First things first – I grew up eating Nando’s on a weekly basis. The first Nando’s opened up in Johannesburg in 1987 (omg, I was 4 years old… gah!), and quickly became a staple casual food spot for South Africans of all backgrounds.
When I first heard that Nando’s was planning to finally open in Chicago, I was beyond excited. It took a few months, and then the official opening day was announced – May 20th! I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to preview the new location on May 19th, and quickly sent in my rsvp confirmation.
Now for some background. What makes Nando’s so special is their use of Peri-Peri, the African Bird’s Eye Chili that grows in a few Southern African countries. “Peri-Peri” is the Swahili word for “Pepper-Pepper”. In chatting with Nando’s Director of Marketing, Sepanta Bagherpour, he explained that the Bird’s Eye chili grows towards the sun, as opposed to other chilis that grow towards the ground. The way it’s grown and cultivated gives it a unique flavor, just perfect for marinades. That said, Nando’s marinates their chicken in the Peri-Peri marinade for at least 24 hours, so the chicken is super flavorful.
While the menu focuses on the amazing Peri-Peri chicken, there are delicious sides to try, and even dessert that you cannot miss. Nando’s West Loop happens to have an awesome beer/wine list as well, and when you see the photos of the space, you’ll want to go, order a glass of wine, a platter of chicken and relax for a while.
For our preview, we had the Chicken Platter with Portuguese Rice and Macho Peas. We also had some peri chips (aka seasoned fries) and a mixed leaf salad.
The first bite instantly transported my tastebuds back home to South Africa. It was home on a plate. So, so, sooo good! The chicken was grilled perfectly, the rice savory and the peas delicious (an homage to the British rule I assume). There are a few salads I love, and this will be included on that list. It has everything I want in a basic salad – cucumber, olives and yummy feta.
This was obviously a full meal, but there are other options on the menu as well, like the classic Chicken Breast Sandwich (traditionally on a Portuguese roll). You don’t have to eat only chicken at Nando’s either (though WHY wouldn’t you?!). They have a ribeye sandwich for meat-lovers, and three veggie sandwich options for veggie-lovers, or those pretending to be. Me? I will only eat chicken at Nando’s.
On the table were the awesome Nando’s sauces to use as you like – I basically dip everything in it! There are quite a few to choose from, but the Garlic Peri Peri is probably my favorite.
^ Hot sauce bar next to the soda machine!
Towards the end of our delicious lunch, a server brought over a plate of four “Naughty Natas” aka Pasteis de Nata aka Portuguese custard tarts.
Um. Y U M.
They’re $2.25 each, about the size of my palm, 220 cals each (according to their online menu/nutrition facts), and freaking DELICIOUS. Ours were delivered to our table straight out of the oven. We probably should’ve waited a few minutes before devouring them, but warm custard is irresistible.
Now can I just sneak in a cup of Rooibos tea to round out my meal along with this tart? 🙂
Anyway, now that I’m craving this entire meal again, let me share a few photos of the space with you. Keep in mind – Nando’s in South Africa is super casual, and each location basically looks like a KFC. Chicago just couldn’t have that, so this location is gorgeously executed and decorated with everything that makes it feel just like home. South Africa in the middle of the U.S.
[Photo courtesy of Nando’s USA]
[Photo courtesy of Nando’s USA]
Also note – Nando’s partners with artists and currently holds over 600 pieces of original South African art in their U.S. locations alone. The Chicago location will have “Half Square”, by Liza Grobler, which is a 16-foot installation containing 4,032 color tiles shipped directly from a ceramic studio in Cape Town, South Africa.
How awesome is that?! It officially opened on the 20th, so you should definitely go check it out over this coming holiday weekend.
Nando’s Peri-Peri West Loop
953 W Randolph St, Chicago