Zweli’s PIRI PIRI Kitchen 4600 Durham Chapel Hill Blvd, Ste. 26, Durham
After spending years building a successful catering business, chef Zwelibanzi Williams (she goes by Zweli) has finally opened her first brick-and-mortar restaurant. Zweli’s Piri Piri Kitchen, which Williams opened in July with her husband, Leonardo, is a hidden gem in the chain-restaurant-dominated Oak Creek Village Shopping Center (save for El Chapin, a Guatemalan spot a few doors down). Williams’s restaurant is personal not just by name: She’s gone all in on the dishes she grew up eating in her native Zimbabwe. Though piri piri chicken dominates the menupiri piri refers to the namesake pepper and marinadediners gain a deeper appreciation for Zimbabwe’s culinary flavors and influences in the scene-stealing sides, such as chakalaka, a South African dish of stewed beans and vegetables.
Vibe: The dining room has an eclectic rec-room feel, with red painted walls hung with local artwork, African beats on the speakers, and hand-hewn Zimbabwean bowls adorning the tables. The open floor plan’s seating options include large, wooden block tables, banquet-style six- to eight-tops, window-adjacent high-tops, and stools lining the partially open kitchen, where you can post up while you wait for a to-go order. The warm service and homey vibes are echoed by the word of the month on the chalkboard menu: Mauya, for example, means “we welcome you” in Shona, Zimbabwe’s main language, or siyambonga, which means “we thank you” in Ndebele, Williams’s native language.
Menu: The piri piri menu is divided into “for one”, which includes either a quarter- or half-chicken, skewers, breast, or wings, served either solo or with a choice of one or two sides, and “platters” for sharing. The ‘full,’ which includes a whole chicken with two large sides or ‘wing,’ twenty-four flame-grilled wings, each feed two or three people, while the ‘jumbo,’ which includes two whole chickens with two extra-large sides, serves four to six. Non-meat eaters dine well here, too. Most sides are vegetarian or vegan, and you can build a satisfying platter of three; or you can get the grilled piri piri tofu for a taste of Zweli’s signature peppery sauce. Sandwiches, salads, a kids’ menu, and weekly specials round out the mix.
What to order: If you eat meat, opt for the grilled piri piri chicken, which melds peppery spice and a vinegar twang with a subtle flame-licked smokiness. A quarter chicken (choose dark or light meat) and two sides combo is filling, but if you’re hungry it’s easy to put away a third side (plus, it’s hard to pick just two). There’s the chakalaka, tender beans simmered with peppers, tomatoes, and shredded carrots for a touch of sweetness, cooked until they collapse into a creamy consistency. You’ll also want the collards, which are cooked with dovi, or peanut butter; in Zimbabwe, dovi is traditionally used in a chicken stew, but here, it lends a creamy foil to the braised greens’ pleasing bitterness. And don’t miss the sleeper hit of fried curry cabbage, which boasts a meaty texture and umami-rich flavor.
If you’re craving starch, opt for jollof rice, a West African tomato-based rice dish (which has become popular in Zimbabwe) whose texture and hue land somewhere between yellow rice and paella; it has a pleasant, thrumming heat. Tuesday’s oxtail special is destined for repeat status on carnivores’ fall-winter hit list, featuring a curried stew of braised oxtail, potatoes, and carrots, served with sadza, a Zimbabwean staple of cooked cornmeal.
Price point: A quarter chicken and two sides is $10.99; a la carte sides are $4.50. Platters are $12 for sides, $29.39 for wings, $31.99 for full, $55.69 for jumbo. The oxtail special is $18.99.
Perfect for: Group lunch; family feast; weeknight dinner takeout; game day wings