One of the most liberating parts about going to school in Washington DC is the multicultural blend of food options. Want a traditional brunch for breakfast, Korean-inspired hoagies for lunch, and schwarma for dinner? No problem.

Reliance on a meal plan can cause severe bubble syndrome, and there is nothing wrong with exploring the backstreets of the city. Thankfully, there are plenty of not-so-secret dinning spots that don't break the bank and more than exceed expectations.

Nando's serves up perfectly spiced South African-style chicken at an affordable price that makes it the perfect place to cheat on your meal plan. With five locations throughout the city, it's pretty hard to miss. 

The restaurant struts the line between fast-casual and sit down constantly. You order by the cashier, but have your food brought you by a waiter. Fill up your solid glass cup at a soda fountain. It should be jarring, but in reality it captures the best parts of both styles.

Fast-casual influences mean there is no dress code, and large groups are welcome. There are no metaphoric eggshells to walk over. While the service is fast—food comes when it's ready—no one is rushing you out the door.  

Nando's Peri Peri wears both its South African and Portuguese influences at every inch. The decor matches the vibrant music that plays songs in different languages. If falling short of coming from another world, it definitely didn't come from here. This ambiance more than justifies the moderately-priced menu.

Matthew West

Nando's likes to do things a little differently, and they make that abundantly clear as soon as you walk in. Choosing to dine in, because this is a romantic affair not some food truck splurge, you will be given a bright red wooden chicken.  Bring your new friend to the counter, and take a look at the menu. 

Chicken is the word, period. There are some vegetarian options, but there are plenty of other options available for Meatless Mondays. Variety is not lost, because all good parts of the chicken are on display. Sandwich for free form, boneless, or the unabridged version, the choice is yours. 

The boneless breast option is reliably tender and effortless to eat, and is the easiest entry into Nando's vast selection. Heartier options can be made out of any combination of thighs, legs, and wings. The dark meat can get a little messy, but forks and knives are your friends and the flavor is more concentrated. 

Ordering the same thing twice is reserved for the unadventurous at heart. 

Having chosen your ideal cut of meat, it's then time to make the real life-altering decision: which sauce to choose. How spicy is too spicy? Is the "extra hot" code for "absolute inferno" or "Sriracha lite"? These spices make the trademark Nando's experience so unique.  

The metaphorical stakes are high, but if you make the wrong choice you can always come back later. I recommend medium to start with, and you can work your way up the Scoville scale if need be. If spice is off-putting there is no shame in switching to garlic. 

#SpoonTip: Avoid 'plain,' because anyone can grill a chicken breast.

oil, olive oil, olive, garlic, bread, salt
Matthew West

The chicken is most certainly the heroine of this story but the side dishes transform the solo act into a full-fledged meal. There are two price options: one side (the lame way) or two sides (the smart way). It is going to be a carb-overload, just the way dinner is meant to be.

An absolute staple of Nando's are the Peri chips (French fries with their signature Peri-Peri mayo). Their flavor blends perfectly with any main course on the menu because the sauces all share common roots. The garlic bread, officially described as "smothered in garlic-herb butter," is a solid addition to complete the savory alliance.

Healthier options are available and share the unique Nando's flair that is expected. Salads ranging from butternut squash and grilled corn to more traditional mixed leaf varieties. Macho peas and mashed potatoes are an option for people who want to eat vegetables of the non-crunchy variety. Either way, this freedom facilitates flavor.

You ordered, you ate, and felt classier than you thought "fast food" had a right to be. It's time to return to the meal plan metropolis from whence you came, but don't forget what you learned. Nando's feels like an exotic adventure that is oddly juxtaposed blocks away. So when you're feeling tired of the same old same old, take the advice of Lou Reed and take a walk on the wild side.