Nando's, CalgaryThere really are just three chicken places for most people in Calgary: the dirty bird, the dirty Calgary bird, or the Swiss bird. A grim selection, if you ask me.

Then in the northeast rises Nando’s, a glorious gift from South Africa. The chain was started by a Portuguese man living in South Africa who took influences from colonists from Mozambique who moved to Johannesburg. How’s that for a blend of flavours?

At the heart of the chain is moist, flame-grilled, delicious chicken. The signature marinade is made from the African bird’s-eye chili pepper, commonly known as peri-peri (or piri-piri). It’s also been called the African red devil pepper!

Don’t be turned off if you dislike spice; you can order lemon and herb or medium for your desired “heat” level. But you’re missing out if you don’t try the hot or extra-hot. (I usually order hot.)

Nando’s peri-peri marinated chicken has a flavourful, slow-burning bite with hints of smoke, sweetness and then a creeping spiciness. Under that is juicy, tender meat whether you order breast, leg, kebabs or chicken wings.

Nando's, Calgary

You can get meals for one person like half a chicken (with one side for $12.49, two sides for $14.99), or two legs ($10.49/$13.29). A Peri plate (breast $15.49/$17.99) is a great sampler with 1/4 chicken, kebab, and four wings.

Most meals come with a choice of sides including peri fries (tossed with a spicy seasoning salt), spiced rice (mildly flavoured), baked potato or coleslaw. As you can see, even the one-person plates are quite substantial.

Nando's, CalgaryThe restaurant setup is quite nice and a step above fast food. You go order and pay at the counter, and then grab a table and they bring the food to you. The Calgary location is bright with modern booths and tables, more like an Earl’s than a Burger King. Bonus: they’re licenced! You can’t beat a cold beer to go with that spicy chicken.

Nando’s is also a very family-friendly place. They have sharing meals like Nando’s familia pack that feeds four for $39.99 (1 chicken, 2 kebabs, 1 large side, 1 regular side and 1 large salad). A great idea for weekday meals there or to take home.

Nando’s franchise includes bottled sauces and marinades that you can buy at the counter. You can try some of them at your table. The peri-peri garlic sauce is hot and slightly sour; the wild herb peri-peri sauce is sweet and slightly hot.

Nando’s, 3333-32nd Ave. NE, Calgary, (403) 769-0610. Locations in B.C. and Ontario as well.

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