[HEAD TO THE HILLS] Sometimes secrets are best kept wedged between an Econolodge and a McDonald's. Maharaja—a postage stamp-sized taste of India in the heart of Hillsboro's Historic Strip-Mall District—offers the obligatory lunch buffet ($9.95), with better-than-average versions of butter chicken, chana masala, saag paneer, vegetable pakora, and plain naan. To find more interesting fare, wait until dinner. Both the biryani ($10.95-$13.95) and the paneer mahkani ($10.95) far outstrip the heat offered at the lunch buffet, when the dial is turned down for the white-bread working crowd. For a dish more out of the norm, try the chicken coconut masala, which brings together elements of Indian and Thai cuisine in a rich, exotic curry. Maharaja's naan is fluffy and flavorful—particularly the pungent garlic version—and the crisp papadam isn't bad either. Close with gajar halwa, a luscious dessert of shaved carrots, pistachios, saffron and cardamom. It's like an Eastern version of sweet potato pie that melts into something sublime. Maharaja seems to cater primarily to the carry-out crowd, and its clean and pleasant dining room is often on the empty side, even at lunch and the dinner rush. More room for you. DEBORAH KENNEDY.
Maharaja doesn't serve beer or alcohol of any kind, so order a lassi to soothe your burning tongue.