I first heard about Nando’s PERi-PERi when I was driving down Randolph Street in Chicago’s West Loop and noticed a colorful banner surrounding a storefront under construction on the street. After researching what this mysterious place was going to be, I was enthralled by the South African-Portuguese restaurant featuring its famous flame-grilled chicken and PERi-PERi, or African Bird’s Eye Chilli. Nando’s, which originated in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1987, now operates in 23 countries on five continents. The West Loop location is Chicago’s first.
I loved everything about my visit to Nando’s from the minute I walked in. Lively and friendly greeters welcomed my friend and me to the restaurant, handed us some menus, along with a table number, and explained the ordering process. Ordering is done at the counter and food is then delivered directly to your table. Nando’s offers various levels of spiciness, from extra hot to “plain…ish,” along with a number of various sauces and dressings to add to the food. My friend and I decided to share a number of dishes to get a good feel of the menu, and opted for the “medium” level of spice, which was perfect for us.
As we waited for our food, we took in the upbeat ambiance, colorful South African artwork, the details of the decor, and lively Reggae-esque music. Every server was friendly and helpful and the entire restaurant felt like one large happy family.
We started with the Mediterranean Salad – mixed salad leaves with peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese, and olives, along with a creamy dressing on the side. The salad was fresh and delicious, and would be perfect as an entree with the addition of chicken.
We also tried the Hummus with PERI-PERi drizzle, a tangy infused oil to pour over the creamy hummus. Served with warm and soft pita bread, this starter was wonderful and comforting.
Nando’s is known for its legendary butterfly-cut PERi-PERi chicken which is marinated for 24 hours, flame-grilled, and then basted. We ordered the Flame-Grilled Chicken Breast, along with a few sides. The chicken was tender, moist, and extremely flavorful. The level of spice was perfect, and the size of the breast was great for sharing.
My favorite sides were the Macho Peas – a rugged pea mash with whole peas, parsley, mint, and chilli, as well as the Butternut Squash and Grilled Corn, with red onion, dried cranberries, fresh cilantro, and chilli. The Cucumber and Poppy Seed Salad – sliced cucumbers tossed with a tangy poppy seed dressing and pickled red onions, is also a worthy accompaniment.
Beer, wine and sangria are also available, and should not be overlooked. The fresh and fruity red sangria was addicting, and played well with the food.
We loved everything about Nando’s and cannot wait to return very soon. Nando’s is perfect for everyone from the solo diner to families looking for a made-from-scratch, healthy, reasonably priced, and delicious meal in a fun, upbeat environment. It is also a great spot to grab something to-go for a nice weeknight meal. Vegetarians will find more than enough plant-based options here, as well.
Nando’s is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, and does not take reservations. The West Loop restaurant is now open, with two locations to follow soon – one in Lakeview in late June, 2015, and one in the New City development in Lincoln Park in September, 2015.
953 West Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60607
While my meal was complimentary, all opinions expressed herein are my own.