Restaurant Review: Nando’s – West Loop, Chicago
Nando’s recently celebrated its 1st birthday in Chicago. I was thrilled to be invited to the celebration and to try their new menu.
If you aren’t familiar with Nando’s, I like to think of it as a fancy Boston Market with a Portuguese and South African twist. Their claim to fame is their peri-peri chicken: flame-grilled poultry seasoned with by the spicy piri piri pepper, which is native to southern Africa but was popularized by the Portuguese during colonization hundreds of years ago.
The Boston Market comparison comes from the fact that the establishments both serve comfort food, but the comparison stops there. While “fast casual” is sometimes closely associated with its fast food counterparts, Nando’s has elevated the fast casual experience to bring customers well-crafted dishes in a beautiful environment for a fair price.
Nando’s originated in Johannesburg, South Africa almost 30 years ago. Since then Nando’s has taken the world by storm (please search “cheeky nandos” on Google). Nando’s has only recently made its way to the U.S., landing first in Washington, D.C. and then in Chicago — just like me!
Nando’s always surprises me because for a budget-friendly, fast casual restaurant, it’s decor exceeds expectations. Unlike most chains whose franchises you cannot tell apart one from the other, every Nando’s has its own decor concept. Nando’s West Loop location, located on Randolph Street, features colorful artwork, chandeliers, and booths, as well as a funky backyard. It is Pinterest porn perfection meets flea market funk.
Nando’s was commemorating its first birthday in Chicago with a new menu focused on chicken thighs. As a dark meat fan, I admit that this review may be slightly biased.
The Chicken Thigh Skewers ($11.45) were absolutely delicious. The most tender chunks of chicken I’ve ever had were skewered between red peppers and red onions. The meat was so soft that it melted in my mouth. I loved that the skin was left on the meat. The kabob was so flavorful on its own that I had no need for Nando’s famous sauces.
The Thigh and Mighty Sandwich ($11.95) is tied with the Chicken Thigh Skewers for my favorite thing on Nando’s new menu. The sandwich consists of chicken thigh on a Portuguese roll with arugula, pickled onions and “periniase” sauce. Again, the flavor and texture of the chicken were perfect: smoky and soft. The pickled onions added a nice crunch to the sandwich. The creamy “perniaise” sauce brought everything together. The Portuguese roll had a slightly crispy skin but was soft on the inside. The bread was fresh and tasted like it was prepared in-store.
The Quinoa Salad ($9.45) was a lovely accompaniment to the dishes I was trying. The salad consists of black quinoa, leaves, avocado, goat cheese, butternut squash, and tomatoes. This was my first time having black quinoa, which I can now describe as slightly nuttier and smokier in flavor than white quinoa. This salad was fantastic. The leaves were very fresh, and the dressing was light yet flavorful. Even without all of the other dishes I was trying, this salad would be quite filling because of its hearty ingredients.
My favorite side dish was the Roasted Vegetables ($3.75). They were so simple, yet so delicious. Zucchini, onions, and peppers were stewed together until they were caramelized. The dish was very well spiced, without being spicy. Can these veggies come in a larger size please?
Nando’s Braised Brussels Sprouts ($3.75) were an interesting take on a classic side dish. Most people who dislike Brussels sprouts have only had them cooked, when they become mushy. Water has a tendency to ruin Brussels sprouts by transforming their flavor. My favorite way of preparing and consuming Brussels sprouts is sauteeing them and slightly baking them so that they are crispy. Nando’s dish seemed like it had been boiled and then sauteed and then baked, resulting in somewhat mushy, somewhat crispy Brussels sprouts. The Brussels sprouts had a bit of a spicy kick to them. I wasn’t particularly fond of this dish because of its texture.
All of this eating worked up a thirst. Fortunately, Nando’s added two special beverages onto their menu: Pineapple Lemonade and Blood Orange Mango Lemonade ($3.25 each). I couldn’t pick a favorite – they’re each unique in their own way. I’m cautious when it comes to beverages because they tend to be loaded with sugar. These lemonades, however, were just the right amount of sweet to hit the spot, but not taste unnatural. When I was asked if I wanted to take some home in a to-go cup, I couldn’t say no. I couldn’t decide on a flavor so I got half and half in one cup, and it was fantastic!
To celebrate Nando’s first birthday in Chicago, Nando’s U.S. team flew in from D.C. I was a little starstruck (weird, I know). Nando’s corporate team was friendly, genuine, and accommodating. They explained the concept behind the new menu and made sure I was well-fed and didn’t go home empty-handed. I was a happy foodie.
The Bottom Line:
The next time you’re looking for a fast casual spot with fantastic food on a budget, check out Nando’s. Their new menu satisfies.
Although the meal was generously provided by Nando’s, all opinions are my own.
953 W. Randolph St. (West Loop)
Chicago, IL 60607