Nando's Peri-Peri's chicken specialties spice up Naperville dining scene

Scores of restaurants, both chains and independents, have long staked out chicken as their main focus. But look no further than to the recent arrival in downtown Naperville of Nando's Peri-Peri for proof positive that the field is far from played out.

The parent company, an international casual dining chain founded in South Africa, has created a successful empire that combines street food with unique African spices and a Portuguese flame-grilled cooking style.

Since its startup in 1987 with branches in Johannesburg and Portugal, Nando's Peri-Peri has flourished and now reportedly includes more than 1,200 outlets worldwide. The business, which made its U.S. debut in 2008, continues to grow.

Naperville is the restaurant's first suburban location in Illinois; it counts four outlets in Chicago. Another outlet just opened in Oak Park.

Aesthetically, Nando's Peri-Peri, housed in the former space once occupied by Rizzo's, provides an engaging atmosphere for couples and families. It has plenty of exposed brick, a cheerful color scheme that includes a tree trunk partly wrapped in vivid yarn and lively recorded Portuguese Afro-pop music. Sit back and enjoy while you wait for your prepared-to-order meal to be delivered to your table.

If you'd like a drink, the bar stocks a small selection of red and white wines from South Africa and Portugal as well as a dozen domestic craft beers, including two from Portugal. Seasonal sangrias also grace the menu.

  Nando's Peri-Peri's is known for its chicken. The half chicken plate comes with a choice of one or two sides at the downtown Naperville outpost of this South African-based eatery. Daniel White/

So what's all the fuss about food-wise?

Though there are a few vegetarian items on the menu, chicken figures prominently - from the chicken Caesar salad and chicken breast pita to chicken livers and a shareable platter of wings.

  Peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese and olives come together in the Mediterranean Salad at Nando's Peri-Peri in Naperville. Daniel White/

Boneless chicken breast, butterflied and marinated for 24 hours before being flame-grilled, stands out as the restaurant's signature dish (which includes one or two sides such as macho peas, Portuguese rice or flame-grilled corn on the cob).

Customers can specify the degree of heat they prefer: extra hot, hot, medium or, mildest of all, lemon and herb or mango and lime. As a concession to the heat-intolerant, the restaurant will omit adding spices to the peri-peri-chilli-marinated chicken.

  Nando's Peri-Peri's Nandocas' Choice sandwich consists of a butterflied chicken breast topped with coleslaw on garlic bread. Daniel White/

The two chicken legs entree consumed during a recent visit was moist and meaty. Its medium spiciness worked well with my internal thermostat. Also tasty were the chips (french fries) served with a peri-peri-infused mayonnaise dipping sauce, which provided a pleasant flavor jolt.

Another appealing option was the lemon-and-herb marinated chicken breast wrap, which came with lettuce, a slightly peppery sweet chilli jam and tangy yogurt sauce. A pleasing creamy coleslaw rounded out the meal.

  Seasonal sides at Nando's Peri-Peri include a butternut squash and couscous salad. Daniel White/

Nando's Peri-Peri offers a handful of noteworthy desserts, too. Raspberry brûlée cheesecake, which tasted more like creamy white chocolate with a swirl of raspberry, is hard to knock. But, at $6.25, it was a mite pricey given the size of the slice.

Naughty Natas, another strong dessert contender, is a traditional Portuguese custard tart with a hint of vanilla. It's small but memorable - and will only set you back $2.25.

Something to anticipate: Patio seating at the back of the restaurant when the weather cooperates.

<i>Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.</i>

Nando's Peri-Peri

6 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville, (630) 388-0193,

Cuisine: Flame-grilled chicken

Setting: Attractive storefront restaurant with a Mozambican/Portuguese theme

Prices: Appetizers $3.95 to $6.25; Peri-Peri chicken $7.75 to $13.95; sandwiches/pitas/wraps $9.15 to $14.95; desserts $2.25 to $6.25

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Also: Private party space on the second floor; catering; beer, wine and sangria

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