Before coming to Lisbon, I’d read that one of the favorite takeout foods in Portugal is Piri-Piri Chicken. When we travel, we frequently end up eating takeout in the evenings. Regular readers know that Mrs. TT works remotely on a US schedule, and so in Europe, that means we generally eat our weeknight dinners in while she works. My job in the evening is to feed us, and so dinnertime tripping often involves a search for good takeout. We are currently surrounded by lots of takeout joints in our Lisbon neighborhood – kebabs, pizza, more kebabs, pizza again, a couple Indian places. But no piri-piri chicken. I couldn’t find Portugal’s favorite takeout food anywhere in my immediate neighborhood. And so, on our 8th night in Portugal, I went on a quest to see if could not only find piri-piri chicken for dinner, but bring home what some have called the best piri-piri chicken in Lisbon.
What is Piri-Piri Chicken?
Piri-piri is a type of marinade and sauce made from the piri-piri chili pepper. It was invented by Portuguese settlers in Mozambique centuries ago, after the Portuguese introduced this particular type of pepper from its colonies in the New World, where it was originally found.
It is now one of the most popular marinades in many parts of Africa and in Portugal. And obviously, one of the two key ingredients in piri-piri chicken.
In a Portuguese churrasqueria (barbecue restaurant), the piri-piri marinated chicken is splayed open and cooked on a charcoal grill. Additional sauce is added afterwards depending on your desired intensity of spice.
Sound delicious! I needed to find some.
We aren’t staying in the touristic center of Lisbon. We are uptown in what is considered Lisbon’s financial district. Advantages – quieter, not touristy, flat (downtown Lisbon is very very hilly). Disadvantages – not as close to the major sites, less charming & less historic than downtown. But, we are only 15-20 minutes away on public transportation.
If we were only in Lisbon for a week or two, I would want to be downtown. But for a two month stay, this works great for us. It seems more like an authentic modern neighborhood, and it’s easy to go downtown whenever we want. When we come home at the end of each day, it feels so much calmer here than in the hustle and bustle of the major tourists areas.
A Piri-Piri Discovery
Our early days in Lisbon were spent exploring the different neighborhoods that make Lisbon famous. Choose a neighborhood for the day, hop on a bus or subway, go wander the streets and see it’s major sites.
When exploring like this, I’ll usually peruse Google Maps looking for highly-rated restaurants in the day’s chosen neighborhood and pick one for lunch.
On our day exploring the Principe Real neighborhood, I came across a restaurant called Frangasqueira Nacional on Google Maps. And it very much caught my attention. First of all, it was a piri-piri chicken joint. But it wasn’t just that. Many of the reviews said that not only was it the best chicken in Lisbon, but the best chicken they’d ever eaten. And in the pictures, the chicken looked really really good.
But, like many restaurants in downtown Lisbon, it was only open for dinner. So we ate elsewhere for lunch, and I made a mental note of Frangasqueira Nacional for the future.
Chicken on My Mind
And it turned out the future was only a few hours away. Because when it came time to start thinking about dinner, images of that chicken flooded my brain.
I am The Thorough Tripper. That means that before I actually decide to go hunting for chicken, 3 km away in an unfamiliar city, by foot and public transportation, I’m going to read every piece of info that I can find before I decide to do it. Yeah, it drives me nuts sometimes. And yeah, often I wish I wasn’t like that. But no, I can’t help it.
And here’s what I learned….
It wasn’t just over-enthusiastic travelers who consider it great chicken. Taste of Lisboa, for example, lists Frangasqueira Nacional as one of the best places to get piri-piri chicken in Lisbon.
It’s very popular, very small, can be very crowded, and waits can be long.
And it’s also a one-woman show. The owner takes care of everything all by herself – takes the order, prepares the food, collects the money. And several reviewers mentioned that she can get a little short with customers who can’t decide what they want and slow her down.
Immediately, one of the great Seinfeld characters came to mind. The Soup Nazi. A man who was a soup virtuoso, but had no patience for indecisive or annoying customers (like George and Elaine), and then would famously declare “No Soup For You”.
Would I be told “No Chicken for You” if I didn’t toe the line?
I had to find out!
So Off I Went
I could have done it the easy way and used ride share to get there. Uber is in Lisbon. And a European ride share service called Free Now costs even less. But that’s no fun. I enjoy taking public transportation and walking. There is no better way to absorb your surroundings.
My goal was to arrive at Frangasqueira Nacional just before it opened at 6:30. I was willing to wait as long as needed, but I hoped it wouldn’t be long – it was cold outside and I figured that given the restaurant’s small size, any waiting would be taking place on the street.
I retraced our steps from earlier that day to Principe Real. Walking, subway, walking. Google Maps told me it would take 20 minutes. I did plan on using Free Now to get back . After all, I would have possibly the best chicken in Lisbon in my possession…and cooling by the minute.
The closest Metro station is 3 blocks from our apartment. And taking the Metro in Lisbon is easy, efficient, cheap, and safe. Trains are frequent. My destination was three stops away.
A Scenic Walk
Once in Principe Real, I immediately set off down the busy Rue da Escola Politécnica – one of downtown Lisbon’s main thoroughfares. I found it much busier than earlier that day. Rush hour I suppose. Cars were lined up well down the street, and I immediately began rethinking my plan to use Free Now on the way back.
This is a beautiful part of Lisbon at dusk. The side streets extending off Rue da Escola Politécnica run steeply downhill toward the Tagus River and offer sequentially great sunset views as you pass by each. In fact, from here you can see all the way across the river to Lisbon’s Cristo Rei Christ statue, lit up in the evening sky.
From the Rato Metro station, it was a 0.4 mile walk to my peri-peri promised land, and as I turned the final corner, I could actually see Frangasqueira Nacional glowing in the distance – the only open storefront on it’s block.
It was 6:20. No long lines in front. Relief!
As I approached the door, I was also relieved to see the place was open (10 minutes early), and that I was the second customer there. No long chicken wait in the cold night air for me.
But then a sense of trepidation. I’m always just a little anxious when walking into an eatery for the first time in a foreign country. You never know exactly how it will go with potential language barriers and cuisine unfamiliarity. Of course, I never let that anxiety stop me. I would never experience new things if I did.
However on this night, I did approach Frangasqueira Nacional with a little more trepidation than normal, given what had been said in the Google reviews. I needed to be on my best behavior and not say something stupidly touristy. And I needed to order with confidence.
I needed a successful chicken transaction. No way did I want to hear the Portuguese phrase for No Chicken for You (whatever that might be).
And in reality, there was no reason for nerves. As I entered, I found a warm and welcoming place, with lots of chickens already on the grill (other meats too), and a friendly welcoming owner who spoke good English.
There was no Chicken Nazi here. Just a Chicken Virtuoso confident in her craft.
After I ordered, she removed a whole chicken from off the grill and cut it up into several sections. She then drizzled two different types of sauces on top. One piri-piri, and the other a delicious verde sauce. She carefully packaged up my chicken, plus my sides, making sure the cold salad was separated from the hot food in a different bag.
As I turned to leave, the small dining area had already filled up with the chicken-hungry, waiting in line behind me. Clearly, this place is no secret. I’m glad my quest for the best chicken in Lisbon started as early as it did.
Careful…Coming Through with Chicken Here
With chicken in hand, I needed to get home fast. Time was of the essence. There’s nothing worse than eating a great meal even a little bit cold. Especially if it’s potentially the best chicken in Lisbon.
I checked the FreeNow app. It estimated a 20 minute ride home plus a few minutes waiting for the driver. I was right – traffic was indeed an issue. I checked Google Maps. It estimated 17 minutes if I returned the exact way I came.
So I took off walking quickly. And my chicken and I then rode the Metro together.
Upon arrival to our apartment, I opened the container with great anticipation……
The aromas hit me hard and my mouth started watering immediately. Smoke immediately started to rise – the container had kept it all plenty warm on my journey home. We dished it up with the accompanying sides of garlic rice and arugula salad. Then dug in.
Tender, juicy, and so flavorful! The piri-piri spice is not super hot. Just a mild kick of great flavor. The smoke from the grill added additional depth. And I would love a whole dish of that green sauce.
Plus the rice… Looks quite plain in the picture, but so flavorful on its own. Garlicky buttery deliciousness. And even better after I poured some of the piri-piri juices on top.
The entire meal….14 Euros.
So, is this the best chicken in Lisbon? I can’t say with any actual authority. I’ve only eaten piri-piri chicken elsewhere in Lisbon a few other times so far – and I did eventually find a place about 4 blocks away from me.
But the Chicken Virtuoso at Frangasqueira Nacional certainly makes some of the best chicken I’ve ever eaten. In fact, I’ve been back and it was even better the second time! Can’t wait for a third visit!!
And if you want to read more from Portugal, then check out my post all about taking A Day Trip to Óbidos Portugal from Lisbon. Or another food post all about Eating Bifanas in Lisbon – Portugal’s most beloved sandwich. Or a look at the treasured Fado music of Portugal at Lisboa Em Fado.