Dosas are rare in Portland proper. The crepelike Southern Indian staple is mostly known locally through places like Southeast Hawthorne's Dwaraka and Hillsboro's Chennai Masala, which serves nearly 30 different varieties. So the 4-month-old Tiffin Asha cart's dosas are quite welcome on Alberta Street—offerings are comparatively limited, but are available closer to much of the city.
Elizabeth Golay's cart was inspired by her partner, who is from the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, deep in the dosa heartland. Tiffin Asha takes old family recipes and employs modern interpretations. The cart is fittingly situated next to a yoga studio, the mellow music and bohemian décor from each almost blending together as one establishment. Besides some traffic noise, the makeshift patio seating is peaceful.
Thin pancakes made of fermented lentil and rice, dosas are fluffy and crispy with a subtle tart tang. Tiffin Asha serves them plain, finished with a brush of clarified Indian butter and a side of sambar (spicy dal soup) for dipping ($3); stuffed with fried egg and bacon for brunch ($7); or my favorite, stuffed with pakora fried chicken drizzled with black cardamom-infused honey, pickled greens and creamy yogurt cheese (Hot Chick, $7).
Others fall short. The Studly Spud's ($6) spicy green chilies mixed with a sharp tomato chutney proved overpowering, and since the dosa has an already potatolike texture, it suffered from a lack of contrast. Idli ($5) was also uninspiring—imagine a sour sponge cake. More satisfying were the vada holes: savory dal doughnut holes sprinkled with coconut-chili fleur de sel ($5). They're doughnuts that taste more like a side dish than a dessert.
Most dishes come with two-part "Gun Powders": plastic bags filled with spice blends alongside small cups of sesame oil, to which the spices can be added. There is also a chutney bar with four housemade flavors—coconut, cilantro mint, peanut and an Indian-style ketchup. They are strongly spicy and, for me, unnecessary. I'll take that pancake with fried chicken.
- Order this: Hot Chick ($7).
- Iâll pass: Idli ($5).
EAT: Tiffin Asha, 1313 NE Alberta St., 936-7663, tiffinasha.com. 11 am-6 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 11 am-8 pm Friday-Saturday.