By: Alexander Ehasz, Columnist
Next door to the Cinemark in Towson Square is Nando’s, a restaurant that perfumes the block with its smoky spiced smell. Nando’s specializes in a Portuguese-style chicken served in a sauce made from peri-peri peppers. An easy comparison is to a buffalo wing, although their peri-peri sauce is flavored with other aromatics, and the chicken is grilled and not fried. Nando’s was founded in South Africa and quickly became an international success with 1,000 locations in 35 countries. As of 2008, the first US location opened in Washington D.C. Since, 42 Nando’s restaurants have opened in this country, Towson amongst the earlier locations.
Despite the business of a Saturday night, staff had me seated within two minutes of my arrival. As I was escorted to my table, I took notice of how packed together the tables are, something that would make getting a refill of my drink an awkward apology-laced squeeze past other dining patrons. Regardless, I browsed the menu and then went up to the counter to place my order. The main entrée was their recommendation of a half chicken. I ordered this in the medium heat sauce along with a side of garlic bread and so-called “macho peas,” peas seasoned with chopped mint, chile flakes, and other flavors. The chicken was amongst the juiciest I have ever had, and the skin was beautifully crispy, striped with deeply flavorful char from the grill. The sauce played off this smoky grilled flavor well, adding a moderate heat and fresh acidity. From the self-serve station where I got napkins, utensils, and the like, I also picked up a bottle of the XX hot sauce. It was indeed quite hot, although not overwhelmingly so or at the cost of flavor. The garlic bread tasted of real roasted garlic and had a pleasantly contrasting crispy top and fluffy interior. The bread was made better by the addition of a few splashes of the lemon herb sauce. The peas were herbaceous and fresh, rounding out the entrée well. The only disappointing element of the meal was the Dole Whip, a bottomless sorbet-like dessert self-served from a dispenser near the soda fountain. I found it to taste much closer to a canned pineapple than anything fresh, which stood in stark contrast to the other fresh items I had there. It was not offensive, but it fell a bit flat.
Despite being somewhat cramped, the ambiance of Nando’s is still rather nice. A combination of original artworks, reclaimed wood pallets, and sculptural overhead lights hewn from yarn or a similar material make for a memorable design. Another major success of Nando’s is the speed at which they operate. I was seated, placed my order, and received it within 10 minutes of entering, making this a great spot for a quick meal. At $20 for a half chicken, 2 sides, a drink, and dessert, Nando’s is very reasonably priced for its quality and location. As a quick bite before or after a movie or a shopping trip at the mall, it would be hard to beat.