Ruan Thai

There's no dumbing down of dishes for the Western palate at this family-run restaurant. Two not-often-seen starters are yum pla korb, crisp bits of dried fish scented with lemongrass, and yum ma keau, which marries eggplant, pork, and shrimp with a drizzle of lime juice.

Curries are authentically spiced–that is, both complex and hot–from the comforting Yellow Chicken, a frequent special, to the searing sweet-sour curry made with catfish, vegetables, or shrimp. Red and green curries, fragrant with coconut milk and made with either chicken or beef, also please if you can stand the heat. Duck with hot chili and fresh basil is another scorcher. Don't miss a special of delicately brittle deep-fried watercress with crisp nuggets of shrimp and squid and a drizzle of lime dressing.

Ruan Thai, 11407 Amherst Ave., Wheaton; 301-942-0075. Atmosphere: Simple and homey. Entrées: $6.95 to $12.95 except for whole-fish dishes. Bottom line: Fiery Thai classics and rarities at bargain prices. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch, daily for dinner.