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.
In the dead of night in 1976, the Abi-Najm family boarded a cargo ship bringing only what they could carry; an escape from Civil War in Lebanon called for a quick getaway. They traveled across the ocean to safety in Arlington, Virginia, where they were able to open a small cafe in 1979. To save money, they changed the eatery’s name from “Athenian Taverna” to “Lebanese Taverna” so that they only had to update one word on the eatery’s marquee.
From these modest beginnings grew a series of eateries that today comprises of six cafes and four quick-service cafés, all still operated by the Abi-Najm clan. One look at the menu explains the success: chicken shawarma, spicy hummus, lamb tartare—all Lebanese staples that helped the restaurant earn a spot on Northern Virginia magazine's list of 25 Iconic Eats. There's even kibbeh, or stuffed meatballs, which blend ground beef, lamb, almonds, and pine nuts into fried spheres suitable for felling miniature bowling pins on top of the table before entrees arrive. The decor is as striking as the cuisine; inside the Bethesda location, light filters through the colored glass lanterns that decorate the dining room.
Pronounced “AH-beets,” Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza sets itself apart from more familiar pie prototypes with a crunchy yet chewy, stone oven-cooked crust, irregular shape, and massive size. Combining their roots in fine dining with a dedication to fresh and simple Italian cuisine, Pete’s chefs make the gluten-free pizza crust in-house each day and top pies with savory sauce and locally-sourced toppings that are farm-fresh, organic, or made in house. Their artisan approach means that each apizza emerges with its own imperfectly round shape, primarily served in 18-inch whole pies, single slices, or doughy maps of ancient Greek city-states.
Pete’s menu also encompasses wheat- and egg-based pastas including goat cheese and basil ravioli, homemade lasagna, and spaghetti Bolognese. The fortress of feasting also channels the vibes of a neighborhood bar with a variety of draft and bottled beers, eclectic décor, and oven doors that bark out patrons’ names when they walk through the door.
Every morning at Ghar-E-Kabab, chefs Chandasar Ray and Chetnath Bhandari enact a delicate dance across the kitchen. Chef Ray pulls Indian and Nepalese spices from the spice rack for his simmering curry sauces. Meanwhile, Chef Bhandari alternates between fanning the flames of his earthen tandoor oven, and kneading batches of sweet naan dough, a traditional South Asian flat bread.
This daily ritual reflects the chefs’ mission to uphold traditional cooking methods they mastered in their native India and Nepal. Chef Bhandari originally arrived in DC to work as a chef for the Royal Nepalese Embassy, and he brings his revered attention to detail to his own restaurant. The duo crafts every entree from scratch, from the fluffy breads to the creamy yogurt sauces. But although they strive to follow traditional recipes, they tweak them for health: meats marinate in olive oil, and only local, organic produce simmers in the tandoor oven.
Part of a growing community of Ethiopian eateries in Silver Spring, according to the Gazette, Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant has served up generous portions of authentic east African fare since 2009. Goblets of traditional honey wine accompany plates of cubed lamb marinated in red-wine sauce or vegetarian dishes with lentils, cabbage, and collard greens. Guests can sop up buttery sauces with spongy sourdough injera bread, or use them to finger-paint admiring portraits of the live musicians who occasionally perform in the dining room.
At Bombay Gaylord, the specialty kabobs are first marinated in a blend of Indian spices before being baked in the tandoor oven, giving them a nice charred flavor. The kitchen also simmers chicken and seafood in fragrant sauces before ladling them into bronzed dishes with gilded spoons. Stacks of fluffy naan bread await to soak up these sauces, so guests can reserve their napkins to wipe tears from the eyes of a friend who chose a different restaurant that night.