The newest of Chicago’s four Nando’s PERi PERi chicken restaurants recently opened at 953 W. Randolph Street, bringing a new casual dining vibe to the West Loop. The family-friendly style and reasonable prices provide a welcome option on a street full of trendy, expensive restaurants.
The restaurant is a hybrid of ‘serve yourself’ and ‘full service.’ When you arrive, the host will seat you at a table with a number where you can choose your food and decide how spicy you want it. You then go to the counter to order (remember your table number) and pay. Nando’s then provides a huge counter area with bottles of their many different dressings (choose as many as you like to take back to the table including mild, medium, hot, extra hot, garlic, and more). You also grab your cutlery there although eating with your fingers is heartily encouraged. Finally, the attentive wait staff brings your order to your table. You can then order anything additional throughout your meal from your server.
I was recently invited to visit the West Loop location for a sample of the chicken, the various sauces, a number of sides, and some of their signature sangria. With no exceptions, everything I tasted was fresh, expertly prepared, and delicious. Nando’s is famous for its Portuguese flame-grilled, butterfly-cut chicken, which is marinated for 24-hours before being basted and cooked in Nando’s famous PERi-PERi sauce. Their sauces are free from artificial preservatives, colorants, flavorings, contain no added MSG and are also Gluten-free. The sauces are available for purchase, both in the store and online.
This focus on freshness and a clear attention to detail gives the food at Nando’s a special ‘zing’ that is hard to explain. One of the unique secrets is their use of the PERi-PERi sauce which is a hybrid of Portuguese and South African cuisine. According to the Nando’s website:
It’s thanks to our Portuguese forefathers – brave explorers that they were – that Nando’s is around. That’s because, way back in the 15th Century, they were introduced to the Bird’s Eye Chilli. Growing under the warm sun in the rich soils of Africa, this was a spice so nice, it had been named it twice! Called PERi-PERi, this hot little number put fire in the explorers’ bellies and ignited passion in their souls.
They added it to a handful of herbs, spices, a squeeze of sun-ripened lemons and a dash of garlic. Together with their love of life, friends, fun and good food they created the first Gosto Delicioso (great taste) of addictive PERi-PERi sauce.
Today, our own recipe remains a closely guarded secret. But what’s no secret is that we love sharing our forefathers’ traditions of hospitality, friendship, simple family pleasures and the addictive taste of PERi-PERi.
In deference to this combination of Portuguese and South African cuisine, the Nando’s wine list consists entirely of wine from those two countries! The list is small, but impressive and intriguing. If you have not sampled wine from Portugal or South Africa this provides an excellent opportunity to expand your wine knowledge.
Certainly, go to Nando’s for the chicken. But when you order your sides, be sure to try the Macho Peas (rugged pea mash with whole peas, parsley, mint and chilli) and the light refreshing Cucumber & Poppy Seed Salad (sliced cucumbers tossed with a tangy poppy seed dressing and pickled red onions). I also enjoyed the seasonal Butternut Squash & Grilled Corn (with red onion, dried cranberries, fresh cilantro and chilli). Although I was quite full, I did indulge in one small bite of dessert, the delightful Naughty Natas – a traditional Portuguese tart, served warm with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. The small portion size was a perfect sweet end to a wonderful meal.
From the PERi-PERi chicken to fresh and simple salads, sides and desserts, it’s a good bet that you’ll enjoy your meal! Or as they say in Portuguese, “Bom Proveito!”
The Nando’s West Loop location is at 953 W. Randolph St., telephone 312-488-3062. They are open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday – Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The additional Chicago-area locations include Clybourn: 1500 N. Clybourn Ave., telephone 312-546-9723; Lakeview: 670 W. Diversey Pkwy, telephone 773-634-7153; and Wabash: 22 S. Wabash Ave., telephone 312-589-7432.