Not the old lady perfume (which I actually own) or the funky band (which I don’t). It’s Oregon’s, and quite possibly the world’s, freakiest Indian restaurant. Smack dab in the middle of nowheresville, this suburban raja’s palace gives one pause.
I’d never heard of Orenco Station till that very morning when I was skimming “Oregonian” ads and saw some whole foods store called New Seasons in a place called Orenco Station in Hillsboro. Moving out of Oregon four and a half years ago, I’d missed the boom years and subsequent housing developments in former outskirts now made accessible by new light rail lines.
Many factors played in this dining choice. The main one being my friend Todd’s curiosity after reading a review in “The Willamette Week” (disgustingly called “Willie Week” by a former coworker) coupled with my creepy fascination with sterile suburbs. Plus, it was minutes from my mom’s mobile home where I was staying. It played into my fantasy of visiting Portland without ever actually stepping foot in the city, as well as Todd’s of riding MAX to a planned community for dinner.
We made plans to meet up that evening at Orenco Station. The “community” is beyond bizarre. I think the original idea was to re-create a small-town, main street atmosphere with housing for various income levels, complete with dining, shopping, parks and a town square. Idyllic, no? Well, there is one main street, the one pictured on the webpage. And that’s it. There is a Kitchen Kaboodle, Starbucks, the aforementioned New Seasons, an Italian restaurant and Shalimar, all above pricey “hip kitchen lofts” that lord only knows who lives in. Identical ’40s-style “cottages” flank a long grassy
strip of land beyond the shopping area.
At 8pm the entire area was desolate. We feared getting beat up by merely standing in the gazebo after dark, and joked about being pegged for young lovers and subsequently harassed (he’s 40+ and gay). Such solitude breeds suspicion. Benches abound. No one would ever dare sit on them, though. The half-mile or so between the development and the train station is filled with driveways that end in grass and more aimless benches scattered throughout the sidewalks yet to used for foot traffic. There are no homes, just empty lots. Who on earth lives here?
Oh, but the food. The food is fine. Not remarkable, but better than to be expected in such a setting. Someone went wild with the menu descriptions. An Afghani lamb dish is inspired by “outlandish, free spirited farmers.” All right, they were talking to us!
Back to the neighborhood. As it turns out, the money ran out. All the empty space is not waiting to be filled, but at a perpetual stand still. The nearby tech jobs have dried up and the area is now a once affluent ghost town. So much for 1998’s “America’s Community of the Year.” God bless the Northwest. They try. If I were an eccentric billionaire I’d snatch up a place in Orenco Station just for shits and giggles.
Shalimar* 1340 Orenco Station, Hillsboro, OR