Cheap Eats 2011: Ruan Thai

Thanks to a recent renovation, this once-drab Wheaton gem, now in its 16th year, is not only bigger and better; it’s also more conducive to the kind of leisurely evening the cooking has always deserved.

You won’t find a more consistent restaurant of its kind. Or a more authentic one. Unlike Thai restaurants that equate spicy food with authentic food, the aim here is a balance among disparate elements. The best dishes distinguish themselves with a bright and popping intensity as opposed to a scorching heat.

The kitchen is particularly skilled with the fry basket, which produces such standouts as angel wings–a virtuosic preparation in which a chicken wing is turned into a crab/pork/chicken lollipop–a light fritter of watercress and shrimp, crispy whole fish in red curry, and cinnamon-rubbed duck with basil.

Also good: Chicken larb, tangy ground meat dressed with onions, cilantro and lime; dried fish with spicy lime dressing; sautéed mussels with black beans and ginger.

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for dinner.

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.