The original? That’s a bold claim, Pipo! A boooold claim. Man, Tampa is clamoring with awesome Cuban places. I love it. I LOVE IT! D:< Seriously it’s pretty awesome. But that usually means you’re up against stiff competition. So saying you’re “the original” when you were established in 1979 is kinda ridiculous. But i’ll let it slide, Pipo!
Alrighty. Pipo’s Cuban Cafe, located on Dale Mabry just north of Hudson (but with two other locations in Tampa), is set up in a strip mall, next to a pet store and a Carraba’s. Wacky company. But it stands out in the plaza. It’s about the size of a Moe’s, big enough to seat a few different groups of people, but not huge. You stand in line and order, and then they will bring your food out to you when it’s ready. They do have television sets. But the staff was super nice, so that’s a plus.
I knew going in that I was going to have to order a Cuban sandwich. My friend got one too, and a bowl of rice with black beans. I also picked up a potato ball because… come on… potato balls.
After this potato ball, I think I’ve pretty much decided I will no longer photograph them. They are always delicious, and I will likely continue to order them, but they all look the same. Also, they all largely taste the same. The differences come in how crispy they are. The only time I had one that tasted any different was at Bearss Sandwiches, where they pre-hot sauced their potato balls (and it was awesome). At Pipo’s, they had them sitting out, and then they nuked ‘em in a microwave for like thirty seconds. That, I must say, is kind of a turn off. But surprisingly it turned out to be crispy and warm all the way through. So, once again – all potato balls are the same! (potato racist)
I stupidly did not snap a picture of my friend’s rice, which is regrettable because I thought it was particularly lousy. It was dry and nasty, and the beans were all old and cracked. When he ordered it, I expressed my dissatisfaction that he didn’t go with their yellow rice, which looked like they actually cared about it. And I love yellow rice. Anyway, I tried this rice and black beans, and I was thoroughly upset. Luckily my tears helped moisten the dry rice.
And finally, the main event: the Cuban, or as they call it, Cuban “The Real Deal”. It was… I mean I guess it was the real deal. It was served with plantain chips, which I think are pretty cool, but I am not a big fan of. I set those to the side and studied the Cuban. I had to order it without mayonnaise, because Pipo’s is yet another Cuban restaurant that insists that mayo is supposed to be on a Cuban sandwich. NOT SO, PIPO. The bread was kind of dry, and though it was just recently pressed, it was not very warm at all. Luckily, the meat inside was pretty good, as were the pickles. The mustard was middle of the road, and the cheese was kind of old and hard, but not too offensive. The bread was good. Honestly, not the best Cuban ever. So far, my favorite Cuban has to go to Ruben’s Cubans on Busch, whose meat was incredibly tender, bread perfect… etc. etc. Pipo’s “Real Deal” was saved by the meat, but Ruben’s meat was noticeably superior.
All in all, not the best Cuban cafe, and certainly not the original, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I would go back if I needed a Cuban and I was unable to go outside the area, but it is much more worth it to seek out other Cuban venues. Perhaps their house specials are better than their sandwiches. At least their sweet tea was excellent!