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Cuban Sandwich Festival will crown new champ in Ybor

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2014 at 10:43 AM

The search is on to once again find the best Cuban sandwich.

The third annual Cuban Sandwich Festival kicks off this weekend for two days of events centered around Tampa’s official sandwich.

More than 22 restaurants, most of them local, will battle it out for best sandwich — and bragging rights — in traditional and non-traditional categories.

“The Cuban sandwich doesn’t belong to any one culture,” says Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla, president of Latin Times Media Inc. and co-creator of the Cuban Sandwich Festival, along with her husband, Victor Padilla. “It has flavors from different cultures and that bonds the community symbolically. Everyone puts their own spin on (the sandwich).”

The two-day festival is a fundraiser for the couple’s 3-year-old granddaughter, Emberlynn Padilla, who was born with a birth defect called congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a malformation of the diaphragm.

The festival gets underway at 10:30 a.m. in Centennial Park with the best nontraditional sandwich, featuring ingredients such as plantains or bacon and sandwiches that have been deep fried, followed by traditional judging, for sandwiches made with mustard, pickles, Swiss cheese, roasted pork, ham and salami.

More than a dozen judges will put their taste buds to the test choosing the winners.

Back this year to defend their back-to-back wins in the traditional category will be Faedos On The Go food truck.

“We’re so excited to compete again,” said Michelle Faedo. “I think Tampa knows and appreciates a good Cuban made with quality and love.”

And Tampa loves a good Cuban sandwich competition. An estimated 20,000 people flocked to last year’s sandwich fest.

It also enjoys a Cuban smack-down.

The signature sandwich spurred a culinary battle in 2012 between Tampa and Miami for best sandwich. Even its origins were hotly debated.

Between judging Saturday, visitors can peruse and shop from vendors selling arts and crafts, food, fashion, jewelry and more at the Ybor City Market, and enjoy live performances by Cuban group Sol y Son and Salsa Swing.

On Sunday, the sandwich celebration picks up at 11 a.m. at Hillsborough Community College’s Ybor Campus with an

awards presentation and the building of “The World’s Biggest Cuban Sandwich.” Last year’s creation measured 49 feet and was donated to a local food bank.

The festival has been so successful that semi-final competitions will be held next year across Florida cities, Gonzalez-Padilla said, with the winners competing in the Tampa festival.

“The Cuban sandwich is popping up on menus all over the country,” she said. “Everyone thinks their sandwich is the best, so we want to bring them in the mix so we can continue to grow (this event) and take it to the next level.”

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