2088 NW Stucki Ave., Hillsboro, 531-9500, chennaimasala.net. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.
Finding Indian food in Portland proper that hasn't been dumbed down for the locals can be a challenge. Instead, head west toward Hillsboro, where a robust population from the subcontinent lives and works. The menu at Chennai Masala ranges across a grand nation that boasts many regional cuisines. The best of the menu, however, are the meat-free choices from Southeast India, where the restaurant's namesake coastal city of Chennai —Madras, in the old British ledgers—boasts a population of nearly 5 million. Although don't be sad, carnivores: There are ample lamb and chicken dishes, too.
The specialty dishes are as much fun to say as they are a delight to eat: uttapam, idli, vada, dosa. Pick your favorite variation. Look to the appetizer section of the menu, in particular, to find the savory doughnuts called medu vada ($5 for two) or large dumplings called idli ($6 for two) served in a robust gravy. Each comes with a small side of moderately spicy sambar and a less intense coconut curry sauce.
A large selection of dosas—mammoth crepelike squares that are filled and folded—anchor the menu. With or without meat added, these dosas are built for two, especially when coupled with a pair of mango lassis. One favorite is the cheese masala dosa with added potato and onion ($14). Another is the spectacular paper roast ($11), a crispy scrolled crepe 2 feet in diameter. The gluten-intolerant can celebrate that all these dishes are made from lentil or rice flour, or both. A recent expansion and refurbishment means plenty of space in a comfortable setting. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.
Dwaraka Indian Cuisine
3962 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 230-1120, dwarakapdx.com, Lunch and dinner daily.
While Dwaraka breaks no new ground in Indian dining (tidy, if sparsely decorated space, chafing table for the lunch buffet at the end, Tandoori items), it outclasses its curry compatriots in bang-for-the-buck. A single masala dosa (a veggie curry-stuffed crepe) is massive, filling and criminally cheap at $5 while ticking all the important flavor boxes of crispy, tangy and savory. Their lamb biryani at $11.95 (a la carte) represents the upper end of the price strata and while Dwaraka's version of the classic rice dish may lack some of the pronounced clove pungency of other examples around town, the abundance of coarsely sliced aggressive green chilies means it packs a tasty punch. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.
610 SE 10th Ave., Hillsboro, 214-4858, maharajahillsboro.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
Don't be deterred by the sad-looking building between McDonald's and a scruffy Econo Lodge. The lamb coconut masala ($11.95) is sublime, featuring tender chunks of lamb in rich, golden gravy; chicken vindaloo ($9.99) can be amped to perspiratory intensity; and the shahi paneer ($10.95), Indian cheese in a moderately spiced tomato-based gravy, is a welcome switch from the ubiquitous palak paneer (cheese with creamed spinach). The range of Indian breads on the menu is impressive, but plain parantha (whole wheat, ghee-brushed flat bread, $2.50) tops the list. The place is reminiscent of a London curry house circa 1980, before all the cheap ethnic joints were priced out of the West End. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.
2039 NE Alberta St., 971-200-4711; 3010 SE Division St., 477-6699, bollywoodtheaterpdx.com, Lunch and dinner daily.
If the idea of white folks cooking Indian for hirsute Albertines makes you nervous, relax. The Indian street food in this knick-knack cluttered tribute to Kolkata is more Pok Pok than Por Que No. Don't miss the Goa shrimp curry ($10.50) a subtly spiced mash-up of coconut, lime and the longest, tastiest grains of rice in town. Puffed rice give the bhel puri ($5.50)—a pile of potato, tamarind and mango—a pleasing crunch. And if you want the Indian version of a taco, the kati roll ($8) is hard to top. Bollywood's opened a second location on Southeast Division Street—maybe its success will embolden Indian restaurateurs to abandon their tired ghee and buffet obsessions. NIGEL JAQUISS.
836 N Beech St., 936-7663, tiffinasha.com. Lunch and dinner Wednesday-Saturday.
Southern-influenced Indian cuisine in a cart. In North Portland! With dosas! And a chutney bar! See our food carts of the year feature.
Curry and Crust
4950 NE Belknap Court, Suite 103, Hillsboro, 992-6363, curryandcrust.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
Like many Indian restaurants in western suburbia, Curry and Crust is a stone's throw away from a tech company—Intel, in this case. The decor leaves it indistinguishable from the others, outside of the "Riddle of the Day" scribbled behind the register. But it's also a pizza place. The cheese might be a little different, the garlic and tikka sauce a change and the tandoori chicken a far cry from pepperoni, but the tandoori-chicken tikka pizza feels like a natural mix. The airy, naan-like crust only helps. There is also a daily lunch buffet for the unadventurous ($9.95). But why do that when you can swing by an Indian place at happy hour for a small pizza ($7) and a beer ($3)? JOHN LOCANTHI.