- Courtesy Photo
As we approach the one-year anniversary of going into socially distanced lockdown, I've found myself reflecting on the stuff I was doing before COVID-19 reared its ugly head. Back then, my family and I had gotten into a sickeningly wholesome habit of visiting the attractions at Thanksgiving Point; my three-year-old daughter has been in love with the Butterfly Biosphere ever since she got to pet a millipede on its weird Lovecraftian noggin.
One of the best parts of our visits to the Silicon Slopes of Utah County was a pit stop at Zulu Piri Piri Chicken Grille (2951 Club House Drive, Lehi, 801-901-6492, zulugrille.com). There's no shortage of eateries in that area, but this fast-casual joint was the one that always seemed to call us back.
The concept began when co-owner Jared Turner visited Africa on safari. During his travels, he encountered piri piri, a sauce or marinade usually applied to protein like chicken before getting grilled over an open flame. Piri piri itself is a popular condiment in Southern Africa and Portugal alike, made from a blend of chili peppers, vinegar, garlic and citrus. It's a condiment and cooking style that represents several different cultures and maintains hundreds of culinary dialects, depending on where you get it.
At Zulu Piri Piri, you get something with a good balance of peppery overtones and acidic citrus, which always manages to be the star of the show. That said, their grilled chicken more than performs—it's consistently tender and juicy no matter how it arrives on your plate. You can get it grilled or fried, along with a decent squad of sides. The signature dishes at Zulu are their three chicken plates: halved or quartered bone-in chicken ($9.99-$13.99), boneless chicken breasts ($9.99-$10.99) or a la carte piri piri wings ($7.99). Each protein comes with a heap of African yellow rice, East African cucumber mango salad and a few cups of piri piri with which to douse that sweet, sweet meat.
Once you order, you'll need to decide how hot you'd like your sauce from a spectrum that starts with savory lemon-garlic and ends with Africa hot, which is beyond regular hot for good reason; believe me, there is quite a leap between the two. When I tried the regular hot sauce, I thought it was spicy yet totally bearable—so, like a dumbass, I decided to level up. After only a few bites, the lower half of my head was consumed by relentless heat that a river of free refills could not extinguish. I know some places around town will shortchange you on heat when you order something spicy, but Zulu has no qualms about immolating your taste buds if you ask for it.
After you choose the spice level that will dictate how painless—or painful—your meal will be, it's clear that there's no wrong way to get your piri piri chicken on. I tend to stick with the grilled chicken breast, but all of their chicken plates are excellent, colorful and fresh-tasting meals that add a welcome bit of variety to the area's restaurant mosh pit.
For something a bit lighter, the piri piri chicken salad ($10.99) and the chicken bowl ($9.99) are great ways to experience the restaurant's flavors in smaller packages. Each comes with grilled chicken and piri piri, but you're also getting a slew of fresh veggies and piri piri ranch or aioli, respectively. Stick with these if you're after flavors that will smack you around without leaving you overly stuffed.
A new addition to the menu is Zulu's chicken sandwich or wrap ($9.99 for grilled, $10.99 for crispy), which is a no-brainer when the chicken sammy wars are still raging. Zulu has a bit of an edge when it comes to its flavorful birds, but the decision to add Muenster cheese, caramelized onions and avocado speaks to some next-level sandwich mastery—plus you can add bacon for a buck more.
Another thing I like about Zulu is the attention they've paid to their side dishes. They've taken sides that you'd expect to see at a fast-casual place and tweaked them just enough to become unique complements to the main dishes. The tri-colored potatoes ($3.49) are essentially potato wedges, but their vibrant colors and yielding texture make them ideal compadres to anything on the menu. It's also hard not to order up a side of street corn ($3.99)—a bowl of buttery grilled corn kernels topped with pili pili aioli and crumbly queso fresco.
Not only is the food flavorful and satisfying, but eating at Zulu contributes to their Meal for a Meal program which donates a portion of each meal to Home of Hope (homeofhopeforgirls.org.za), a partner organization in South Africa that helps feed hungry children and fights human trafficking. Revisiting this place has me ready to start planning a few trips to Thanksgiving Point, followed by some tasty grilled chicken, once things start readjusting to the world as it was a year ago. Here's hoping that's sooner rather than later.