We are in Portland, Oregon and I am amazed at the caliber of ethnic cuisines in this city. I haven’t been to Portland for decades and it has definitely changed tremendously. On this evening, we are at Bollywood Theater – there are two locations – where Indian street food is the main feature. We order at the counter and grab a table in the bustling dining room with a TV screen showing a movie sporadically flashing a young Amitabh Bachchan – one of the few Indian actors I’m familiar with.
While we wait, I decide to do a little digging on the restaurant, and come to find that the owner is a Chez Panisse alum! This is one of the curious things about ethnic restaurants in Portland – they’re all owned by white dudes – like Andy Ricker and Pok Pok!
Your order is brought out to you, and there are various condiments you can help yourself to. My friend grabs some chile relish and little fried green Thai chiles to the table.
There are so many things on the menu I want to try. Lamb Samosas ($8.50) are two savory pastries filled with ground lamb, spiced potatoes, mint, onions, ginger and peas. The accompanying tomato raisin chutney lends a sweetness for those who aren’t able to tolerate spice – although it isn’t spicy at all — and my favorite, the fresh green mint and cilantro chutney.
Bhel Puri ($6.50) is always on my list of snacks to try. A typical Indian street food, this combination of potatoes, vegetables, onion, cilantro, peanuts, spices and puffed rice tossed with green and tamarind chutneys is a melting pot of flavors from salty, tart, spicy and sweet. It is one of the best versions of bhel puri I’ve ever eaten.
Vegetarians benefit most at Bollywood Theater because there is a great selection of non-meat dishes here. Aloo Tikki ($6.50) is a dish of pan-fried spiced potato patties served with chickpea chole (a chickpea curry) and green chutney. The condiments are necessary accompaniments as the potatoes are subtle, bordering on bland, on their own.
I order a side of Sambar ($2.50) because I love it, but it would have been nice had I been reminded that the Chicken Curry Thali ($16) I order already comes with a side of it. Nevertheless, the vegetable, tamarind and pigeon pea stew is a stellar offering and I eat more than my fair share.
The chicken curry thali is a generous portion consisting bone-in thigh and leg simmered until tender in an aromatic and creamy curry. If you don’t want thali, which also comes with dal, raita, paratha and saffron rice, you can order a la carte ($10) which includes the rice.
However, I highly suggest ordering thali if you’re not all that familiar with Indian food just to get a little taste of everything.
Our thali also comes with a little bowl of Dal and Coconut Curry ($15 thali) on the side, which is so tasty I can’t stop eating it. The lentil curry is simmered with coconut milk and seasonal vegetables. Its flavor is so complex you won’t believe you’re eating a vegetarian dish.
Everything has been delicious and I am not able to imagine something else topping the already stunning dishes we’ve already eaten. However, Goan Style Shrimp ($12) knocks it out of the ballpark. A generous amount of shrimp is simmered with curry leaves, chile, coconut milk and lime. The flavor profiles are addicting with hints of sour on the palate, paired with the heady aromas of the curry leaves wafting through your mouth and inner olfactory senses. If I am dining alone, this will be the one to order thali style ($17.50). In fact, two people can easily share a thali meal with one or two appetizers to start.
We thoroughly enjoy Bollywood Theater and its unique concept. Unlike its moniker, it isn’t a showy, ostentatious display of over-the-top fluff. The food is incredible in its simplicity, yet vivid and illustrious flavors. There are two locations in Portland, and both are near Salt & Straw, an ice cream spot with some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. Make sure you leave room for it after your Indian meal.
3010 SouthEast Division Street
Portland, OR 97202
2039 NE Alberta Street
Portland, OR 97211