Atmosphere: Plain but pleasant; come as you are.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday.
Price range: $2.75 to $7 for entrees.
Reservations: Not necessary.
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard.
Special facilities: Limited parking in front of restaurant; accessible to wheelchairs; highchairs and booster seats available; carryout.
From the outside, the Thai Hut looks no bigger than the small house its name implies. Its small, decorated storefront window is squeezed by bicycle shops, used bookstores and electronics shacks in the busy commercial districts around Georgia Avenue and University Boulevard in Wheaton.
Inside, however, this family-run establishment offers two large dining rooms, plainly furnished with paper placemats and flowers in Thai beer bottles. For years, the location served as a locally popular Chinese restaurant, and the decor hasn't changed much since it changed hands.
But it doesn't matter. Service by two pleasant Thai waitresses is friendly and efficient, and the food, although not the ultimate Thai dining experience in town, is authentic, good and not expensive. With most dishes priced at $4.95, a family can afford to sample a bit.
We were all carrying colds and recuperating from the flu the rainy Tuesday night we visited the Thai Hut, and it proved to be a good place to nurse our assorted maladies. The soup was hot, the place was quiet and low-key.
Soup is presented family style, in either small or large serving bowls. Small bowls of won-ton soup ($3.75 each) suited our three daughters, who found the broth tasty and the won tons tender. My husband and I decided we needed a small bowl of tom yam goong, shrimp and lemon grass soup ($4.25), with a stock peppery enough to clear our sinuses.
For main courses, each of the girls picked out a dish and their father and I put in our two cents with a fourth item. This exercise in democracy generated more goodwill than balance in the dinner menu, since these random choices brought us no vegetables. Nevertheless, we enjoyed what we got: roasted pork ($4.75), fried shrimp ($5.50), Thai Hut's special chicken barbecue ($5.50), and the adult entry, beef with hot chili and garlic ($4.95).
The shrimp were delicious in a delicate batter that was lightly puffed, crispy brown and greaseless. They were served with Thai sweet sauce for dipping, a perfect light complement to the tender shrimp and their crisp coating.
Roast pork had a mild spiciness to it that we all liked, and after the shrimp, that dish disappeared most quickly. Contrary to what we had expected, the barbecue was not hot or even particularly spicy.
The chicken was chopped, Oriental-style, into small segments; since it was not boned, and the pieces were not recognizable segments of chicken like wings or legs, it could prove difficult for small children to eat. Children would like the flavor, though. The chicken had been grilled nicely, but the tender pieces of meat had no distinctive barbecue taste.
It was another case entirely with the beef dish, which stopped just short of being incendiary, but was quite good eaten with lots of fluffy steamed rice.
Watching platters of it go to other tables, I wished we had ordered pad Thai, a typical dish composed of soft rice noodles, vegetables, shrimp and pork. Thai Hut's version looked appetizing enough to tempt us when we return.
The restaurant offers several Thai desserts such as longan and rambutan, as well as ice cream and lychees, all reasonably priced at 75 cents, but we decided we would sample sweets another night.
The bill for five of us, including tax and tip, came to $42.49.