What comes to mind immediately when I think of Cuban food is passion and love. Something as simple as black beans can take hours to prepare (including soaking) and that doesn’t account for all the abuelitas who would curse you to hell if you dared to make them without allowing the beans to soak over night. The point? Passion and love are the hidden ingredients to a well done, authentic, Cuban dish. So when the place that has won Best Cuban Sandwich in Tampa in 2019 and 2017 is minutes from your home, you know the girls and I had to check it out. One Outnumbered Father’s review of Las Palmas Latin Grill, Tampa’s award winner of the Best Cuban Sandwich 2019 & 2017. Rules of Court are in place.
We came for the Cuban Sandwich, but ordered several other items as well. I mean, come on, Tengo hambre; quiero jama. I also want to be clear, we took our order to go. So in no way is this a review of service or the actual location; this is simply about the food. However, I should note the place was very clean and everyone there was being taken care of very well.
CHURRASCO with yellow rice and sweet plantains ($23.99)
Perhaps the least “Cuban” item we ordered, but after all, this is a “Latin Grill” and Churrasco is very popular in various Latin countries. The meat was extremely tender, and surprisingly, as I ordered it medium, the temperature was perfect. This is not an easy task as this type of steak can often times come overcooked given how thin it is. Extremely flavorful on its own, but if you slather it with some of the chimi churri (that came on the side), your taste buds will be doing a Salsa in your mouth. Juicy steak indeed and something I will likely order all the time. The yellow rice was flavorful, but nothing to go crazy about and the sweet plantains were nicely cooked, tender, and the obvious-sweet. I say this because I’ve had “sweet plantains” that were pretty bitter. The sides are what they are, and you can choose two of whatever suits your palette; but the Churrasco cannot be looked over and is a must order.
PICADILLO with yellow rice and black beans ($11.19)
So here is what I’ll say about this one. It is not a “Cuban” style Picadillo. Cuban style, to me anyways, has a little more acidity, typically with the addition of nice briny green olives. A Cuban Picadillo also has raisins. This Picadillo did not have that; but, as a reviewer, I cannot really knock Las Palmas for it. After all, they don’t call themselves a “Cuban grill”, they are a “Latin grill”. To be true and fair, this was a very well seasoned, Latin version, Picadillo. The beef was nicely minced, the peas popped in your mouth and the chunks of tomato added a wonderful richness to the dish overall. It’s a good dish- my wife absolutely loved it. But for me, it’s not what I’ve come to love about Picadillo, as my prefer the more traditional Cuban version; so while my wife will forever be a fan of this version, for me, it is unlikely I order this one again.
The black beans, not pictured as it came on the side, were absolutely delicious and a side that I recommend you order with any meal you get.
TAMPA CUBANO ($8.29 for a whole)
The reason we decided to come check this place out in the first place. Hailed as the First Place Award Winning Cuban Sandwich; and they are not shy about telling you about it either. Enter the restaurant, you will see the awards sitting up nice and high above the register. On the menu, you are reminded of the award too! You can imagine how excited this is making me!
Before I get into my feelings on this Cubano, I think a slight history session is in order to understand the origins of this sandwich. In no way am I a professor of history or a historian in all things Tampa Cuban; but a spark notes history lesson is in session 🙂
WHY YOU SHOULD ALWAYS PAY ATTENTION IN HISTORY CLASS KIDS
In the mid, to late, 1800s, the Cuban Tobacco industry really began to take shape in Florida. Back then, it was much easier to travel between Florida and Cuba. Many Cubans came to Key West and Tampa to work in the Tobacco industry. Many came to set up shop in the place we all know and love, Ybor City. Ybor City, at the time, was THE cigar manufacture capital (of America? the world? who cares Cindy! For the purposes of this history lesson, it was THE PLACE to make cigars). Of course Cubans were not the only people around. By this time, you had the Spanish, Italian and other European influences. And for the hustlers, literally rolling up cigars and working hard in the factories, an easy and quick lunch, that wouldn’t cost a whole lot, became a necessity. And while the Cubans had started making their own version (no pork…fish or sometimes bird meat was the go to…yea crazy huh), the Tampa Cuban was created, with a little influence from all the immigrants who were here. The ingredients of a Tampa Cuban are rather simple:
- Pork- (and not bbq pork, nice, slow roasted, marinated in mojo) shout out to the Spaniards
- Swiss Cheese
- Genoa Salami (shout out to the Italians who worked hard with the Cubans in the cigar factories)
- Mustard (some say from the German influence to the sandwich)
- Cuban Bread- not French bread, not toast, CUUBBAAAAANNN BBRRREEAAAD- for a true, authentic Cuban Bread, you know, the one backed with a palmetto leaf, check out La Segunda Bakery
Although offered as options at many places, mayo, lettuce, tomatoes and other toppings are not part of a true, authentic sandwich. Mayo wouldn’t have lasted in the hot Florida days. And yes, our friends in Miami don’t believe that Salami should be included. So let us all bow our heads, and pray for them since they do not know better. AMEN
Now back to Las Palmas awarding winning Cuban. It has all the required ingredients for a true Tampa Cuban; just one (to me) BIG problem. They also include mayo. Sigh. Look, the sandwich is absolutely delicious. It has the nice pressed Cuban bread, the pork was nice and tender with the mojo punch. Close your eyes and bite into this sandwich and you will understand why its an award winning sandwich. HOWEVER, to say its an awarding winning Tampa Cuban sandwich diminishes, in part, the history behind this beautiful sandwich. Again, this is simply my perspective and nothing more. Maybe the version served up to the judges did not contain mayo, who knows. But the Tampa Cubano on the menu, that I tried, had may. It cannot be a Cuban Sandwich if it has mayo. I mean imagine if the best Miami Cuban Sandwich contained Salami- it would never happen. Staying true to the history of what the dish really is, in part, should be factored into judging whether something is the “Best of”. If this was the Best Cuban Sandwich; well, then sure, it may very well be deserving of the title. But at least this year, this sandwich was entered in the “Tampa Historic Sandwich” category- and well, it’s not a historic, authentic, Tampa Cuban Sandwich if it contains mayo.
Will I order this sandwich again? Yes, most likely every time I go because it is damn good.
And it isn’t an Outnumbered Father review if my girls didn’t have a say. These kids eat; especially my baby who honestly eats everything and anything I’ve ever had her try. But perhaps, one of the things they love the most is black beans. And they will be sure to tell you if the black beans “are not good daddy”. I’ve heard it before; but not this time.
Look closely and you will see the black beans smothered all over my baby’s smiling face. And she could not wait to give in to the awesome Yuca Fries.
My 3 year old; well, she was absolutely loving the chicken empanada. Very good flavor, stuffed with the chicken, and for $3.50, you get a pretty big empanada.
No question that passion and love are key ingredients in all of Las Palmas’s dishes. So if you are looking to “kick it up a notch” (to borrow a phrase from my man Emeril) for your next lunch or dinner, check them out. They are located at 6431 E. County Line Rd, Ste 104 Tampa, FL 33647 (just not on Sunday because they are closed).
Just the everyday father giving you his perspective….what you do with it is completely up to you. Eat Well Friends…Cheers!
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