Best peri-peri chicken restaurants in Lisbon
The fame of peri-peri chicken is a testament to how Portuguese cuisine is, in many ways, a fusion cuisine. From the 15th century onwards, the Portuguese went on to explore different parts of the world, namely the Americas, Africa and Asia, and thus promoted an exchange between our culture and the traditions of the people we’d come across in these regions. Even before that, the territory we now-a-days call Portugal, was settled by people of diverse civilizations that brought with them their habits and ways of preparing and eating food.
To learn more about this, we recommend reading:
Even though blending cooking traditions from different parts of the world is quite popular these days, fusion cuisine is as old as trade, so we can’t really trace back its definitive origins. One of the most notable examples of Portuguese fusion cuisine, peri-peri chicken, had its inception in the 1400s when the Portuguese sailors under Henry the Navigator’s command set out to explore Northern Africa. The Portuguese made it to India in 1498 and came across a whole range of spices that have influenced world cuisines like no others. They also reached The Americas in 1500, more specifically the area which would have later become Brazil. Meanwhile, they were also busy setting trading points along the coast of Africa, in some of the countries that eventually became Portuguese colonies, and that would serve as pit stops on the trips to further East. This is when the big-time global trade of spices began, thanks to the Portuguese but also the Spanish, that established colonies in Southern and Central America, where chili peppers are originally from.
During the 16th century, the Portuguese had imported peri-peri or piri-piri from Brazil and into Africa. This type of malagueta chili which is often known in English as bird’s eye pepper is often mistakenly believed to be an African pepper because of its popularity in this part of the world, but the origin of all peppers as a species is around Central America. In any case, as the Portuguese would trade with indigenous populations in different parts of Africa, peri-peri did become a staple across this continent. Curiously, the name pilipili straightforwardly means pepper in Swahili.
The Portuguese started using peri-peri to make a marinade that would combine the crushed peppers with garlic, oil and vinegar, which they found to work very well to marinate chicken. We can’t say with certainty that peri-peri chicken was born right there and then, as there are no historical records that would support this. But over the next few centuries this type of marinated poultry started becoming popular in countries which had meanwhile become some of Portugal’s main colonies in Africa, such as Angola and Mozambique. 500 years after the Portuguese’s first arrival to Africa, peri-peri chicken was to become a staple both in southern Africa as well as in Portugal.
When the Portuguese dictatorship ended in 1974, the last remaining Portuguese colonies in Africa gained independence. During this time, many Afro-Portuguese from Angola and Mozambique moved to Portugal as well as to South Africa. It was the people from Angola and Mozambique who were responsible for the rise in popularity of peri-peri chicken, which was warmly embraced and we could even say taken to the next level in South Africa, where the popular peri-peri restaurant chain Nando’s was born. Some debate if Nando’s serves “Portuguese chicken” or not, as their branding is Portuguese inspired and their flavors are the fusion of Portuguese and African that we’re precisely talking about. Nando’s was created by a Mozambican-Portuguese and South-African team, so fusion is even the name of the game at management level.
If Nando’s increased the demand for peri-peri chicken around the world, opening stores worldwide, here in Portugal food history was being written in parallel. The same Afro-Portuguese communities that migrated to South Africa also made their way to Lisbon and beyond, further popularizing the habit of grilled chicken over charcoal, with a tangy and spicy marinade made with malagueta peppers. But you shouldn’t necessarily expect a spicy chicken dish when you order frango de churrasco in Portugal. The most common way to prepare this dish involves spatchcocking a chicken to be cooked over charcoal, but the marinade can range from something milder like olive oil, salt, garlic and lemon juice, to something a little more fiery involving chili peppers. Either way, adding peri-peri sauce on the side is always an option. Some places will roast the bird with no added heat and will brush it at the end of the cooking process after checking the client’s preferences, while others will give you a bottle of peri-peri sauce at the table, for you to add the extra punch to your liking.
Before the days of Uber Eats and similar apps, you’d almost only find two kinds of common takeout foods in Portugal: pizza and peri-peri chicken. Frango de churrasco, as it is known in Portuguese, was the quintessential take-away families would resort to when there was no time for cooking and, still today, it is one of the most beloved foods people of all ages and backgrounds like to get greasy with. Churrascarias, the Portuguese name for restaurants specializing in charcoal grills, can be full sit-down restaurants, but they also are very often small hole in the wall operations, meant for take-away only. Sometimes, they specialize in chicken so much that side dishes such as crisps are store-bought. Some potato brands, such as Pala-Pala, have gained recognition because they are intrinsically connected with the habit of eating takeout chicken, which most often than not is sold in metallic take-away containers.
Whether you’re doing a frango piri-piri take-away or you’d like to sit down to eat, these are the best places to try peri-peri chicken in Lisbon:
Churrasqueira Rio de Mel
Alvalade has lots of great places to try Portuguese food [inserir link para novo blog post sobre Alvalade], and Churrasqueira Rio de Mel happens to be one of the best places for peri-peri chicken in Lisbon. You’ll easily spot Rio de Mel as you walk down Avenida da Igreja, not only because of the heavenly barbeque smell, but also because of the long queues of people that gather eagerly awaiting to try the succulent chicken that is sold at very inviting prices. This is a takeout only place and advertises “batata frita caseira”, that is, home-made fries, which is not always a given when you’re buying grilled chicken to take home. Many will swear that there’s no better charcoal grilled chicken in Lisbon, so we’d say it’s worth the visit to try and figure it out for yourself.
📍Av. da Igreja 25D, 1700-266 Lisbon
Even though the newly added and very instagramable vertical garden that covers the wall of A Valenciana’s outdoor seating area won’t make you easily guess so, this establishment was founded back in 1914. We’re talking about over one century of perfecting the art of grilled chicken, and serving it to the crowds that flock to this Campolide establishment that keep coming back because of the incredible flavor, texture and consistency. There’s a Portuguese expression that goes like “são muitos anos a virar frangos”, which literally translates as “I’ve been turning chickens on the grill for many years” and refers to having a lot of experience at doing a certain task. At A Valenciana the saying applies literally and oh-so-deliciously!
📍Rua Marquês de Fronteira 157, 1070-294 Lisbon
Grilled chicken is an old-school affair in Lisbon and the fact that Bonjardim is a store protected under the Lojas com História program that supports establishments that have contributed to the history of our city proves it. Open since 1959, Bonjardim is believed to be one of the very first Lisbon restaurants to serve peri-peri chicken, and the secret to their marinade – or shall we say the secret of the business? – is only known by a few until today. Located in Travessa de Santo Antão, in a heavily touristic area where restaurants tend to be very hit or miss, Bonjardim is a gem not to be missed.
📍Tv. de Santo Antão 11, 1150-312 Lisbon
In contrast with old-time eateries such as Bonjardim or A Valenciana, we have Chickinho, which represents the new wave of grilled chicken restaurants in Portugal. Don’t be mistaken: just because these new restaurants invest more in marketing, that doesn’t mean their food is any less good. Chickinho’s food quickly became one of Lisbon’s favorites because of their chicken with a classical Portuguese marinade, but also thanks to newer sauce options, much like in Nando’s fashion, with other spices, herbs and even Asian influences. Chickinho claims that their method of grilling chicken is also healthier as it involves less smoke and as a result is more environmentally friendly too. One of their strong points is that they deliver pretty much all over central Lisbon.
📍Rua Marquês de Fronteira 117F, 1070-292 Lisbon
If you smell BBQ chicken while strolling around the trendy neighborhood of Príncipe Real, you probably have Frangasqueira Nacional to blame for it. Cooked with a heavier marinade than most chicken around Lisbon, Frangasqueira Nacional serves meat which is incredibly tender, juicy, and with the right amount of char on the skin. They are takeout only and it’s not unheard of for travelers who might not have a dining room to go back to, to take their containers of smoky chicken, sit down at Príncipe Real’s park and get their hands oily as they dig into one of the greatest uncomplicated meals you can have in Lisbon. There’s something different about Frangasqueira Nacional’s chicken and we invite you to investigate what exactly that might be, while also munching on their ultra crunchy homemade potato crisps.
📍Tv. Monte do Carmo 19, 1200-276 Lisbon
If you come across double-parked cars along Morais Soares, one of the main arteries of the neighborhood of Arroios, it’s probably because of all the folks that are picking up their grilled chicken to go at the end of the day. Primavera is one of the iconic churrascarias of Morais Soares, a restaurant specializing in grills and in particular chicken, which here tastes like the classic frango de churrasco you’d expect in this kind of restaurant. If we wrote that there’s nothing unique about Primavera’s chicken, it could sound like this is something negative. But, on the contrary, Primavera’s frango de churrasco is just what you want it to be, a certain bet that always hits the spot.
📍Rua Morais Soares 101, 1170-293 Lisbon
Churrasqueira do Marquês
Churrasqueira do Marquês is a neighborhood favorite in Ajuda, where they’ve been cooking up a chicken storm for four decades already. This eat-in or take-away restaurant has a certain Portuguese vintage charm that combines very well with the food served. Besides grilled chicken, they also serve incredible charcoal roasted salt cod, bacalhau na brasa à Lagareiro, so while mixing both is not really a common thing, why not create your own surf and turf of Portuguese flavors? Fabulous food away from touristic areas, but still within very easy reach.
📍Calçada da Ajuda 184, 1300-146 Lisbon
Casa dos Frangos de Moscavide
Even though they’ve been open since 1961, Casa dos Frangos de Moscavide became a popular choice in more recent years thanks to home-delivery food apps such as Uber Eats or Bolt Food. They are known for moist smoky meat, but also because the sides they serve with their chicken go a little further than the usual options which tend to be limited. Here chicken is meant to be enjoyed with rice, fries, saucy black beans and a simple salad. Their family combos make it a great option if you are ordering food to share.
📍Several stores across Lisbon:
Churrasqueira de Alvalade
Yet another address for fiery grilled chicken in Alvalade, contributing to what we say that this neighborhood is a great area to experience a very authentic Lisbon vibe. Besides the customary peri-peri chicken, at this joint you can also taste a more citrusy version, asking for their frango com molho de limão. If besides chicken you’d like to add some more protein to your meal, Churrasqueira de Alvalade, just like a few of the other churrascarias, also serves meats like fresh sausages (salsicha crioula) and skewers.
📍Av. da Igreja 23D 1700-231 Lisbon
We’re heading to the northern Lisbon neighborhood of Lumiar to taste another example of contemporary grilled chicken in the Portuguese restaurant scene. Because things are done a little differently these days, at Bairrista you can order half a chicken or a whole bird, just like everywhere else, but you can also opt for just the thighs or breast. If you think chicken breast is dry and why would anybody order that, it is because you’re yet to discover Bairrista’s range of sauces which besides spicy sauce also includes roasted suckling pig sauce, tangerine and oregano, and garlic sauce. We love their take on peri-peri sauce using pimenta da terra, mildly spicy peppers from the Azores islands.
📍Rua Manuel Marques 2C, 1750-171 Lisbon
Vira Frangos sets itself apart from every other frango de churrasco restaurant in Lisbon because, as you can see in the photo above, they serve deboned grilled chicken. This is of course not a traditional take on peri-peri chicken, but it’s a delicious one nonetheless. At Vira Frangos chicken is simply marinated with lemon and salt, and the extra sauces, which include flavors such as olive oil and herbs, truffle and parmesan, avocado and yogurt, or cheese and bacon, are added after the cooking process. If besides this we also consider that their take on fries is something called “potato churros”, then we know that this is no place for die-hard fans of traditional peri-peri chicken, best found in neighborhoods such as Alvalade, Arroios or Campolide. But it can be fun!
📍Rua Silva Carvalho 190A, 1250-096 Lisbon
Casa da Índia
Nothing at all to do with Indian food, Casa da Índia is a traditional and affordable restaurant with a very Portuguese menu, right next to Bairro Alto. We mention the location because, being close to a nightlife area of Lisbon, it’s important to note that they serve meals until at least midnight. Their windowshop is usefully “decorated” with a grill where butterflied chickens take most of the space. Even though Casa da Índia’s menu includes ever changing daily specials, traditional portuguese dishes and even some seafood options too, peri-peri chicken is their best seller. There must be a reason for it…
📍Rua do Loreto 49 51, 1200-471 Lisbon
Cucurico – a frango e fogo
Set in the hipster LX Factory, Cucurico specializes in roasting free range chicken. As such, you’ll notice that the pieces of meat tend to be smaller than in most churrascarias, but they are packed with flavor. They do not marinate the chicken before it hits the open flame grill. Instead, they cook it with a little sea salt, and you can ask for the molho picante, which really packs some proper heat making justice to its name, to add to taste.
📍Rua Rodrigues de Faria 103, 1300-501 Lisbon
Are you a BBQ lover? Can you take the heat of a well-made peri peri sauce? Then you MUST try frango de churrasco in Lisbon and tell us about your experiences via Instagram, tagging @tasteoflisboa #tasteoflisboa
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