Just down the road from the house in Largo where I grew up is a little strip mall that looks pretty standard to the naked eye. You’ve likely driven past it dozens of times and never noticed anything special. But I hold the ethnic eateries in this unprepossessing plaza personally responsible for my formative foodie education.
It was the first place I had Thai, Indian, Cuban, German, and Mexican food. There was even a comic book store (which has sadly relocated or closed since) and a smoke shop, so all my bases were covered. Armed with nothing more than $10 or $20, I’d walk home with a bundle of old comics and a bag of hot foods from someone’s homeland. You may think you know Largo, but really you’ve been missing the point the entire time. Where rent is cheap, ethnic food thrives.
ANNA’S POLISH DELI The shop/deli is relatively new to the block. But when I walked in the door last year, the smell of fresh-baked breads and warm pierogies hit my nostrils like a freight train. The deli offers hot and cold Polish fare à la carte. Get cured meats, cheeses, and even paczkis (a Polish jelly donut served at holidays). Owner Mark Bienkowski, who named the deli after his wife, can help you assemble a traditional Polish meal from the bottom up. 1300 E. Bay Drive #A, Largo, 727-953-7763.
THAI BAY The middle school bus stop at Fulton and E. Bay Drive always had me walking past Thai Bay on my way home. We’d eat there as a family on a weekly basis; I always got chicken Pad Thai and Thai tea. I’d stop in on my walk home for a Thai tea, the perfect sweet retreat from the hot sun. They’d usually give it to me gratis and we started up a friendship. Years later, my sister and I were sitting over a plate of pad Thai at a beautiful Thai restaurant in Portland, Ore. It was good, but not as good as Thai Bay, we concurred. It’s a craving I need slated on a regular basis to this day, because no one does Thai food quite like Thai Bay. 1300 E. Bay Drive, Largo, 727-584-5522, thaibayandsushi.com.
TAMPA STYLE CUBANS Get a good Cuban, done the same (and correct) way for more than 20 years. The menu of beans, rice, and homemade entrees that change daily is consistently good. For dessert, try a Cuban Café Con Leche (in the tiny Styrofoam cup) with an order of homemade flan or pie. 1300 E. Bay Drive #C, Largo, 727-586-5797.
GERMAN BISTRO 2 Jon Palmer Claridge’s description in his review this week will likely make you drool. German Bistro 2 is a newer addition to the plaza, with authentically German cuisine. Schnitzel, braten, wurst, and a German-style black forest cake brought back sweet tooth memories to CL’s dear food critic. 1300 E. Bay Drive, Largo, 727-216-6519.
LAS PALOMAS LATIN MARKET The sparse tienda-style market sells Latin ingredients, both fresh and dried. Locals go for the cane sugar sodas, juego (juice) and nectars, and even homemade Mexican helado (ice cream) bars in flavors like mamey and walnut. But the secret is in the back, behind all the calling cards, candles, and leather belts. There’s a tiny kitchen, and something like two tables. Grab a drink right from the cooler (I usually get a Negro Modelo or Tecate) and order some tacos (don’t you dare ask for them American-style) on corn tortillas with simmered and seasoned meats. Ask what’s fresh, and be sure to get some green sauce. 1300 E. Bay Drive #F, Largo, 727-581-1050.