Arts & Entertainment

Restaurant Spotlight: Nando’s Peri Peri

spotlightIn the heart of D.C. — amongst chain restaurants and bars — is an overseas import, the crown jewel of chicken in Chinatown: Nando’s Peri-Peri on 18th Street.


Nando’s Peri Peri (Photo: News-Press)

In the heart of D.C. — amongst chain restaurants and bars — is an overseas import, the crown jewel of chicken in Chinatown: Nando’s Peri-Peri on 18th Street.

Manager Shawnte Williams told the News-Press the 18th Street location has been open since August 2008 and has been taking pride in the food it serves ever since.

“This chicken is so good, I think it just gave me a stroke,” said one diner as he dug into his meal.

Nando’s prideful approach must be working out.

The establisment is best known for its Portuguese flame-grilled Peri-Peri chicken. “Peri-Peri” is a marinade that Nando’s uses made from the African Bird’s Eye Chili. The locals called the tiny chili pili-pili, which means “pepper-pepper” in Swahili. The name eventually devolved into “peri-peri.”

Nando’s marinates all its chicken in its Peri-Peri sauce for 24 hours before cooking and sports fresh, never-frozen chicken.

The vibe at Nando’s is very laid-back; it isn’t a restaurant with snooty waiters or classical sonatas. It is a lively place where the music is fun and jaunty and bustling with activity. The décor is simple, themed with wood and bamboo. An open kitchen makes the space smell heavenly. Brushed metal sculptures adorn the wall and a large wine selection sits atop wooden shelves next to a menu carved into wood above the kitchen.

A section near the counter houses a soda fountain, a place to collect silverware and napkins and a wide variety of hot sauces. This is part of the restaurant’s informal, do-it-yourself style. Rest assured though; Nando’s isn’t fast food.

The menu is, however, fairly basic: customers can choose a quarter chicken ($4.95), half-chicken ($7.95) or whole chicken ($15.95). Each is available in four different sauces, including Lemon & Herb, Medium, Hot and Extra Hot.

For those who like it hot, beware.

Extra Hot is described on Nando’s menu as “highly-combustible” and for “daredevils only!”

Spice temptations aside, Nando’s menu also features platters to share that include family-style sides and appetizers, such as the Hummus & Peri-Peri drizzle ($3.75) – a giant bowl of hummus, a tiny bottle of Peri-Peri sauce to pour into the hummus and a plate filled with fresh, warm pita bread.

A bit unconventional, Nando’s gives each diner a wooden chicken with a number on it once they’re seated. When ready to order, the customer goes to the counter and supplies the Nando’s staff with their number and order. And FYI, at Nando’s, customers pay for their meal before it is delivered.

Once the food comes, the décor falls by the way-side. The chicken and sides are all consuming, in the best possible way. The chicken receives its own plate, with a little flag stuck into the chicken denoting its level of hotness. Side dishes are given separate bowls. Diners have their choice of five sides that come in small ($2.35) and large ($3.95) sizes. Choose among rice, red-skin mashed potatoes, corn on the cobb, garlic bread and french fries. Vegetarians need not worry; Nando’s isn’t just about chicken. The restaurant also has a variety of salads, veggie burgers and vegetarian pita wraps.

Nando’s has two Washington, D.C. locations – one in Chinatown and one near Dupont. Lucky for chicken connoisseurs, both are metro-accessible … and hunger-adjacent.

Nando’s Peri Peri

1210 18th St. NW, Washington, D.C. • 202-621-8603

Sunday – Thursday: 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Friday & Saturday:  11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.