Even though Portuguese explorers couldn't pronounce the Swahili name for the African bird's eye chili—pili-pili—the sailors fully embraced its flavor shortly after landing in the region known today as Mozambique. Intrigued by the small, fiery pepper, they combined it with aromatic doses of herbs, garlic, and lemon to create the first peri-peri sauce. That sauce eventually became a wildly popular marinade for poultry, and the tasty concoction made its way to South Africa over the next several centuries. There, in 1987, two friends decided to honor this culinary legacy by founding the first Nando's Peri-Peri restaurant. The eatery continued to remain true to its South African roots, even while expanding to encompass locations in 24 countries across four continents.
Beginning with fresh chickens that never see the inside of a kitchen freezer, the chefs furtively marinate the birds in a secret peri-peri sauce for 24 hours before grilling them over an open flame. Diners dictate the heat level of their order, requesting that the grilled chicken arrive relatively mild or that wings be slathered with even more incendiary spices. The succulent chicken can be plated with hearty side dishes—such as Portuguese-style rice with herbs and peppers or peas with mint—or served in the form of a sandwich, wrap, or pita. To complement the menus' African flavors, Nando's worldwide locations collectively feature more than 4,000 pieces of African artwork.
The Melting Pot transforms date nights and friendly outings into rich, sensory experiences by gathering diners around communal pots of fondue and adorning their tables with sumptuous four-course feasts of cheese, salad, chocolate, and steakhouse fare. Bubbling pots of emmentaler, lager-laced cheddar, and creamy fontina quell urges to engage in skewer swordfights as guests eagerly dip and slather slices of crisp granny-smith apples or crusts of artisanal bread. Creamy peppercorn ranch and decadent burgundy-shallot vinaigrette drape plates of crispy salad greens and roma tomatoes before servers parade out the pièce de résistance—fresh shrimp, sesame-crusted ahi, and succulent slices of filet mignon that bathe in roiling pools of coq au vin and bourguignonne. As a tasty digestif, dessert-savvy diners coat brownies, marshmallows, and unlucky car keys in cauldrons of milk, dark, and white chocolate.
Potomac Pizza’s chefs toss and stretch fluffy, nonfat, and cholesterol-free dough into pizzas lauded by the Washington Post for “returning pizza to its good name” in a world of national chains. The DC-area pizzerias create each pie with freshly-made sauce and a selection of 24 toppings, such as grilled chicken, eggplant, feta cheese, and Canadian bacon. Potomac Pizza’s kitchens also whip up calzones, and other Italian specialties such as lasagna and veal parmesan, served in Potomac’s dining rooms or nestled into boxes for takeout and delivery orders.
The philosophy at Growlers Brew Pub is an open-minded one. That means their house brews can take nearly any forms. The usual menu includes more traditional concoctions such as the Broken Shovel Stout, a midnight-colored beer made with roasted chocolate and black malts; the Kingpin Kölsch, a Cologne-native with a subtle fruit aroma; and the Alleyway Amber, brewed in the traditional French biere de garde style. And then there's the more daring seasonal menu, where beers might be infused with Sriracha or Old Bay seasoning. And rounding out the menu is gourmet bar-fare, such as a fiery chorizo burger, a smoky grilled cheese with pulled pork, and grilled salmon with roasted garlic sauce.
Vibrant murals and golden accents ornament the modern interior of Tandoori Nights, where chefs craft palate-pleasing Indian dishes. Tandoori specialties emerge piping hot and ready for stop-motion-animation performances from a clay oven, where boneless chicken breast swathed in yogurt, cream cheese, ginger, and garlic transforms into the malai kebab. Curry sauce flavors goat, chicken, and a school of Bombay-style fish and shrimp, and samosas lock flavorful bites inside pastry shells. Fluffy rounds of garlic-and-butter-topped naan swoop in to sop up leftover sauces or happy tears spilled by piles of biryani after they finally comprehend their own deliciousness.
The chefs at each Copper Canyon Grill, a mid-Atlantic favorite, craft their regional American dishes from scratch every day. Their kitchens fill with flames and savory aromas as they roast meats and vegetables over hardwood fires, making customers happy, but leaving behind bare earth at local basketball arenas.
The kitchen yields hearty servings of grilled prime rib and filet mignon, ahi tuna and Atlantic salmon, and Delmarva-style crab dip and Eastern Shore jumbo lump crab cakes. It also tempts with a signature rotisserie chicken and jalapeño- and serrano-pepper cornbread baked in an iron skillet.