Cheap Eats 2009: Ruan Thai

Great food, low prices, lots of fun

Why go: The fiery cooking of this family-run sliver of a restaurant is not about the dish or the ingredients. It’s the special effects—particularly the sauces and seasonings—that transform familiar-sounding dishes (veggie dumplings, whole fried fish, Penang curry) into more than the sum of their humble parts.

What to get: “Yum watercress” appetizer—fried shrimp, squid, and watercress with toasted cashews; yum ped yang, duck slices rubbed with chili paste and lime and tossed with red onion and scallions; vegetable dumplings stuffed with green onion; Penang curry with chicken.

Best for: A quiet, wallet-friendly date; anyone with a hankering for fire-breathing heat.

Insider tip: If fresh mango is available to accompany it, the sticky rice is perhaps the best in the area. The other dessert option, Thai custard, is forgettable.

Open daily for lunch and dinner.

>> See all 2009 Cheap Eats restaurants here

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