In France, tweens and teens often wander late into the night to restaurants in search of fried tortilla rolls, tattooed with barbecue signs, known as French tacos. Far from anything in Mexican culinary law, French tacos have spread to North African immigrant communities in France, often served with halal meat fillings; It’s something like a cross between a California burrito, a panini, and a shawarma. However, the range of fillings has expanded to include things like chicken cordon bleu, merguez sausage, and roast beef.
In the United States, French tacos are nowhere near as popular. 2021 New Yorker An article on the popularity of French tacos across the Atlantic has spurred countless follow-up pieces, all essentially explaining the phenomenon to an American audience. Juan Manuel, owner of the popular pop-up vegetable plant, Papi Factory, read the same New Yorker piece, and found himself inspired—inspiration enough to start a 100 percent vegan French taco brand, which is coming later this year.
Le Tacos, which will open in northwest Portland by the end of summer, will offer a variety of French tacos, all made with four ingredients: french fries (or cauliflower), vegan cheese, vegetarian “meat”, and various sauces. In the real Papi style, all fake meat will be homemade: the filling for shawarma, for example, you will use oyster mushrooms as a base, with vegetable tzatziki. Manuel is also working on a taco burger, although the chef keeps the royal recipe. “I don’t want to fall behind on something I’ve already tried, like Impossible Meat,” Manuel says. “We want it to be really unique and special.”
Manuel has become something of a legend within the Portland dining community for Plant Based Papi, a vegan pop-up restaurant-turned-accommodation inside the Fortune Bar in downtown Portland. Manuel’s focus on comfort food made primarily from whole plants — calamari mushrooms, jackfruit nachos, fried oyster mushrooms and hot chicken — has attracted lines and buzz for years. Jenny Moore wrote in an article for Portland Mercury. “Manuel has rightfully earned a cult following for consistently delicious, creative, and delicious meals.”
With Le Tacos, Manuel hopes to create a brand that can easily expand, becoming a household name like Salt & Straw or Blue Star Donuts; The chef envisions locations close to places like Providence Park and Portland International Airport. “We want those special options you have to visit if you come to Portland, like Voodoo Donuts,” Manuel says. “We want to do something that is fun, interesting, fast and not too confusing. We want you to understand what that means right away.”
For the first location, Manuel is currently eyeing a few lots in Northwest Portland, although nothing has been signed yet; Ideally, the restaurant will open fairly quickly, with each roll registering under $15. “We want the kids who skate in 23rd place to be able to come here and get something for $10 or $12,” Manuel says. “Our goal was to highlight something that is famous in other parts of the world, but also of its Americanization.”
For now, Portlanders can eat Manuel’s food by visiting Fortune, at 614 SW 11th Avenue.