First, I fell in love with the name … Peri-Peri. It’s pretttty fun to say, especially after a glass or two of the Mediterranean Sangria! And then I fell for their craveable sauces, chicken and innovative sides when I first stumbled upon Nando’s Peri-Peri on Randolph St. The concept is unique and cleverly executed, from the artsy, vibrant ambiance to the ease of ordering and the speed in which the food arrives. Nando’s is casual enough for a weekday lunch spot, but also appeals to brunch goers and a hungry dinner crowd.
When I saw a location was opening in Streeterville, my taste buds did a happy dance. The sleepy Chicago neighborhood could definitely do with a few more great spots for informal dining.
About two weeks after they opened, in the mail arrived “two tickets to Peri-dise!” inviting neighbors to come in and try an entree plus side dish and drink on the house.
So, after a super satisfying brunch at the location in the West Loop last weekend, I set out to explore the new Nando’s, and here’s what I found …
Both locations have the same killer menu and upbeat, colorful decor—though the Randolph address wins the atmosphere award hands down for their cool-kid outdoor patio in back. The interior design firm #nailedit.
Upon arrival, you’re greeted by a friendly Nando’s team member, who offers to show you the ropes. Basically they give you a menu, table number and then you order at the counter before sitting down.
ABOUT THE FOOD: From my experience, and especially if you’re a Nando’s newbie, stick to a chicken option + 1 or 2 sides. Whether thighs, breasts or grilled wings are your jam, the chicken is the bomb.com and so are all the sizzling sauces you can douse it in at your leisure. And the SIDES! Nando’s has made the conscious decision to elevate their sides to rockstar status with uber fresh ingredients and creative recipes like the Macho Peas (pictured above)—whole peas haphazardly mashed with mint, parsley and chili. My paleo peeps will LOVE these. They also offer seasonal “get ’em while they last” sides like the not to sweet, not too tangy, but just right cucumber poppy seed pickled onion salad and the butternut squash with grilled corn, red onion, dried cranberries, cilantro and of course, chili. #YUM.
So, partly because I wanted to FLIRT with a new dish and mainly because I had a dinner to attend 2 hours later, when I arrived at Nando’s Streeterville, I decided to try the Shredded Peri-Peri Chicken and Baby Kale salad with crispy chickpeas, olives and cherry toms in a yogurt dressing. Sadly, NOT THE MOVE and here’s why:
#1) The mixed greens and romaine (I couldn’t find much baby kale) just weren’t that fresh. The large bed of lettuce was littered with wilted pieces and yup, even a few brown edges on the romaine. For me, a good salad journey must start with crisp, fresh lettuce and I was kind of shocked because their sides are usually SO FRESH.
#2) This message goes out to all casual dining restaurants everywhere, because it’s a common mistake, that’s SO SIMPLE to correct. Chop and toss your salads! It’s doesn’t have to be with dressing (I typically prefer mine on the side) but, when you chop and toss all the ingredients together, you help the ingredients at the salad party SOCIALIZE and ensure your guest gets a flavorful forkful in every bite! What I got was a massive bed of non-chopped mixed greens – far too large to make eating it a pleasure, with the tomatoes, chickpeas and olives scattered around the edges and the chicken in one pile atop.
PLEASE don’t judge Nando’s on the salad. I’m not going to. Perhaps they have salads because it’s kind of obligatory but don’t let them bring the menu down!
FOOD FLIRT CHEAT SHEET
COCKTAIL CONVO: Wiki says “Nando’s is an international casual dining restaurant chain originating from South Africa, with a Mozambican/Portuguese theme. Founded in 1987, Nando’s operates about 1,000 outlets in 30 countries.” Learn all about that Peri-Peri sauce here.
DO: Stick to ordering a chicken option + 1 or 2 sides. Whether thighs, breasts or grilled wings are your jam, the potent spicy-tangy flavor is addicting. Make sure to try out their specialty sauces for dousing and dipping. The SIDES have been elevate to rockstar status with uber fresh ingredients and creative recipes like the Macho Peas—whole peas haphazardly mashed with mint, parsley and chili.
DON’T: If you want salad, this might not be the spot. If you order a salad, ask them to toss and chop it for you!
TBD: I haven’t tried the Sandwiches, Pitas and Wraps but they look pretty scrumptious from what I’ve seen so if you’ve tried them let me know.
DESSERT ALERT: They have a pretty serious dessert menu that includes Bottomless Frozen Yogurt which makes me smile from the inside.
PRIVATE NOTE TO THE OWNER: I’m a salad LOVER and creator of the “social salad.” Feel free to get in touch and I’m happy to share a few simple tricks that are sure to prevent future sad salad situations!
Now tell me my fellow foodies, what’s your favorite casual place to nosh in Streeterville?