Food,  Portugal

A Evening Quest for the Best Chicken in Lisbon

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.

Piri-piri chicken on the charcoal grill

Sound delicious! I needed to find some.

Our Neighborhood

A Lisbon Portugal uptown street scene
Looking down the street from outside our Airbnb in Lisbon

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.

A Barrio Alto street in Lisbon Portugal
While exploring the streets of the Barrio Alto neighborhood

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.

Frangasqueira Nacional in Lisbon Portugal serving up some of the best piri-piri chicken in Lisbon
The tiny Frangasqueira Nacional

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.

The Saldanha Metro station in Lisbon
Entering the Metro on the busy Avenida da República

A platform for the Lisbon Metro
The platform at Saldanha Metro Station

Walking through the Rato Metro Station
Walking toward my exit at Rato Metro Station

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.

Cars lined up on the busy Rue da Escola Politécnica in Lisbon

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.

Looking down one of Principe Real's side streets at sunset in Lisbon
If you look really hard, you can spot Cristo Rei – easier to see in person than in the photo

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.

A Lisbon Street in the Principe Real nieghborhood at dusk

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.

Unnecessary Nerves

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.

The menu at Frangasqueira Nacional in Lisbon

Meat on the grill at Frangasqueira Nacional

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.

The owner of Frangasqueira Nacional drizzling piri-piri sauce on chicken

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.

Carrying a bag of takeout on the Lisbon Metro

A big of takout on a Metro seat in Lisbon

The Verdict

Upon arrival to our apartment, I opened the container with great anticipation……

A tin full of some of the best piri-piri chicken in Lisbon from Frangasqueira Nacional

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.

A plate of piri-piri chicken with rice and salad from Frangasqueira Nacional

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!!

If you want to read more about some of my travel eating experiences then check out my posts on Eating Tapas in Andalucia Spain or my Favorite Food in Japan

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.

14 Comments

  • GWT

    I must admit, that at this time just in front of Lunch was not the best to come across your next level, crispy-fried-chicken. My stomach literally rumbled.

    And my lunch doesn’t look as appealing anymore? Is there a gap in the market for international Uber 😊

    I want to thank you for sharing this post and then again 😂😂😂

  • Peggy Zipperer

    I love this article, Steven! So much fun and very humorous! Piri-piri sounds amazing, and I love the exterior of the restaurant – just what I’d expect. I appreciate your thoroughness – we are very similar.

    • thethoroughtripper

      I thought I’d challenge myself and see if I could pull off a blog post about getting dinner – a post about “nothing” ala Seinfeld. Glad you like it!

  • Ryan Biddulph

    Looks like delicious chicken. Funny too because I was introduced to the piri-piri sauce at a Nando’s in Bangalore India. I know it is not nearly as good as the seasoning in Lisbon but it was not half bad. Fairly tasty and clung well to the chicken. Excellent post.

    • thethoroughtripper

      Thanks! I learned while researching this post that Nando’s – originating in South Africa – is the international leader in piri-piri. We don’t have one in Utah, but as soon as I come across one in my travels, I’m going to give it a try to compare.

  • Elodie Ferreira

    Ahh, we do love our churrasco!
    This is the kind of thing everybody usually loves, so in doubt about what to have for dinner with familly or friends, chicken, bread and some chips. Never lets you down!

    • I’m Kelvin

      Thanks for the reply.Good to know.So basically it’s just spicy and no other taste or herby?Guess it’s different from Nandos lol

      • thethoroughtripper

        It’s definitely more than just straight heat. It is a flavorful spicy. I just wouldn’t describe it as sour. And the chicken from Frangasqueira Nacional has a second sauce which adds additional layers of flovor.

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