3010 SE Division St., 477-6699; 2039 NE Alberta St., 971-200-4711, bollywoodtheaterpdx.com. Lunch and Dinner Daily.
Troy McLarty's Division Street sequel is bigger and flashier than the original box-office smash—two floors of tatty wood chairs, a barge of subcontinental gewgaws, and a little market selling 10-pound sacks of idli rice and bottled Maggi hot sauce. You're here to see the same stars, though, including those massive beef kati rolls and the chicken curry thali meal, a platter of warming curry, saffron rice, lentil soup, toasty dal, crispy paratha and piquant green chutney.
The eastside Indian market may be partly responsible for the Division Street stop's popularity among subcontinental Portland residents who otherwise might have to drive to Beaverton for the spices staked up on a big spinning spice rack, from exotic sumac to banal chili powder, not to mention a lifetime supply of jaggery, puffed rice, and multiple goofball sweet sodas like Thums Up, a localized Coca-Cola that tastes a bit like betel nut.
But it's also McLarty's re-creation of postcolonial street food, a painterly palette of flavors from Portugal to England to the Mughal north, with beautiful beef kati flatbread rolls ($9) bursting with the flavor of beef and pickled onions—a righteously pungent easterly alternative to kraut—and a hearty pav bhaji ($6.50) stew made with potatoes and New World tomatoes.
The biggest change in the two locations has been the expansion of the sides and veggie menu, from the bright flavors of an unexpected chili-lime fried okra ($6.50) to beets roasted with coconut milk for a bracing sweetness, then spiced for that same sweet-hot combo that makes for a good pepper beer. They're equally intoxicating. The kitschy bric-a-brac on the wall is mirrored by the bric-a-brac of muddling cultures that makes up the menu, such that all questions of authenticity are made beside the point. It's a whole damn street bazaar gone transoceanic. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
2088 NW Stucki Ave., Hillsboro, 531-9500, chennaimasala.net. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.
[THE OTHER MADRAS] Welcome to the culinary epicenter of the metro area's Indian community—Hillsboro—and the finest Indian food in the Portland area. Every meal should include a mango lassi, a flawlessly balanced beverage which offers a sweet and creamy counterpoint to cool off spicier dishes. The menu centers most on lentil-heavy southern fare and crowd-pleasing dosa, with crispy platter-sized pancakes folded over your choice of an array of fillings and sauces. The masala dosa is a good diving board, studded with seasoned chunks of tender potato and onion, but for more substantial fare, get lamb curry or the blazing Chettinad chicken, or opt for the $10 lunch buffet, which offers theoretically infinite food, lovingly prepared. JORDAN GREEN.
Dwaraka Indian Cuisine
3962 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 230-1120, dwarakapdx.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
[SO QUAINT, SO CLEAN] The interior of Dwaraka feels a lot like what its food tastes like: quaint and clean, not quite exciting, but familiar. Accordingly, the signal dish is their rich and heavy colonial favorite, the chicken tikka masala. Though on the high end of the menu at $14.95 for thali, it's buttery and flavored with sweet onion, easily filling enough for two or three meals. Skip the idli and soupy dips (steamed rice dumplings served with sambar, $6)—although their raita is good lathered on everything, especially thanks to a surprising kick of cayenne pepper at the end. Go instead for the eggplant masala ($9.95), which packs a flavorful, tingly punch in the spice category that levels the meal up. KAITIE TODD.
610 SE 10th Ave., 214-4858, Hillsboro, maharajahillsboro.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
[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. DEBORAH KENNEDY.
3710 N Mississippi Ave, 936-7663, tiffinasha.com. Lunch and dinner, Thursday-Sunday.
[BANGALORE BITES] The vegetarian-focused cuisine of southern India can elevate the low-key combination of lentil and rice flours beyond expectation. Fermentation helps, a skill the operators of this otherwise nondescript cart pull off with aplomb. Begin with Tiffin's Trilogy ($10), an ample combination of idli (steamed, oval cakes of rice and lentil dough), vada holes (the fried dough iteration) and the best of the lot, a crepe-like paper dosa, served as an outsized conical scroll that's magically crunchy, chewy and tangy. A brushstroke of neyyi (ghee) sure doesn't hurt. The combo comes with a rather mild version of sambar, typically a spicier vegetable-enriched lentil soup good for dunking or consumption on its own. Condiments, brunch dosa ($5-$8) and few other fusion oddities round out a concise menu. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.