Nando’s first started in 1987 in South Africa, and has quickly covered five continents and 34 countries. Starting in 2008 with a location in Chinatown, has also taken the DC Metro area by storm, with additional locations in Dupont, Bethesda, and Alexandria to name a few. Nando’s serves Peri-Peri Chicken, which has its roots in many of the Portuguese colonized African countries. Peri Peri is a name for the African Birds Eye Chili, which is the main ingredient in the sauce that covers the flame grilled chicken.
The interiors are designed for the space that they inhabit, which tends to add to the already unique environment. Artwork on the walls are from African artists, and the ambient music is an upbeat eclectic mix. There is a lot of natural material for finishes, such as stone and wood. The layout of the space is intended to work with the ordering system they have in place, with an open kitchen behind the cashiers. Once an order is placed, the fountain drinks, utensils, and napkins are located adjacent to the large array of sauces and dressings.
Once inside, you are passed a menu, a metal rooster, and asked to stand in line. The metal rooster is the table that you will be sitting at once your order is completed, as the cashier is at the end of the line. If this becomes confusing, there is an explanation on the menu. Before ordering a main dish, a mix of almonds, cashews, and macadamias covered in Peri-Peri salt or the Spicy Mixed Olives may help pass the time during the wait. Hummus and Garlic Sticks also allow for nibbling from the Appeteasers menu.
The menu is more A La Carte, of a main dish and a number of sides. The main dish of course, being some form of chicken dish. When a chicken order is placed, a level of spiciness is required, ranging from Extra Hot to Lemon & Herb or Mango & Lime, to Plain, which still has some heat to it, as the chicken is pre-marinated. Chicken is offered alone, either as a breast, ¼ up to full, and also as wings. To keep hands clean, a sandwich, pita, or wrap can also be ordered. The sandwich is served on a Portuguese roll goes well with the saucy breast. The wrap has a sweet chili jam and tangy yogurt sauce that brings in additional flavor if needed. The sides cover your basic starches, with French fries, rice and mashed potatoes. If you are a garlic fan, the garlic bread is a must. Grilled corn and Macho Peas are also hot items.
Salads initially come without the chicken, which can be added on for an additional fee. There are multiple salads that are a mix of lettuce or mixed leaf salad, such as Caesar and Mediterranean. These are followed up with a Butternut Squash and Couscous Salad or a Liver and Feta Salad.
Not everyone will want chicken, so Nando’s does offer a steak sandwich and two vegetarian options in addition to the salads, such as a Portobello wrap and a Veggie Burger.
All of the dishes come with some level of spiciness, and if more is desired, there is a board range of sauces that can be brought back to your table. In addition to the initial variety, a couple of others are added. If Extra Hot isn’t enough, there is an even hotter one available. Another being the very popular Garlic sauce, which seems to always be out on loan. The sauces are can also be purchased, so that the party doesn’t stop once you leave.
To help bring sweetness back to your mouth for balance, there are a selection of desserts, with a number of cheesecakes, or even frozen yogurt.
The bountiful flavors that Nando’s offers is a delight, even more surprising, considering that Chicken is the main protein. The chicken could be a more substantial, as a chopped breast can easily get lost in the lettuce of a wrap and an order of three wings requires multiple sides to round out a filling meal. The main downfall however, is the pricing. It appears that the Peri-Peri pepper drives up the cost, as even the nuts are almost four dollars, and adding multiple sides can take a sandwich over ten dollars. If you pick correctly however, a solid meal is to be expected, after all, it’s all a carrier for the sauce anyway.