#206 - Nando's, College Park MD

As I was going through the list of draft posts on my blog yesterday, I realized that I completely failed to do 3 restaurants from my visit to Maryland this fall. So I immediately got to work fixing that.

It's very rare that I get to go back to Maryland during football season, but I found a really cheap flight so I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately it didn't coincide with a Maryland home football game, which would have been a great opportunity to see a whole lot of friends. I've been able to do that a couple of times, and it's been awesome. Both schedules are already out for next year, and I can actually choose from 3 different home games to go back for. 

College Park has changed so much since I was in school at Maryland 20+ years ago. Every time I go back I drive through campus and around town, just to see what's new. Ratsie's was a College Park institution for 30 years. It was in a prime location right on the corner of Route 1. I don't think we ever went there during the day, but it sure had great late-night pizza. It finally closed down this spring, and Nando's took over. When I was in Maryland in July, we drove by and the entire building had been gutted. 

My parents and I went to Nando's for lunch. I was amazed to see how the space has been completely and totally transformed.

At first I thought they took over whatever was next door as well, because the space seems so much bigger. But I think it's just the way the new space is designed. The restaurant has bold colors, wood ceilings and tables, and a combination of booth and table seating. There's a large open kitchen in the back. I love restaurants that do that, so you can watch them work.

The restaurant originated in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1987. Since then, it has grown a ton. In the US, there are locations in Maryland, DC, Virginia and Illinois. Across the ocean are locations in Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and the UK. 

The restaurant was still really crowded when we arrived, even though it was after 1pm. I liked that the hostess immediately asked everyone who entered if they had been there before, and then explained the process for newbies. The order and seating method is very unique. They seat you, give you menus, and then you get up and wait in line to order. It seems kind of weird to me, but you can take your time perusing the menu if needed. I'm guessing if you already know what you want you can order first and then sit. The one down side is that the music was too loud.

Nando's does Portugese food, featuring chicken, sandwiches, wraps, salads, and sides. The sides are priced separately, but sandwiches, wraps and pitas all come with one side. They also have beer, wine and sangria. The chicken is the most popular thing on the menu, marinated overnight and grilled to order with your choice of Peri Peri sauces, offering everything from plain-ish to extra hot. 

We decided to start with the hummus with Peri Peri drizzle

The hummus was excellent, and the pita was served warm. What a great combination. The drizzle had a serious kick, and I loved the mini bottle it came in. I could have easily eaten all of that hummus myself.

My mom got the roasted veggie wrap

Roasted eggplant and red peppers, PERi-drizzled couscous salad, hummus, pickled onions and crumbled goat cheese in a whole wheat wrap
I tasted a bite of her wrap. I'm not a fan of eggplant, but the wrap was delicious. It had a great mix of flavors. The wraps are pretty substantial, so between the hummus and her lunch she got full pretty quickly and she ended up taking home half the wrap and the corn for later. 

My dad got the portobello mushroom and halloumi wrap

Roasted and served in a whole wheat wrap with our chili jam
What is halloumi you ask? Well, it's a cheese, made from a mix of goat and sheep milk. I didn't try any of my dad's, but he said it was really good. 

Of course, I had to get chicken. You can get dark or white meat quarter, half a chicken, chicken breast, chicken livers, or wings. I went simple with a 1/4 dark meat, with the medium sauce. They have bottles of all the sauces at the condiment station, so I picked up the garlic and hot to taste test. I had a really hard time deciding what to get on the side. I thought about the fries or the rice, but when the cashier raved about the macho peas I decided to go with that instead.

Macho Peas: rugged pea mash with whole peas, parsley, mint & chili
The chicken was fantastic. It was so incredibly tender and juicy. I tasted both of the sauces, and the garlic was instantly my favorite. Not a powerful garlic taste, but it had a wonderful depth of flavor. The chicken didn't need any more sauce, but that didn't stop me from eating every bite with the garlic sauce. The macho peas were okay, but I wouldn't rave about them. I had such high expectations, and to me they were bland. I tried some of the peri drizzle on them and that helped. Then I added some of the garlic sauce, which pushed them up to really good. 

Will I go back? Yes, I definitely will. The chicken of course is what drew me in. But some of their other items look really good as well. So next time I'm back in Maryland, I'll have to check it out.