There are plenty of things I miss from my time studying abroad in London.
The rich history, the people I met and traveled with, and the accents. But when I left London, I left behind the love of my life.
Nando’s Peri Peri chicken restaurant.
And now, after three and a half long years of longing for my star-crossed love, the Portuguese/South African chicken joint’s first Chicago location has officially opened for business.
If you have yet to experience the wonder that is Nando’s, allow me to be your Peri Peri spirit guide.
If you have experienced it, that means you either A. Studied abroad or B. Saw it as a trending hashtag when Harry Styles ate there.
Nando’s is a melting pot of Portuguese style chicken with African spices. It was originally called “Chickenland” until someone realized it sounded like a knockoff of Los Pollos Hermanos from Breaking Bad before the show even existed, and changed it to Nando’s after founder Fernando Duarte.
It was a famous chain in both South Africa and Europe but has now spread to the U.S. with a couple dozen locations across the country. On Wednesday, the first-ever Chicago location opened at 953 W Randolph Street (West Loop) with one on Diversey set to open in June and a Lincoln Park location to open in September.
If you think that this is way too much praise for chicken, I know what you mean. Chicken is like the water of food – it’s not amazing, but it does the job.
But this is Nando’s chicken. Nando’s marinates its chicken for 24 hours in Peri Peri sauce and spices that give a typically bland dish a wholly unique taste and twist. And while it may be an exotic restaurant, it stays loyal to the Midwest by using Ohio chicken.
The Chicago location has a slew of the same chicken dishes that the restaurant has become revered for, and a lineup of Peri Peri sauces ranging from super spicy to sweet mango-lime.
The design of the restaurant keeps with the worldly vibe that the chain typically boasts, and it is set up much like the restaurants in London were. It’s a cool, laid-back atmosphere with a decor that blurs between an urban loft and South African artwork. In fact, Nando’s is known for being one of the largest public collectors of South African modern art.
When I went, my hungry cousin and I groaned when we saw the long order line. But not only are the cashiers fast and efficient – our food was ready in maybe 15 minutes.
It’s a gourmet fast food setup, and the price reflects that. Averaging out at around $13 per person (which is what I paid for my Caesar chicken wrap, including the Portobello mushrooms and drink I ordered with it), the pricing was right on point.
The only downside? They didn’t have the same hilariously dirty innuendos that the London locations had. The napkins all said things like, “for the bits your tongue can’t reach”. And my favorite dish, the beanie (not in the US) was described as, “cheddar cheese, chickpea and sweetcorn burger pulsating with lentils, peas, and pumpkin seeds.”
So, there’s that.
For a different, wanderlusty night out in Chicago – Nando’s is the new place to beat.