In France, late-night revelers and teenagers often head to restaurants in search of swaddled tortillas, wraps filled with fries, tattooed with grill marks, known as French tacos. Far from everything in the Mexican culinary canon, French tacos were popularized in North African immigrant communities in France, often served with halal meat toppings; it’s something like a cross between a California burrito, a panini, and a shawarma. However, the range of toppings has expanded to include things like Chicken Cordon Bleu, Merguez Sausage, and BBQ Beef.
In the United States, French tacos aren’t nearly as popular. A 2021 New Yorker An article about the popularity of French tacos across the Atlantic sparked countless follow-up articles, all essentially explaining the phenomenon to an American audience. Jewan Manuel, the owner of pop-up vegan blockbuster Plant Based Papi, read the same New Yorker piece, and found himself inspired – inspired enough to launch a brand of 100% vegan French tacos, coming later this year.
The Tacos, which will open in northwest Portland by the end of the summer, will offer a variety of French tacos, all made up of four components: fries (or cauliflower), vegan cheese, “meats ” vegan and various sauces. In true plant-based papi style, the faux meats will be all homemade: the shawarma topping, for example, will use oyster mushrooms as a base, with vegan tzatziki. Manuel is also working on a taco burger, although the chef is keeping the recipe exclusive. “I don’t want to default to something I’ve tried before, like impossible meat,” Manuel says. “We want it to be really unique and special.”
Manuel has become something of a legend within Portland’s food community for Plant Based Papi, a vegan pop-up-turned-restaurant-turned-residence within downtown Portland’s Fortune bar. Manuel focuses on comfort food made mostly with whole plants — calamari with mushrooms, nachos with jackfruit, hot chicken with fried oyster mushrooms — that have been drawing lines and buzz for years. “Plant-based papi isn’t just ‘good vegan food,'” writes Jenni Moore in an article for the Portland Mercury. “Manuel has rightfully earned his cult following for consistently tasty, creative and delicious meals.”
With Le Tacos, Manuel hopes to create a brand that can easily grow, becoming a household name like Salt & Straw or Blue Star Donuts; the chef is considering locations near places like Providence Park and Portland International Airport. “We want these to be those special options you have to visit if you come to Portland, like Voodoo Donut,” Manuel explains. “We want to do something fun, interesting, fast and not too confusing. We want you to immediately understand what it means.
For the first location, Manuel is currently considering a few spaces in northwest Portland, though nothing has been signed yet; ideally, the restaurant will open fairly quickly, with each wrap costing less than $15. “We want kids who skateboard on the 23rd to be able to come here and grab something for $10 or $12,” Manuel says. “Our goal was to highlight something that’s popular in other parts of the world, but also to Americanize it.”
For now, Portlanders can eat Manuel’s food by visiting Fortune at 614 SW 11th Avenue.