The Chicken Dance—Nando’s Peri-Peri

June 2016 View more

NMAG0616_TableForTwo_Nando's Interior_800pxMaybe you’ve heard this one before.

Legendary regional fast-casual restaurant chain finally sets up shop in the Chicago area after decades of yearning and word-of-mouth myth-building. Madness ensues in the form of endless lines, overnight campers and traffic jams. Soon, everybody remembers it’s just burgers, chicken sandwiches, tater tots or whatever, and some semblance of day-to-day normalcy returns. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Given this oft-repeated pattern of hysteria, it wouldn’t have been an overreaction for Naperville to have called out the National Guard and closed up the schools in late March in anticipation of the much-heralded downtown arrival of Nando’s Peri-Peri, the mania-inducing global chicken superpower. While Nando’s boasts more than 1,200 restaurants spread across 23 countries worldwide, the Naperville outlet was to be only the fifth in the Chicago area and the first in the suburbs at the time of its grand opening, a scarcity that only added fuel to the potential frenzy.

NMAG0616_Style_Nando's-114_800pxFortunately, perhaps owing to the realization of the traditional hype-deflation cycles of the past, cooler heads seem to have prevailed in Naperville, and now the city’s good citizens can calmly settle in and simply enjoy one more tasty addition to our culinary landscape without making plans weeks in advance or breaking out the riot gear.

Spice of Life

Nando’s takes its surname from “piri-piri,” the African bird’s eye chili that gives its Portuguese-inspired grilled chicken a distinctive kick. Like its other restaurants around the globe, the Naperville incarnation of the chain is an airy, colorful space, pulsing with both artwork and music from Nando’s home base of South Africa.

NMAG0616_Style_Nando's-080_800pxThe Naperville outlet—in the old Rizzo’s spot—is actually something of a double-decker dining room, with two nearly identical floors connected by a prominent tree trunk that rises up in the middle of the room. A handsome wood deck beckons additional revelers to take their chicken and a glass of craft beer or wine out back when the weather outside eventually catches up with the impressive grillwork happening inside.

NMAG0616_Style_Nando's-067_800pxFired Up

For all of the vibrant décor, the star of the show at Peri-Peri is clearly the poultry, with the restaurant’s signature 24-hour marinated bird figuring into all but a handful of menu items. After being shown to our table, we took our time poring over the many chicken variations, including a bowl of livers for those so inclined, sauce options and sides before placing our order at the counter.

NMAG0616_Style_Nando's-005_800pxThe sandwich portion of the menu was represented by my companion’s chicken breast wrap, which paired sliced chicken with peppery sweet chili jam and a tangy yogurt sauce in a spinach tortilla, and was served with a heaping mound of Peri chips—seasoned fries, available with mayo on request. Meanwhile, I opted for the half chicken basted in Peri-Peri’s medium sauce, a flavor-packed and juicy mess with just the right amount of heat and available as a butterflied breast for those with an aversion to wrestling with the bones of their entrée. My plate was rounded out by sides of kicky Portuguese rice and macho peas—a hearty pea mash studded with parsley, mint and chili. To cap things off, we picked a pair of gems from a short dessert list, trading bites of rich raspberry brulee cheesecake and decadent chocolate spoon cake.

This is the time of year when many home chefs bypass grilled items in restaurants based on the misguided notion that they could simply make the same thing at home, but it’s safe to say that very few backyard birds are coming off the coals boasting the kind of spice and succulence one can find at Nando’s—no undue hype intended.

Nando’s Peri-Peri
6 W. Jefferson Ave.


Photos by Greg Shapps