The Cubano is a staple in Floridian culture and cuisine, and you’ll find Cuban sandwiches on loads of menus here in the Sunshine State. In fact, there’s an on-going battle between Tampa and Miami over who was the first to ‘invent’ the sandwich stateside. (But I’m not taking sides.) Born from “mixto” sandwiches (sammies with mixes of meats and cheeses), the Cuban made its way north by way of cigar workers from Key West. But each region and restaurant in Florida puts their own, personal touches on the sandwich. Think additions like salami, lettuce, tomato, and onions, just to name a few.
I employed the tastebuds of my best friends to help me sample these classic, Floridian sandwiches from three recommended Gulfport eateries: The North End Taphouse & Kitchen, Habana Café, Annex Coffee House, and the Citgo gas station. Before you derail over reviewing gas station food, let me say this: I am on a mission to find great food. As a chef and small business owner, I don’t discriminate locations. Whether it’s the most popular joint town, a hole-in-the-wall, or (gasp!) a gas station, if it serves good food that’s worth knowing about, I’m up for the adventure. While I wish I could have sampled every Cubano in our area, we chose to stay close to home for this one. Here’s the rundown of my personal favorite Cuban sandwiches in the Gulfport area.
Most Flavorful Cuban Bread (and best combo deal): CITGO Gas Station ($7.99)
The CITGO gas station wins most flavorful bread, hands down. My friends who sampled with me said they’d give the bread alone “14 stars.” It’s buttered with a tasty (albeit, untraditional) combination of roasted garlic and herbs that adds depth of flavor to each bite. This Cuban is definitely less authentic than you would expect, given the seasonings, but it works. However, I really missed the pickles. Sadly, our sandwich had two small pickle rounds found at only one end of the Cuban. CITGO also runs a “Mo’s Lunch Special” where you can get a Cuban and an aluminum (beer) for only $9.99. Some people may be leery of gas station food, and I don’t blame you. It’s a one-man-show behind the counter (the guy making the sandwiches also ran the register the day I ate) and proper food handling and sanitation can prove challenging. So if you’re willing to risk it, CITGO’s Cuban is worth a try, if only for bread itself.
Citgo Gas Station, 5227 Gulfport Blvd. S. 727-328-9178.
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Most Cheese: Habana Café ($11.95)
For a decent, Miami-style Cuban, head to Habana Café. Their sandwiches are deliciously buttered and ultra-thinly-pressed on fresh Cuban bread. Mine oozed gooey cheese, and dripped with mayo/mustard mix, but was disappointingly spare on the pickles. I also would have preferred more meat on my Cuban (as opposed to the thin, deli cold cuts). Perhaps it was my bad when ordering over the phone, but I assumed this “authentic” Cuban would have also come with shredded pork on it? So, be sure to ask for the “#4 pork” as an addition for $3.50 to get the full flavor. Insider tip: While you’re there, don’t pass up a side of Jo’s black beans ($4.95). When they’re not grossly over seasoned, they’re totally addicting and will round out your Cuban experience at Habana Café.
Quickest Service (but fewest pickles): Annex Coffee House ($10)
As we mentioned the Cuban sandwich from Annex Coffee House in a previous “Top Tastes”, we decided to include them in this Cuban roundup as well. As a drive-through coffee stop, they have a limited kitchen, which may explain the modest Cuban. The bread was pressed so it was still crunchy yet soft, and it had melty Swiss cheese — two things I really enjoy in my Cuban. The sandwich came with a combo of salami, ham, and pork, but all deli slices and nothing shredded. Of all the Cuban sandwiches we sampled, this had the saddest amount of pickles — simply one thin slice on the entire sandwich. What’s up with that? I also prefer more mayo/mustard mix on my Cuban, so I was a little disappointed. But for a quick, $10 Cuban on-the-go, it’s not bad. Based on my experience, it would be helpful if Annex listed their operating hours somewhere online and also had a menu available online. But maybe they’re still working out the kinks seeing as they are rather new to the community.
Annex Coffee House, 5133 Gulfport Blvd. S.
Most Authentic Tampa Version (and Best Overall Flavor): The North End Taphouse & Kitchen ($12)
The Cuban sandwich at The North End Taphouse is fantastic. The fresh Cuban bread is buttered and perfectly pressed for the right amount of crunch in each bite without tearing the roof of your mouth. This Cuban was our favorite because it tasted the most authentic (to us) with its trio of meat: sliced ham, shredded mojo pork, and salami. All of it melts in your mouth. Also, of the three eateries we sampled, this was the only locale that didn’t skimp on the pickles, making it delightfully balanced with all of our “expected” Cuban sandwich flavor components. Plus, for only $12, this monster Cubano includes a side. Hats off to The North End Taphouse & Kitchen for slaying this sandwich.
About Top Tastes
Follow along as I sample everything from salads and sushi, to healthy eats and coffee in St. Pete, Gulfport, and the Gulf Beaches. This is a collection of food comparisons from a small sampling of area restaurants. By no means have I dined at every establishment that serves every category of food in this competition. If you disagree with my rankings, that’s totally fine, but please be civil about it. And lastly, you won’t see me writing about Stella’s or the Salty Nun. It’s not that they don’t deserve the love, but my wife owns Stella’s and is part owner of Salty Nun, so in the interest of fairness (and marital harmony), those eateries don’t get to play.