1210 18th Street NW, Washington, D.C.
819 7th Street NW, Washington, D.C.
While D.C. may lack many things, we make up for it in other ways. We have amazing museums, a solid restaurant scene, the highest number of educated professionals in the country, and a decent public transportation system. But we've also been blessed with something else entirely - Nando's Peri-Peri. The D.C. area boasts the South African restaurant chain's only American presence, with two restaurants in D.C. (Dupont Circle and Penn Quarter) and two in Maryland (Annapolis and Silver Spring).
I first discovered Nando's when I lived in Oxford, UK, and I would pass the Nando's on Cowley Road on my weekly trips to Tesco. So I was thrilled to learn that the Portugese-themed Nando's was bringing its fresh, flame-grilled chicken to the D.C. area. The chain offers chicken quarters, halves, and wholes, along with sandwiches, salads, sides and wraps. The chain, which originated in Johannesburg in 1987, has since expanded to 28 countries and five continents, Wikipedia says.
The secret to Nando's addictive chicken lies in the Peri-Peri sauce. Peri-Peri (an African chile) that promises to evoke pleasure and pain. Nando's uses Peri-Peri in its sauces and marinades, and trust me, that stuff can get SPICY. If you like the heat, try "Extra Hot," but note that Nando's warns, "Beware! Pyromaniacs Only." Less-adventurous palates should try the mild "Lemon & Herb" or "Mango & Lime," which pack plenty of flavor to compensate for the lack of heat.
My favorite Nando's dish is the Chicken Breast Wrap, served Medium spicy. The soft wrap contains chunks of the marinated, grilled chicken, fresh greenleaf lettuce, sweet chile jam and yogurt sauce. Don't be fooled - this seemingly innocent wrap packs a punch. The sweet chile jam is deceptively hot, especially with the Medium-level chicken. While the tangy yogurt sauce helps temper the heat, my mouth tends to burn for about 10 minutes post-consumption.
Nando's also offers great sides - the Fino (Portuguese for "deluxe") sides are delicious - the Chunky Portuguese Salad offers chunks of peppers, cucumber, tomatoes, celery, olives and feta in a vinaigrette. The Butternut Squash and Grilled Corn is always cooked to perfection, with red onion, cranberries and cilantro adding a bit of tart sweetness. And be sure to try the olives! Marinated with herbs, spices, and garlic, the olives are big, rich, and full of flavor.
The only complaint is that Nando's is popular! If you visit the Dupont location, try to go before 12 pm, when the lunch rush hits. But if you know you will be showing up later, you can call your oder in and then skip to the front of the line to pick it up.
(Photo credits, top to bottom: su-lin; socoeats.blogspot)