Tampa elections and Cuban sandwiches make for a campaign issue to chew on

The Cuban sandwich pictured on City Council member Mike Suarez's campaign mailer includes lettuce and tomatoes, but Suarez said he's not trying to take a side.  (03/02/2015)
The Cuban sandwich pictured on City Council member Mike Suarez's campaign mailer includes lettuce and tomatoes, but Suarez said he's not trying to take a side. (03/02/2015)
Published Mar. 3, 2015

TAMPA — Lettuce and tomato on a Cuban sandwich?

Tampa politics doesn't have much that could qualify as a purity test, but this might be it.

So when voter Danny Thro got a campaign mailer from City Council member Mike Suarez that had a picture of a Cuban with lettuce and tomato, he paused.

"I'm a vegetarian and imagine a Cuban sandwich to be my weak spot if I ever go back to eating meat," Thro said Monday in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. "Maybe that's why I looked so closely."

Such is the place of the Cuban in Tampa. So Thro initiated this email exchange with Suarez:

Thro: what kind of sandwich is this in yr ad?

Suarez: A Cuban Sandwich, of course.

Thro: I think I see lettuce and tomato...where's the pickle? (I don't think Steve Otto would approve). I might add that i received 5 ads in today's mail and you are the only candidate to include contact info. that's a good thing. thanks. and good luck,

Suarez: I appreciate the good luck but I hope I've earned your vote.

On Monday, Suarez said the sandwich portrayed on his mail piece was, well, more non-traditional than traditional. He said he was not taking a side.

"I've had it both ways," said Suarez, who faces Susan Long in today's city election. "It can be good with or without (the lettuce and tomato). My main preference: it has to be pressed."

Still, it's no stretch to say that the Cuban sandwich is something that council candidates have been asked about during this election cycle and on which City Hall has an official position.

At a recent candidates forum sponsored by the Tampa Bay Young Republicans, the last question of the evening was about who makes the best Cuban in Tampa?

Said Suarez: "For me, I love the West Tampa Sandwich Shop, but my children, especially my older son, loves Faedo's."

In 2012, Suarez and his colleagues unanimously voted to make the Ybor City-style Cuban sandwich the "Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich." Not only that, they designated the ingredients — Cuban bread scored on top with a leaf from a palm frond, plus ham, mojo roast pork, Genoa salami, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard and exactly three dill pickle slices — and a step-by-step process for making the sandwich.

The controversy leading up to that vote hinged not on lettuce and tomato, but on salami, which Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said "is either for pizza or subs," not Cuban sandwiches.

"The Cuban sandwich came in a raft from Cuba," Regalado said in a bid to stake Miami's claim to the Cuban.

The rebuttal came from Tampa City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin, who proposed the whole Cuban-as-signature sandwich idea and has a charming way of pronouncing the word, sengwich. ("That's how us kids learned it," she says)

Tampa, she said, was making Cubans more than a century ago, when Miami was little more than alligators.

Still, she enjoyed the debate, and later, when she had a chance to meet Regalado, she had a gift ready.

"I took him a salami."

Contact Richard Danielson at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times