Cheap Eats 2010: Ruan Thai

100 places that offer great food at low prices.

Why go: With its strip-mall setting and marker-scrawled signs, this tiny dining room doesn’t look like much. But the kitchen turns out soulful, spice-happy curries, brightly flavored salads, and noodle dishes that emphasize lime, chilies, and cilantro over sweetness.

What to get: Yum watercress, a study in crunchiness with fried squid and shrimp plus a handful of cashews; glassy noodles with crumbled pork, whole shrimp, and lots of lime; chicken curries either green or Panang-style; whole crispy fish with red curry; mango with sticky rice.

Best for: A quiet dinner with friends; getting lots of food for the money—portions are big, especially appetizers.

Insider tip: There’s a thriving carryout business, so if all 14 tables are taken, grab some curries and cold salads to go—they travel best.

>> See all 2010 Cheap Eats restaurants here 

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.