The Washington D.C. area has no shortage of chicken joints. Whether you like your bird deep fried, rotisserie-spun, or charcoal-grilled, there’s a spot to satisfy your needs. But there’s one local chain that’s been rapidly expanding in the metro region on the popularity of its poultry.
Nando’s Peri-Peri, an Afro-Portuguese cuisine inspired eatery known for its flame-grilled chicken and named for the African Bird’s Eye Chili (piri piri), has opened more than a dozen locations in the past five years. One of the chain’s restaurants can be found in Pentagon Row, with a view of a skating rink all the more active as winter approaches. The chill of the season may be upon us, but inside Nando’s Peri-Peri there’s plenty of spice to beat the cold.
The chicken here is served with different basting options to suit diners’ tastes. There’s a plain option, which gets the house’s signature 24-hour marinade treatment but no extra seasoning. There’s also mild lemon-herb and mango-lime sauces to coat the chicken. A sliding scale of heat follows, from a medium sauce that puts a little tingle in the mouth all the way up to the extra-hot. A thin glaze of the sauce spreads across the meat, but bottles of the stuff can be taken to the table and liberally added.
Orders are placed at the counter, but first diners are shown to a table where they can sit and ponder the menu and its many chicken options. Ready to recite their table number, diners can order from a menu of appetizers, salads, chicken platters, and assorted sandwiches to be brought to the table.
An appetizer of the Peri-Peri Wings ($4.95 for three) gives an early sample of the chicken here, serving a trio of the wings, their crisp skin heavy with charred flavor. The Spicy Mixed Olives ($3.95) start the snacking immediately, as they’re handed off from a large bowl right at the counter. Here, big pitted green olives and smaller black olives are spiced up with herbs, garlic, and chili in a light vinaigrette, offering an interesting blend of the flavors the meal will feature without an incredible amount of heat. In the Hummus with Peri-Peri Drizzle ($5.95), another shareable snack, creamy hummus gets a flavor boost from a little bottle of Peri-Peri Drizzle, which has a bright-red color, earthy flavor, and a kick of heat to deliver.
Salads and sandwiches are offered as entrees, but the chicken platters are the real attraction here. The chicken is presented in many different ways, such that dark- and white-meat preferences can be met and a range of appetites can be satisfied. A quarter-chicken, dark meat, costs $4.95 and the prices go up from there as more chicken is ordered and sides are added on. The Full Platter ($24.95) offers a whole bird and two large sides, and is recommended for two or three diners. But a half-chicken platter ($9.45, $11.45 with one side and $13.35 with two sides) is enough to satisfy two, so long as there’s no argument over dark and white meat. The chicken is a delight of juicy meat, flavorful sauce, and crispy skin, but the sides should not be overlooked. The Portuguese Rice, a yellow rice of peppers and herbs, has a nice flavor and a kick of heat that rivals the house sauces. Corn on the cob, another side option, gets the flame-grilled treatment just like the chicken. As should be expected, fries are served as a side, and the Perinaise (Peri-Peri mayonnaise) is a nice, tangy dip for them worth the extra 75 cents. The sides, when not added onto a platter, cost $2.35 for a regular portion and $3.95 for a large. There are deluxe sides, which cost a bit more, like the Chunky Portuguese Medley ($3.95). Here, big green olives are the focus of a salad of red and yellow pepper strips, bits of cool celery and cucumber, bright cherry tomatoes, and ample feta cheese that dissolves into the salad’s dressing.
Dining at Nando’s Peri-Peri is a way to experience the flavors of Afro-Portuguese cuisine, and the interesting ways those influences combine within an approachable chicken-and-sides format. It’s a unique experience, and a unique fusion of tastes.
Nando’s Peri-Peri is located at 1301 S. Joyce St., Arlington. For more information, call 571-858-9953 or visit nandosperiperi.com. Restaurant hours are Sunday – Thursday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Friday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.