Saturday, June 6, 2009

Nando's Peri Peri

If you've traveled extensively abroad, chances are you've heard of Nando's. Nando's Peri Peri chicken is a South African casual chicken restaurant with 800 locations in over 30 countries. The U.S. was Nando-less until last year when the first one opened on 7th street in Penn Quarter. Since then, another location has popped up near Dupont Circle.

For the uninitiated, Peri Peri refers to the African Bird's Eye Chili which Nando's uses to flavor its flame-grilled chicken. You can pick your spicyness level: from Lemon and Herb to Extra Hot.

Nando's seating set up takes a little getting used to. You're greeted by a host/hostess at the door who gives you a number. After selecting a table, you go to the counter to place your order where you must bring (or just tell them) your number. You then return to your table, still with your number, where a server brings out your food a few minutes later. It's a hybrid fast-food/full-service dining concept that leaves most people unsure of whether they should leave a tip on the table or not. I worked at a restaurant with a similar set-up and we rarely got tips (that's not to say you shouldn't leave one for good service!)

On this visit we started with Nando's "new" hummus and pita. It's pretty typical hummus and pita except that its served with a little jar of fiery Nando's sauce. Stirring it into the hummus added a nice kick.

My favorite menu item is the Chicken Breast Wrap which features a Nando's chicken breast with your choice of spicy (or not) sauce, lettuce, sweet-peppery chili jam, and a tangy yogurt sauce. It's a spicy-sweet-creamy combo that I love. The wrap is some sort of wheat concoction that serves as sturdy base for the juicy wrap. You can add one or two sides to the wrap for a few bucks more.

B ordered the half chicken combo (extra hot) with garlic bread and corn on the cob. They are serious when they say extra hot! The chicken was juicy and packed with flavor and the sides were great too. The garlic bread packed a super garlicky punch (not good for a first date!) and the corn was fresh grilled.

Nando's is a refreshing addition to the DC dining scene: it's relatively inexpensive, fresh, flavorful, and quick. I love the little thoughtful touches placed throughout the restaurant: helpful explanations of the chicken spice levels, extra thick napkins for the messy chicken, and a variety of sauces available in bottles on the counter to add extra flavor to your food.

Second Thoughts from B

Lately both J and I are exploring our spicy tastebuds that were dormant for most of our lives. I can't speak for her, but for me, I simply followed the lead of my parents who generally avoid fire mouth. Over the last couple of years, I've grown an appreciation for spicy foods as they add one more dimension to my palate.

Nando's sliding scale of spice has something for everyone. The extra hot had a good kick and made me sweat a bit, but the goal remained flavor rather than pure intensity. It highlighted the calmer savory and sweet flavors of my meal. On the other hand, I've also had the more tamely sauced offerings, each of which are noteworthy in their own right. But for me, especially in this spicy phase I'm in, hot is the way to go.
Nando's Peri Peri on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Sweet the place sounds amazing I'm going to have to try it out.

marcus said...

Goodbye KFC when Nando's expand in the USA!