FOOD: Washington DC Metro’s Nando’s Peri Peri

I was walking in Old Town Alexandria, shortly after I arrived here.  I had been shopping and killing time one afternoon.  The time had slipped away from me, and it was now later afternoon and I still hadn’t eaten lunch.

The Old Town Alexandria location at King and Washington

King Street is lined with fast casual restaurants, bars pubs, and fine dining options.  Although I was hungry, I knew I didn’t want a burger and fries, or a large salad or a sandwich made with deli meat.  As an American, these are typically the easiest options to find in a hurry, and high up on my crave list. 

As I perused menus posted in restaurant windows I came across a place called Nando’s Peri Peri.  They served fast casual grilled chicken, other meats, and vegetables as well as an assortment of sides venturing far beyond french fries.  I was intrigued enough to enter.

Not crowded during the off-hour, I had time to make my decision at leisure and opted for the quarter chicken, medium heat, with the Butternut squash and grilled corn (which features red onions, cilantro, and dried cranberries) as my side.  Instead of getting my meal to go, as I had originally planned, I opted to dine in.  The staff was amazingly helpful in explaining the concept to me.

The hostess escorted me to my table and handed me my menu.  I got up to place my order at the register, get your own drinks, silverware, and condiments (their selection of Peri Peri sauces and salad dressings is amazing.)

Your appetizers, entrees, and desserts (unless you get soft serve ice cream) are all delivered to you at the table.  And the choices and tastes they have to offer.  I must admit, I have been back about five times since then and never had their fries.  But with options like the Butternut squash and grilled corn, the Portuguese rice, macho peas, or red skin mashed potatoes; I find the idea of fries (chips on their menu) to be anticlimactic.

The chicken is grilled until perfectly tender and a little bit charred on the skin, then slathered in the Peri Peri sauce of your choice.  I am a lover of grilled meat, and during these cold hard to grill outside months, Nando’s has been a placeholder until summer returns.  With an assortment of heats and tangs it is impossible to not satisfy your taste buds.

Grilled wings and my favorite, the butternut squash and grilled corn

The sides and appetizers—I have had the assorted olives, hummus with peri peri drizzle and the red pepper dip—are all worth the trip.  In fact, I return for the butternut squash and corn alone. Well not exactly, but I get it every time… 

The chunky Portuguese medley. I love olives. And crunchy vegetables. And olives…

I discovered on a later visit, that Nando’s Peri Peri is an international chain originating in South Africa with locations all over Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Australia, and the South Pacific.    Peri Peri (from the Swahili ‘pili pili’ meaning pepper pepper) is a spelling a hot pepper from southern Africa that adds the spice to the sauces and food.

Nando’s first location in North America popped up in Washington, DC in 2008, 21 years after the chain began.  It has since opened nine additional locations.  Find the one closest to you for your own peri peri experience.  And maybe you can tell me how the chips are.