OPEN TANDOOR was smart to open on North Williams. Until a few months ago, North Portland was without any Indian food—be it mediocre or fantastic.
In the time leading up to its opening, there was hope that this former cart owned by Punjab natives Kinder Gill and Navi Kang could be the solution to having to drive to the western suburbs to get truly great curries. Sad to say, it’s not. But Open Tandoor is a solid option for residents of the multi-story apartments on Williams that are popping up faster than chanterelles in the fall.
It’s exciting to see Gill and Kang leave their downtown Portland Masala food cart behind, if only because they now have proper clay tandoor ovens, a specialty of Northern India. These serve them well, turning out spice-coated kebabs of lightly charred chicken and lamb ($14 and $17), marinated in yogurt to keep them moist.
My favorite dish on the menu, while probably not traditional in any sense, was the tandoori chicken wrap ($10), a heaping helping of lush white and dark meat piled on naan with onion, green pepper, cabbage, and ranch (although I ask for raita, a cool yogurt sauce made with mint, instead of America’s grossest dressing). It’s one of the cheapest dishes there, and one of the most deeply satisfying, sopping up sauce with their tandoor-fired naan and batting cleanup on chicken bites that tumble out.
Veggie pakoras ($7) arrive crisp on the outside, coated in chickpea flour and fried, spiked with spinach, onions, cauliflower, and potato on the yielding inside. Cheese and garlic naan ($3.50 and $3) join the plain option ($2.50)—all are worth an order.
Curries were more problematic: Each seemed to shrink from their destiny as complex and bold blends, and instead became nearly unintelligible from one another—the aloo gobi blending into the same-hued vegetable curry, and all tasting a bit of raw spice. A nip or two from the housemade hot sauce bottle does a lot of good. Open Tandoor’s best seller, chicken tikka, is also a Northern India favorite, and I liked it better the day after as leftovers, with the flavors being given time to settle and meld.
In a nod to its chic environs, Open Tandoor keeps a decent tap list of beer and cider. It even makes cocktails in house, none of which are particularly noteworthy, except that they’re rare and appreciated in an Indian restaurant.
In a neighborhood devoid of turmeric, coriander, ginger, and cumin, Open Tandoor is worth a stop for the streams of bike commuters and neighbors nearby—just don’t go out of your way.