Visiting Thai Grille in Westerville without reservations on a Saturday night isn't the best idea if you have time constraints. I discovered this amid a steady stream of prospective diners intermittently stepping into and anxiously gazing around the compact, packed restaurant.

Visiting Thai Grille in Westerville without reservations on a Saturday night isn't the best idea if you have time constraints. I discovered this amid a steady stream of prospective diners intermittently stepping into and anxiously gazing around the compact, packed restaurant.

From the tables, I detected recurrent glances toward the open kitchen, probably because dishes weren't exactly flying out of there. I suppose you can chalk this up to being small and popular.

You can chalk it up to having been warned, too: Thai Grille's menu bears a disclaimer describing extended waits and potential "one dish at a time" service when the place is busy. Reading other messages on the voluble menu, though, helps explain why this eatery with a lively decor and local art is nonetheless so beloved.

Below the disclaimer (and elsewhere), ingredient-sourcing is proudly touted - organic and local vegetables, grass-fed Ohio meats plus free-range, local chicken and eggs are mentioned. This makes Thai Grille an exceedingly rare mom-and-pop operation.

The bustling business also distinguishes itself from the pack of modest area Thai establishments by featuring wine. A couple food-friendly bottles with relatively reasonable markups are the Willamette Valley Vineyards pinot noir ($32) and Giesen sauvignon blanc ($24).

The latter makes a copacetic match for two classic soups: Tom Kha Gai and Tom Yum Kung ($6 each). Although I'd prefer more gingery galangal flavor, I enjoyed every drop of the Tom Kha Gai, starring a piquant broth with citrus and chili notes accented by cilantro, onions, fish sauce and mushrooms. Sweet coconut milk and red pepper provide contrast; sliced tender chicken lends ballast. The other soup is similar, but features shrimp (two terrific ones) instead of chicken and, without coconut milk, it's much tarter.

Curry Puffs ($6 for three) are another classic. Thai Grille's savory fried pastries are small, golden-brown, filled with curried potato and resemble mini Indian samosas.

I appreciated the judicious use of chili in these dishes, but in others, seasoning was an issue. On one slammed night when the lone, overtaxed server was especially harried, our food was no spicier than ketchup - and so had an overstated sweetness. This was unfortunate, particularly for botanical heat-lovers like my dining partner and me, because the Pad See Ew ($14; garlic-kissed, properly smoky stir fry with wide rice noodles, egg, organic pork, broccoli, carrots, squashes) and Beef Curry ($16; rich and sweet, massaman-style curry with grass-fed meat, avocado, sweet potatoes and squashes) were brimming with fresh vegetables and otherwise skillfully cooked.

On a subsequent visit, that lack of spiciness was explained: our server hadn't asked for our heat preference - and therefore did not relay it to the kitchen - so the cooks defaulted to mild. Call me presumptuous, but "mild" is not my expectation in a Thai restaurant.

Armed with this information, we asked for a three out of five heat level for our next dinner. This resulted in an irresistibly fiery (from a spicy lime dressing) and funky (from dried shrimp) papaya salad (Som Tum, $8) with green beans plus toasted cashews and peanuts. Next up was a marvelous Duck Curry chock-full of vegetables - and the best dish I sampled here ($20, with big lumps of seared meat and a nuanced, red sauce).

Although meals don't always proceed smoothly - one night I sat through a protracted wait for my check while the only server chatted with a regular - there's still plenty to like at Thai Grille. For instance, as a courtesy, there's yet another message from the restaurant (this one on a sherbet-tinted wall) that explains how to cope with possible disappointments. Placed with ostensible humor, it says "Dinner Choices 1) Take It 2) Leave It." I couldn't have said it better.