Originally published in the June 2016 issue of Dispatch Magazine

One of my least favorite kinds of food snobs is the type who turns up their nose at a restaurant solely on its proximity to the mall. These are the same people who get a warm, fuzzy feeling overpaying at whatever James WHO? Award–winning restaurants they can get a table at just so they can tell their friends they did.

By leading this kind of life, they’ll miss out on Taj, a small, no-frills Indian eatery nestled in the back of an Olive Garden parking lot, right next to a bunch of dumpsters. They will be completely oblivious to the existence of the world’s absolute greatest buffet, priced criminally low at $9.99 per person. And they’ll never have the opportunity to explore the sprawling dinner menu, which spans myriad regions of India with incredible finesse.

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This dining type would probably also be upset that they aren’t greeted by a server within 178 seconds of sitting down, and that their food isn’t on the table six minutes later. However, a bit of patience will reward them with dishes like onion mirchi bajji ($1.49), spicy deep-fried jalapeños stuffed with onion and battered with chickpea flour, or the Southern Indian crepe-like staple, dosa, served with a variety of fillings and dipping sauces ($5.49–8.49). The food arrives whenever it’s done, but I can guarantee that the gobi 65 ($7.99 — and not to be confused with Eiffel 65, creators of that “Blue [Da Ba Dee]” song), vibrantly seasoned cauliflower gently simmered in yogurt and citrus, as well as the cholle batura ($8.99), essentially fried dough served with tender chickpeas, will be delicious whenever the hell they arrive.

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One thing I’m guilty of, especially when it comes to Indian cuisine, is ordering the exact same thing time and time again. On a recent visit, though, my departure from the lamb khorma into unfamiliar territory was rewarded with mind-numbingly great dishes, like Green Chicken ($11.99), simmered with a fiery sauce driven by finely chopped hibiscus sabdariffa. The navaratan khorma ($12.99), described as a “royal entrée” and consisting of nine vegetables simmered in a beautiful, sunflower-hued cream sauce, was so delectable that it may very well replace its lamb-bearing cousin in my rotation.

The skill of Taj’s chefs is showcased brilliantly with their tandoori chicken ($19.99 full, $11.99 half), which arrives nuclear-hot, straight from the clay oven. It practically falls off the bone, and gets even better when wrapped in coconut naan and laden with a cooling dollop of raita.

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All of this deliciousness is best accompanied by a mango lassi — especially if you’re skittish around unapologetically spicy food.

If, after the meal, mall-side dining still seems pedestrian to you, you can always head over to Williams–Sonoma and purchase a $130 All-Clad wok and a $50 box of “finishing salts” to assure yourself that you are, in fact, still among the culinary elite.

200 Gorham Road #8, South Portland | 207-828-6677 | tajofmaine.com

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