By Katie Thomas, Explorebigsky.com contributor

BOZEMAN – Upon stepping into the tiny, intimate space that previously housed such mysteries as Sloppy Dawgs and a Polynesian grill, the first thing to hit the senses is the fragrant aroma of simmering curry and stir-fry. Warm lighting, colorful décor, and worn brick walls complete the cozy atmosphere.

Located at 140 East Main Street in Bozeman, a few doors down from Blackbird Kitchen, Rice Thai Cuisine is Gallatin Valley’s newest addition to Asian dining. Rice opened on October 16 and serves steaming plates of authentic Thai for lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Be prepared to get to know your menu once you sit down. Owner Pam Mongkolpla, who also owns Lemongrass Thai on the corner of South Willson and Kagy, hails from Bangkok, Thailand, and offers a phenomenal variety of authentic Thai small plates, entrees, soups and salads.

Thai food is traditionally taken family-style, and not with chopsticks, with each person ordering a different entrée and then sharing. Variety is encouraged.

Our group savored Gaeng Karee (yellow curry) with chicken; pork fried rice; an outstanding panang curry; and Pad Khee Mao (“Drunken Noodles”) with beef. The Tom Yum Goong (a lemongrass broth-based shrimp soup with Kaffir lime leaves) was exceptional, as was the Black Rice Pudding for dessert.

While Rice does not sell alcohol, they have a range of other beverages, including a must try sweet and caffeinated, Thai iced tea. It is also worth noting that almost half of the menu is gluten-free.

Here’s a word to the wise: unless your server happens to mention it, each dish’s level of spice is a surprise. You may want to inquire after this topic, as the concept of “too spicy” is incredibly subjective.

In my opinion, the Gaeng Kiew Waan (green curry) was very spicy, but then again, that’s why a side of jasmine or brown rice is such an essential part of many Thai dishes – it’s a better spice-murderer than water.

If that spice lingers for too long, stepping over to nearby Chocolate Mousse helps too. The taste of chocolate complements Rice’s savory flavors and will balance out your downtown dining experience. Rice Thai Cuisine’s location is impeccable; so take your taste buds downtown for some authentic Thai dining.

Rice offers $9 lunch specials Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Seven of the most popular entrees are available and each comes with a salad and crispy spring roll. This is especially handy for the downtown working crowd.