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 caf?s, 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.
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.
Each day at Fenton Cafe, Meaza Gabru swirls thin layers of batter on crepe makers in her open kitchen, creating delicate shells for sweet and savory fillings. She stuffs more than 40 different crepes with ingredients ranging from chocolaty nutella and fresh fruit to smoked turkey, cheese, and egg. In fact, her selection of crepes is so overwhelming that the The Voice recommended that locals visit weekly "until the entire menu has been devoured." Bold coffees and espresso drinks accompany Meaza's signature treats, which diners can savor on the outdoor patio or while sending a breakup text to their pancakes.
Red paper lanterns dangle from the ceiling at Ikko Sushi, casting a warm glow on careful arrangements of colorful sushi. Displays of fresh fish line the sushi bar, where chefs assemble salmon, eel, and crab into kaleidoscopes of texture and color, adorning them with extravagant flourishes of spicy sauce, wasabi, and shredded Japanese currency. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, pots bubble with rice and noodles, as grills sizzle with teriyaki beef, chicken, and pork. Servers tote dishes and cups of imported beer and sake out to tabletops that speckle both the interior and outdoor front patio.
Your tongue won't be the only sensory organ experiencing Morocco, though. The restaurant's walls are decorated with murals of the Moroccan landscape and dotted with pottery and artwork, and Moroccan music wafts through the air like hookah smoke. After sinking like a sultan into Taste of Morocco's lush maroon-and-gold pillows and chairs, warm up the palate with some mint tea before diving into Taste of Morocco's most popular treat: bastilla, a thin pastry of phyllo dough stuffed with a variety of ingredients. The chicken bastilla is marinated and stuffed with almonds, parsley, and onions, all topped with confectioner's sugar and cinnamon. The vegetarian bastilla, on the other hand, mixes stewed vegetables with parsley, cilantro, onions, almonds, and Moroccan spices. A small bastilla for two is $15.99, while a large bastilla for eight is $49.99.