maduros for lunchtime perfection. — Suzy Fleming Leonard
3555 SW 8th St., Miami, 305-444-0240; versaillesrestaurant.com
Forget that it’s named after a palace in France, this iconic Miami Cuban restaurant is an obligatory stop for seekers of authentic Cuban grub in the Magic City. The authenticity extends to the classic Cuban sandwich, which Versailles calls “Our Famous Cuban Sandwich.” The menu offers a larger version called the “Special Cuban Sandwich.” You can enjoy your “sanguiche cubano” in one of Versailles’ sunny and ornately mirror-lined dining rooms and at the onsite bakery café. Or grab one (with a side of politics du jour) at Versailles’ iconic take-out window.— Liz Balmaseda, Palm Beach Post
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