Kathie Garrand, tour guide for Ybor City Food Tours, begins with a story about guavas. Without the guava, she says, Tampa as we know it would probably not exist. This fact may lead you to think that Tampa has many guava trees. But it doesn’t, so how is modern-day Tampa dependent on the guava?
In 1884, a man named Gavino Guttierez traveled to the small, struggling village of Tampa in search of guava trees. Although he found none, he was impressed enough with the area and its potential for cigar manufacturing that he mentioned it to another man named Don Vicente de Ybor.
The rest is history.
A Ybor City tour may take you past the city's first and largest cigar factory, built by Vicente de Ybor in the late 1880s — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers
Within a year, Ybor traveled to Tampa, purchased the land on which Ybor City now stands and proceeded to develop the area into the cigar capital of the world.
Today, Ybor City is both a National Landmark Historic District and a vibrant, ethnically diverse neighborhood that combines modern and traditional flavors in the many restaurants and cafes that line the streets.
To learn more of the history of Ybor City and the delicious foods that make it so unique, take a tour with Ybor City Food Tours. Operating since October 2014, this unique tour company weaves together a narrative of history and food, while you visit important landmarks and sample local dishes.
There are several different daily tours on offer, including the Original Historic Ybor City Food Tour, which takes hungry sightseers on a three-hour odyssey that includes a comprehensive overview of the history, culture and foodways of Ybor City. Make sure you bring your walking shoes!
Taste Tampa's iconic Cuban sandwich on your Ybor City Food Tour — Photo courtesy of Ybor City Food Tours
The tour includes stops to visit popular contemporary and historic dining spots, introducing diners to local dishes evocative of the immigrant cultures that created them. Appetizers for this tour are provided at the Tampa Bay Brewing Company, a contemporary addition to the neighborhood, famous for its in-house brews. Beverages are not included in the tour, but it’s definitely worth it to try one of their microbrew beers.
A satisfying slice is provided at New York, New York, one of Tampa’s most beloved pizza joints. There were a large number of Italian immigrants that came to find a better life in Ybor City, but today, most of our best pizzas are made by New York transplants.
At another stop, taste Tampa’s official sandwich, the Cuban, prepared by the winner of the 2014 Cuban Sandwich Festival: the Stone Soup Company. Next, traditional rice and beans are provided by Gaspar's Grotto, where it's Gasparilla all year long.
For dessert, savor the tart, creamy sweetness of a slice of authentic Key lime pie from the Green Iguana. The tour finishes with a deliciously brewed café con leche at Nichabana Cigars. This traditional coffeehouse features a huge walk-in humidor, and there’s usually a torcedor hand-rolling cigars in the front window.
Other tours on offer include the Cuban Sandwich Food Tour, singularly dedicated to an exploration of this unique sandwich, and the Dessert Food Tour that samples various types of ethnic sweets. There’s also a tour where you can bring your pets!
Every Saturday is the Farmer’s Market Tour. This tour takes place at the bustling Ybor Saturday Market and presents tour-goers the opportunity to sample fresh and innovative dishes on offer by local vendors.
With knowledgeable guides and more than enough food stops, Ybor City Food Tours offers visitors a great way to get introduced to the sights, sounds and flavors of Ybor City. Tours are offered daily, with start times between 11:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., and cost $59.