Cheap Eats 2008: Nava Thai

Why go: Thai cooking is supposed to represent the harmony of contrasting elements, of sweet and sour, funky and fragrant. Too many places siphon out the sour and the funk, but not this tiny but pretty cafe buried in the back of a Wheaton grocery store. Flavors are clear, bright, and precise, making for some of the best Thai food in the area.

What to get
: Tangy sweet-and-sour shrimp; the area’s best pad Thai, true to its street-food roots; Penang curry with pork, its rich, peanut-based curry amplified with a dollop of coconut milk; a big eggy fritter of mussels over steamed bean sprouts; Floating Market Noodle Soup, a meal in a bowl at once rich, sweet, funky, aromatic, and crunchy thanks to the pork rinds skimming the surface.

Best for
: Lovers of spice and heat, and anyone for whom vivid cooking matters more than plush surroundings.

Insider tip
: Soups are big enough for three; many appetizers are big enough for two.

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