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Finally went to Ruan Thai in Silver Spring on the advice of this board. Hmmm...

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Well, I've been dying to go to this modest, simple restaurant you folks talk about here from time to time, and is on some of your Top Maryland restaurants list. It's near my house but it looks like a total dive from the outside. 4 of my friends were looking for a place to eat tonight so I told them to meet me there and let's give it a try.

We had to park down the block as their lot is so tight. We went in and noticed that the decor was pretty awful, but we were excited to have a great meal. Our table had plates on in that were chipped pretty badly and the waitress was having a hard time getting to us. Water came so rarely for a refill that I had to ask her to just leave the pitcher on our table which she did, but just barely.

One waitress for the entire restaurant led to some slow service. I asked for some napkins as me and a tablemate never got one but she forgot to bring them. I had to get up and get them from one of the few unused tables. No problem though... I tried to keep in mind we're there for the food, not any professional service.

I ordered the veggie spring rolls which were nice and crispy and delicious. I also had a bite of the other appetizers like a steak dish that was pretty tasty. Another gent had the appetizer which supposedly had crab in it but I never got to try that one. He had to wonder if it actually did have any crab, though no one complained about the taste of it.

For the main course I got the Pad Thai vegetarian version and it was so huge I couldn't begin to finish it. I thought it was actually pretty good after I put some of the additional hot spices on it from the tray she brought out. The noodles were nice and dry, just like I like them, not greasy at all. A buddy tried them and thought they were just ok.

My other friend got the regular Pad Thai with shrimp and enjoyed it though he admitted he never had it before so he had nothing else to compare it to. Another gent had the chicken in curry and he said it was decent, while another had a meat dish that was very similar to the appetizer and he thought it wasn't anything special.

Most of us thought that Dusit Thai up the street on University Blvd offered a much nicer ambiance and as good if not better food.
I wouldn't go back anytime soon, if ever, but I'm glad I tried this highly lauded place. Not sure why it's a favorite here on this board, but I'm really happy I was finally able to satisfy my curiosity and check it out.

There's nothing like trying a new restaurant - it's like another notch on the belt.

Cheers,
Steve R
Silver Spring MD

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  1. Haven't tried Ruan yet (but would like to, as well), but got carryout from Dusit the other day for the first time....I'm a sucker for Drunken Noodles with Beef and it was really great. My main gage of a good Thai place is a Crispy Whole Fish with Chili Garlic Sauce, so I'll have to try that if I get a chance to go "eat in" soon.

    Now, I'm really hungry. Is it wrong to want Thai food at 7:30 in the morning?

    1. The issue with Ruan Thai afaic is that some items on the menu are just of the corner Thai variety and some are really good. I find the aps to be the best part of themeal and that is where we stay. Dishes like the smoked eggplant & group pork salad are fantastic. So id the larb with fish instead of meat. Standards like Satay are just eh! Their Som Tum is superb.

      It too us 2-3 times at RT to figure out the dishes we like and no we do like it a lot, nbut we usually order 4-5 aps and leave it at that.

      1. Dean is correct. Besides I'd never judge a Thai restaurant by its pad thai, that is like judging a place by its spagetti. You have to understand the strengths. The watercress larb is fantastic, the smoked eggplant salad is to die for, the seafood salad is great too. The whole fish is excellent. We normally order about three apps and the whole fish and have a great meal.

        2 Replies
        1. re: dinwiddie

          Unless it's a place like Thai Basil in Chantilly, which advertises "the best pad thai in town." They better serve up some darn good pad thai.

          1. re: dinwiddie

            Went back to Ruan Thai tonight with essentially the same group. The chicken satay was excellent as was the beef appetizer (I think it was #17). She said #18 was better, but #17 was tremendous. Got Pad Thai again (vegetarian style) and it was even better tonight. 2 other people got Pad Thai - one person with chicken and beef, another just chicken. Everyone loved it. The spicy condiments on the side really make it for me. One gent got a chicken dish and boldy declared that Ruan Thai was much better than Dusit up the street. Dusit has a nicer interior, better service, lots of servers and server helpers, but the food at Ruan is fantastic. My Pad Thai was more than enough for 2 dinners, so this time I decided to take some home. Being that it was 15 degrees out I didn't worry that it sat in the car for 1.5 hours while I did some errands :o).

            For some reason, the decor looked atrocious the last time I went to Ruan Thai. This time, I was acclimated to the decor and didn't find it objectionable at all. I guess I've been used to fancier restaurants lately and it seemed pretty bad that first time. I settled in for the ride this time and loved everything I tasted. I had a lemongrass soup with vegetables that was out of this world. It really warmed me up, as I was sitting next to the front door. Everytime someone entered the restaurant a wave of frigid air chilled us to the bone. By the time we left, every seat was taken. The same waitress that we had last time served the entire dining room full of people. At times, she had to literally run back and forth just to keep up. We asked about the kitchen staff and the other helper lady said that they have 2 chefs, 2 assistants chefs and a dishwasher.

            They really put out alot of great food. It's not fast, but it sure is cooked to order. Now I get it, why you folks so highly recommended this place.

            Cheers

          2. I would highly recommend the curry dishes. My daughter and her husband visited us from San Jose over the holidays and all they eat on the west coast sushi and Thai. We took them to Ruan for lunch and, while several of the dishes were "pretty good", they both raved about the curry dish saying it was easily the best Thai curry they have ever had. Too spicy for my wife, but I loved it and will be back to have it again soon.

            And yes, the spring rolls are very good.

            MC

            1 Reply
            1. re: Maryland Crab

              Thx for the replies. I will try Ruan Thai again one day then and shoot for the dishes you suggest. You definitely can't judge a book by it's cover in the case of this restaurant. My dish was pretty darn good and I usually only order vegetarian at Thai places. I'll try that eggplant dish next time I go.

              Steve R

            2. I hate to say this, but I am sure your disppointment in our favorites will continue unless you Order Like A Chowhound.

              this means: Ordering different kinds of dishes to obtain a wide range and balance(some will be all meat, sometimes just a green vegetable), going outside your normal comfort level, trying new and unusual items that do not appear everywhere else, and sharing.

              I have had so many incredible over the top wonderful meals eating this way. Of course, sometimes I go back and order the same dish and it's not as good. A case in point: was at Ruan Thai recently and the #47 crispy pork was fried to a degree of hardness normally reserved for shipbuilding.

              Here is the text describing a wonderful meal we had at Ruan Thai:

              "Ruan Thai: Thai Smackdown
              As a continuation of our Thai Smackdown, a group of us recently went to Ruan Thai in Silver Spring to see how this small storefront stacked up against some of the best in the area.
              Wow! I loved it. We had a lot of dishes, but the following eight were very special:

              12*** yum ma keau, spicy grilled eggplant with pork and shrimp (smokey flavor)
              ***special, watercress with squid, dried shrimp and cashews (yowza, a unique dish)
              47*** mhoo korb pad prik khing, crispy pork with string bean and hot chili sauce (like a jerky, soft and chewy)
              57*** whole fish with chili sauce and basil (served super crispy. One of my favorite whole fish ever)
              64*** ped pad kha prao, stir fried boneless duck (one of the only fiery dishes of the night. Too good.)
              81*** pad kha na, chinese broccoli with oyster sauce (perfect)
              82 ***pad watercress, stir-fried with black bean sauce (in case the special watercress in unavailable, this is a fine substitute)
              87*** tu-fu pad kha prao, stir-fried tofu with hot chili green pepper and basil (hot pillows busting with flavor)

              Others, such as larb, sliced grilled beef salad, papaya salad, fried crispy duck were very good renditions; hard to find better.

              A few dishes provided some thorns:
              77 guay teow kee mao, shrimp with rice noodles and hot chili sauce (too ketchup-y)
              96 hoy mang poo ob mor din, steamed mussels (plump, but boring)
              yellow curry chicken special – I would order this again IF I could convince them to turn on the heat.

              This gets my vote as the most delicious and interesting Thai around. If anyone out there thinks there is better, then please tell me!"

              Since then, I have also had (twice) their terrific shrimp and bean thread hot pot, which is very rich and delicious. Enjoy.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Steve

                Thanks Steve - I'll bring my wife there then one day and try some of the dishes you recommend. I did see that post, but only AFTER we got back! I just love Pad Thai which is why I ordered it. It WAS very good - no complaints really with my dish.

                Steve R

              2. Not far from Ruan Thai is Nava Thai. It's at the back of Hung Phat, a Thai grocery store. I had some very tasty wide rice noodles with beef and vegetables there yesterday. It's not a fancy place and the menu is fairly short, but most items are about $8. I look forward to going back. :)

                1 Reply
                1. re: Chocolatechipkt

                  Wow, you folks are wayyy more adventurous than I am. I need to get out more and delve into the unknown. Hung Phat? I like the name of that place :o).

                  Steve R

                2. Steve- You should definitely try Ruan Thai again, because I think you would enjoy it much more if you ordered a little differently. I have never been to this particular place (I went once but there was a 45 minute wait for a table), but when I eat Thai food with friends we always have several different dishes (including "appetizer" types) on the table at the same time, and everyone shares in order to experience a wider variety of flavors. To sit down and attack a whopping plate of pad thai alone makes me a bit queasy, and I enjoy pad thai. If you are buying a quick lunch from a street vendor, ok, but not at a sit down restaurant. Try ordering a few different things, from milder to hot, share with your dining partners and you will certainly have a more enjoyable meal.

                  1. Good idea. I LOVE pad thai, though. I think I'll bring my wife there soon and try another vegetarian dish. We mostly eat vegetarian unless we're going to a fine steakhouse or fine seafood place.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: stever500

                      Steve

                      Allow me to weigh in late on this one. The reason you keep getting what I would call "gentle blowback" from others replying here is because you seem to insist on sticking with dishes like Pad Thai which is a completely discredited dish among serious eaters. By that I mean it is similar to sweet and sour pork in a Chinese place--though it may have authentic roots, as it is served around the US it has generally become a completely bastardized americanized dish that restaurants know they can pass off on westerners as Thai food, and who love it because, in part, it is loaded with sweetener, but which an actual Thai person might not even recognize, just as an Italian would not recognize meat balls, which are purely an American invention and unknown in Italy. If you want to eat things like Pad Thai (or sweet and sour pork), that's fine as a "guilty pleasure," but it really has little to add as a discussion point for most folks who inhabit these boards, since it probably has nothing to do with how good that Thai restaurant is, just as a report on spaghetti and meat balls would probably add little to any chowhound's information base about an Italian place.

                      If you go to a place like RT, with a group, I'd suggest you order at most one dish of Pad Thai so you all can get your fix, then for the rest of it branch out to other dishes as have been recommended by others above, and report on your experiences with the others to add to the general knowledge base here.

                      Hope that helps.

                      1. re: johnb

                        I went to Ruan Thai tonight for the first time. I had been dying to try it. I was blown away by some dishes (pad see ew with beef, pad thai, coconut soup) and dishes that were not so great (calamari, yum nuea).

                        Overall, it was a good experience, but I would only go back if I happened to be in the neighborhood. It's not a place I would drive from DC to.

                        I agree with another poster on this board Dusit might be just as good, if not better.

                        1. re: arugulafilesdc

                          got carryout tonight from Ruan Thai.l admittedly, we are limited as we don't eat meat, poultry or shellfish. On the advice of people here we got whole fish with chili sauce and basil, a tofu with black bean sauce, and yes we got the pad thai. The sauce for the whole fish was delicious but the fish was a little dried out. At $34.95 it should have been superb. The tofu was tasteless and the pad thai was so, so. No comparison to Nava Thai- which we love. we will not go back given our preference for other choices in the same area.

                          1. re: startsev

                            My favorite dish at Ruan Thai is the duck salad -- big, moist chunks of smoky-tasting duck in a wonderful Thai-spiced salad. Sometimes I go in alone for lunch to have this with some rice and a Thai iced coffee -- I leave very happy. I also love their curries. I haven't been there with more than one other person. I'd LOVE to go there with a big group to try lots of dishes mentioned here.