The competition was fierce.
Armed with sandwich presses, roasted pork, ham, Cuban bread, cheese, pickles and mustard, chefs from eight local restaurants battled to reign supreme in the Cuban sandwich show-down at Magic City Casino Sunday.
Taking the top honor: Sergio’s Restaurant, which has been perfecting its sandwich for 40 years. Coming in second place was Gran Paris Bakery, and in third was Caribe Restaurant. The winners were selected in a blind taste test by a panel of eight judges.
“This is like winning for the whole community,” said Sergio’s manager Raul Abreu, who added that the secret to their sandwich is “a lot of love.”
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Sergio’s will now represent South Florida in the fourth annual Cuban Sandwich Festival in Tampa, March 20-22.
“We hope to win, but the experience is what counts,” Abreu said.
In 2012, Tampa declared the “Historic Tampa Cuban sandwich” as the town’s “signature sandwich.” The declaration led to a friendly debate between Miami and Tampa on the sandwich’s primary ingredients. Tampa insists that it is customary to use salami, while Miami sandwich makers skip it.
The yearly festival in Tampa’s Ybor City draws participants from across the state, but this is the first time a preliminary battle was held in Miami. Festival co-founder Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla said she is expecting more than 30 participants at this year’s festival, including chefs from Pensacola, Jacksonville and Orlando.
But she said Miami’s inclusion will make the competition even tougher.
“The Cuban sandwich is in Miami’s culture and in its blood,” she said. “It will definitely raise the bar.”