Best: Nava Thai
11315 Fern St., Silver Spring, (240) 430-0495
2nd Best: Ruan Thai
11407 Amherst Ave., Wheaton (301) 942-0075
Poor Ruan Thai. Back before Suchart Srigatesook decided to split from Dusit Thai in 2007 and open his own shop, the now universally drooled-over Nava Thai, Ruan was a perennial frontrunner in these kinds of superlative contests. A sample comment from a 2005 Chowhound thread titled, “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.” That was then, however. Even with a move to a cavernous, incongruous space, Srigatesook and his wife, Ladavan, still run the best Thai restaurant in the region. It’s not even close, really, particularly since Thai Square in Arlington has fallen from grace in recent months. But a recent visit to Ruan Thai confirmed that, despite the increased competition, this humble Wheaton outlet still merits serious consideration. Frankly, I think Ruan does the definitive pad Thai; the rice noodles perfectly balance sweet with sour and come topped with a crushed peanut garnish that complements the nuttiness of the dish’s gentle-cooked shrimp. The place does a mean panang curry, too, loaded with enough heat to keep a family of five warm during the winter. But Ruan doesn’t always toe the Thai line; its tom kha kai soup, for example, has neither the heat nor the piney galangal pucker that Nava’s version has. And let’s not even get into issues of service and atmosphere. Ruan, you could say, is a little short on both.