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  1. Best Restaurants

Best Cuban sandwich in Tampa Bay

People are passionate about their Cubans. Are these on your list?

The Columbia Restaurant

The Cuban sandwich, Columbia Restaurant style. [JAY CONNER | Times]

Richard Gonzmart spent $30,000 on a multiyear quest to replicate precisely how Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez Sr. made the archetypal Tampa Cuban sandwich in 1915. His version of this Spanish-Cuban-Sicilian-German-Jewish mashup has been demonstrated on ABC’s The Chew; it has been the topic of a CBS News Sunday Morning lengthy tutorial. You can find it at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. It’s layers of Tampa history: ham on the bottom, then pork, salami, cheese, two pickles and yellow mustard, pressed hard between two La Segunda bread slices. I witnessed Hyunmin Cho and Geunmin Kang, owners of the Tampa Sandwich Bar in Seoul, South Korea, travel halfway around the world to eat this sandwich. “We’ve only seen it on YouTube. This is so exciting,” Cho said breathlessly, hefting a sandwich half and peering into its hammy depths. Gonzmart, the ultimate glass-is-half-full guy, is not going to get into a spitting match with Miami over who invented this sandwich, but we could probably get him fired up if we needed him to speak on our behalf. columbiarestaurant.com

Address: 2117 E Seventh Ave., Tampa; and six other locations in the state

Phone: (813) 248-4961

Price: $$-$$$

La Segunda Bakery

Cuban bread from La Segunda Bakery and Café is used to make the pressed Cuban sandwiches at Tampa's new Cuban Foodies Family Restaurant. [DANIELLE HAUSER | Times]

Step into the new location of La Segunda on Kennedy Boulevard, peer at the black-and-white photos and a couple of things occur to you. No. 1: People used to have a lot more gravitas. No one did duck lips or the bathroom-mirror, hand-on-hip selfie. No. 2: This multigeneration bakery has been baking a whole lot of Cuban bread (18,000 loaves a day) for a whole lot of time (since 1915). This location is fancier than the Ybor City original, which focuses more on wholesale, with shiny concrete floors, a community table up front, an area of couches and lounge seating near the barista bar and covered patio seating. You’re going to get a cafe con leche, then the decision is between the Cuban sandwich and the media noche, essentially the same filling - marinated pork, ham, genoa salami, Swiss cheese, pickle - the former on a crusty pressed length of Cuban loaf, the latter on a softer, sweet egg dough bread akin to challah. It is also a source for scachatta, that Tampa oddity, a Sicilian-Cuban collab that reads like something between a pizza and a focaccia with a smear of tomatoey-ground beefy goodness on top. Both bakeries close at 3 p.m., so no dinner. lasegundabakery.com

Ybor City: 2512 N 15th St., Tampa, (813) 248-1531

Tampa: 4015 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, (813) 540-9119

Price: $

Bodega

A cuban sandwich and an Aqua Fresca from Bodega. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

Debbie and George Sayegh took a big chance in 2018, opening a second location of Bodega in Seminole Heights, sharing a space with new cocktail bar Mandarin Heights. And they are gearing up to open a Greek-Lebanese restaurant on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg later in 2019. Nonetheless,

this early EDGE District stalwart continues to tiller a steady boat, with a strong lineup of juices and a dependable menu of what they call Latin street food. Both locations serve mostly the same menu (Sem Heights has shuffleboard as an added allure), with the Cuban and the lechon sandwiches beloved far and wide (they do their Cuban Miami-style, no salami), vegetarians vociferously adding that the grilled and pressed tempeh sandwich with its sweet and spicy slaw is another barn burner. If you are wearing clothes that do not require dry cleaning, another avenue to investigate is the frita of the month, a shock-and-awe Cuban-style burger of different proteins, always topped by a passel of crisp shoestring potato sticks. eatatbodega.com

St. Petersburg: 1120 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 623-0942

Tampa: 5901 N Florida Ave., Tampa, (813) 533-3333

Price: $

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