Anyone who’s been stuck on campus at meal time knows how convenient the Strip is. Just a short walk from Morgan Hall has saved me many-a-time from the chaos of the Ferg food court and the disaster of Bidgood Bistro’s sandwiches and sushi. And while the Strip has many food options that will get you in and out in a hurry (Jimmy Johns, Pita Pit, etc.), these chains aren’t what makes that stretch of University Blvd special. Just past the BP station, however, is a pink cottage that stands out among the sandwich shops and pizza joints.
Ruan Thai is situated almost directly across from another Thai restaurant, Surin (formerly Kenny Stabler’s 12 Steakhouse), and both have remained in business for some time—I suspect because of their very different appeals. Without going into too much detail about Surin in this review, it’s a fancier joint, while Ruan Thai is more casual and seems (although I’ll admit to being a Thai novice) more authentic. I personally prefer Ruan Thai. The only thing Ruan doesn’t have, despite the numerous neon beer signs in the windows, is a decent drink menu. They have a few beers available in bottles, but if you’re in the mood for serious beveraging, Surin’s extensive bar might suit you better.
Ruan Thai has a great, causal feel. On this particular day, the sun was shining in the bay window onto the small yellow followers that adorned each table. If you’re there when they’re busy the service can be slow, but there were only a few people there this time, and the service was stellar. Update: I’ve been back to Ruan Thai a few times since posting this review, and it seems as though the service is getting worse. The last time I was there, it wasn’t busy at all and the service was still downright bad. The waiter took forever to take my order, forgot to bring me my tea, didn’t remember that I’d ordered it when I had to ask for it again, and the kitchen screwed up my curry and had to remake it. I was there for over an hour when I should have been in and out in no more than 30 minutes.
I’ve been to Ruan Thai many times and ordered several different dishes, but I’ve never strayed too far from the standards (novice, remember). On this particular visit, I ordered the spicy fried wontons (appetizer) and yellow curry, although I’ve had and enjoyed the crab wonton appetizer, the Pad Thai, and fried rice on previous visits. The pineapple fried rice is particularly beautiful (served in a half pineapple shell) and delicious. The appetizers I’ve tried are fine and will hold you over if you’re starving, but they are far inferior to any of the entrees I’ve had. The dinner portions tend to be large enough to make appetizers unnecessary anyway. The only thing I’ve had I didn’t enjoy at Ruan Thai was some sushi, which they serve at lunch. The rice was strangely crunchy and the overall combination of tastes was generally disappointing.
The last few times I’ve been to Ruan Thai, I’ve ordered the yellow curry, which is superb. It and the cashew noodles used to be daily specials but are available every day now due to popular demand. The yellow curry isn’t very hot—it’s buttery and a little tangy with potatoes, onions, and your choice of meat. I’m a wuss when it comes to spice and usually order the yellow curry medium, but even at medium it’s quite mild. I’ll probably bump it up to hot next time, though I’m not brave enough to try hot with a red or green curry dish. The staff has also been really helpful when it comes to deciding on a dish, even if you’re unfamiliar with Thai cuisine. If you tell your server what you like and what level of spice you prefer, he or she can help you settle on something you’ll be sure to like.
Update: Since posting this review, I tried the Kang Masamun, which is superb. You can get either the potato and peanuts or the avocado and cashew variety. I’m not a big fan of avocados (I’m weird, I know), so I went with the first, but I imagine the latter is quite good as well.
The next time you’re on the Strip trying to decide where to eat, consider walking past your usual spots to try something deliciously different. Compared to many other cities, Tuscaloosa’s range of ethnic restaurants is rather sparse, but Ruan Thai is a way better than I expected. When I get a craving for Pad Thai, Ruan’s the place, but once I’m there, I’m always torn between the Pad Thai I came for and the yellow curry I can’t bring myself to pass up. No matter which one I decide on, I’m certain when it arrives that I made the right choice.
Lunch: Monday-Friday 11am-2pm
Dinner: Monday-Thursday 5-9pm; Friday & Saturday 5-10pm; CLOSED Sunday