The British are coming! And the French! And the South Africans!
D.C. has become a hot spot for international restaurant chains as they establish a presence in the U.S. And for good reason: With its mix of embassies, NGOs and international businesses, Washington is home to a distinctively global crowd. For expats, chains from abroad offer a taste of familiarity (and for the rest of us, they’re simply fun to experience). Here are four of the newest local additions to our foreign-food scene.
The French bakery and sandwich chain originated with a family-run boulangerie near Lille, France, in 1889. Since then, it’s expanded around the world and, more recently, into Washington. Paul’s D.C. flagship opened in Penn Quarter a year ago, and two others followed (the newest, which opened in June, is at 1000 Connecticut Ave. NW). Eugenie Monasterio, 25, who hails from Paris, went out of her way to patronize Paul in the nearly two years she lived here. “The recipes are old-fashioned,” she says by email from Paris, where she recently returned. “The atmosphere is … very cliché of a French bakery.” Her favorite sandwiches are the Charlemagne Mixte, a “very classic” ham and cheese combo ($7.25), and the Dieppois, which contains tuna with a light mayonnaise dressing ($6.75).
Although there are a few franchised Pauls in Miami, D.C. is the only American city with company-run restaurants. “We wanted to have a city that has an international vibe, where genuine authentic food is appreciated,” says Philippe Sanchez, CEO of Paul USA.
Pret a Manger
Having worked in England in 2005, Foggy Bottom resident Jennifer Pellizzaro was happy when the British sandwich chain Pret a Manger opened its first D.C. shop in Penn Quarter in January 2009. But not as excited as her British husband, Ben. “He was ecstatic … because I think it felt a little more like home to him,” she says. “He drove us over the second day it was open.” Pret’s standout items include the light Spicy Shrimp & Cilantro wrap ($7) and the Chicken & Bacon sandwich ($7), a meaty indulgence flavored with special seasoning. As in the U.K., the food is made fresh daily (but not made to order). A new shop at 14th and H streets NW — Washington’s sixth Pret — is scheduled to open in September.
The region’s first Nando’s Peri-Peri opened in Chinatown in 2008, on a joyful day for Sarah Thomson. She’d eaten at Nando’s when she studied in South Africa (she says it’s as prevalent there as McDonald’s is here). To take advantage of her closer proximity to Nando’s in the U.S. and its flame-grilled chicken and famously spicy sauces, she had 10 friends join her at the newly opened restaurant for her 24th birthday. “I think we were some of their first customers,” Thomson says. The American Nando’s is more upscale than its South African forebearer, offering the option to sit down instead of just grab-and-go. That’s because the chain adapted its service style to the U.S. market, says Alan Wollenschlaeger, Nando’s vice president of operations. The newest local Nando’s opened in Pentagon Row in June (1301 S. Joyce St., Arlington); the company plans to add another in Old Town Alexandria in coming months.
Last week saw the opening of British chain Yo! Sushi in Union Station. It’s the company’s first American location, and it comes complete with the brand’s trademark conveyor belt, which transports small plates of sushi to customers seated around the restaurant. Diners pluck off what they wish — options include creative rolls such as the toro wasabi and jalapeño ($5; tuna belly with wasabi root relish and jalapeño), hot rice and noodle dishes and miso-flavored desserts — and pay for it all at the end. “It’s really easy. It’s really fun. It’s really quick,” says Jennifer Pellizzaro, who became a fan while living in England. “If someone was going somewhere on the train and had 30 minutes, that’s the best meal you could get.” The 15-year-old chain, which has locations throughout the U.K. and in the Middle East, chose D.C. because of its desirable demographics. “It’s young, it’s hip, it’s urban,” says Darren Wightman, the president of Yo! Sushi USA. A second site is slated to open in Chinatown by Christmas.
More International Flavors
Le Pain Quotidien (Belgium): Locations throughout the region filled with blond wood tables sell open-face sandwiches, fresh-baked breads and specialty spreads.
BonChon Chicken (South Korea): The chain, known for its fried chicken, originated in South Korea (its headquarters are now in New York). There are locations in Fairfax, Annandale and Centreville.
Ping Pong Dim Sum (United Kingdom): Locations in Chinatown and Dupont Circle offer a trendy vibe and modern take on the traditional Chinese dim sum experience. (900 7th St. NW, 202-506-3740; 1 Dupont Circle NW, 202-293-1268)
Juan Valdez Café (Colombia): The Colombian coffee chain sells its signature brew, as well as specialty pastries, at its Washington location in Foggy Bottom. (1889 F St. NW)