The Cuban Sandwich Festival: A Memorial Day weekend mainstay in Ybor City

Husband and wife Victor Padilla and Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla organized the first Cuban Sandwich Festival at Ybor City's Centennial Park in May of 2012 to celebrate the heritage and food Padilla grew up with in Tampa.

Over the years, the festival has become an Ybor institution - just like the sandwich it celebrates. The 13th annual Cuban Sandwich Festival hits historic Centennial Park from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday, May 26th and Padilla expects a crowd as large as 25,000. They will come for Latin music by the bands Revelacion Salsera and Orquesta INFINIDAD, vendors selling jewelry, clothing and other cultural items, Cuban sandwich-inspired art and, of course, the food. 

The slew of food vendors will include the contestants The festival is also a Cuban sandwich competition with four categories: traditional with or without salami; Tampa historic with salami; non-traditional (past entries have included wontons, egg rolls, Monte Cristos and pastelitos with Cuban sandwich ingredients); and most popular as decided by crowd voting. 

Since launching in 2012, the festival has attracted contestants from across the country and the world, including South Korea, Japan, England and France, Padilla says. It’s also expanded to include festivals in Kissimmee, Fort Myers, Miami and Jacksonville that serve as preliminary competitions to the big event, which is always in Ybor on Memorial Day weekend.

Padilla says scheduling the festival on the long holiday weekend helps bring business to area restaurants and hotels. People may come into town on Friday, eat at a restaurant sponsoring the festival, spend Saturday checking out some of the restaurants with sandwiches in the competition, go to the festival on Sunday afternoon, and have dinner at a restaurant that night.

“Usually they get full on Cubans, then take a break,” Padilla says. “Later, they go eat dinner at some place in Ybor or downtown, stay the night at a hotel, and leave Monday.”

Making the world’s largest Cuban sandwich is another staple of the festival. That happens on day two of the festival, which this year is scheduled for late July. Padilla says they will try to surpass the 335-foot sandwich from this year’s Kissimmee festival by making a 350-foot Cuban on Saturday, July 27th at One Buc Place, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training facility. That day will have a Cuban sandwich competition featuring winners from past festivals.

Padilla says Guinness World Records representatives have indicated they will officially recognize the Cuban sandwich as a distinct category with its own official world record. He hopes to have a Guinness World Records representative at the July event. If they don’t make it, a film crew documenting the event will send them video, Padilla says. Like years past, the world’s largest Cuban will be donated to feed the homeless.

For more information, go to Cuban Sandwich Festival.
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Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.