Let me preface this article by saying that I have strong taco opinions in general, and I’m a snob in general. I’m also from Southern California, born and raised in LA county. Like all Americans, I have ancestry rooted in several different countries, and one of mine is Mexico. It should come as no surprise then that I have such very strong taco opinions, and even vowed to never actually try, taste, heed, or perceive a French taco in this lifetime.
This was a very small-minded stance to take, but it was the one I took when I thought French tacos were trying to have anything at all to do with actual tacos. The word “taco” in the name kind of leads one to believe that the tacos are tacos but they’re not tacos. If they were, they would be an abomination. But thanks to a very popular article in the New Yorker, I’ve since had to change my stance, eat my words, and eat a damn French Taco.
For those of you who have not yet beheld this French taco concoction in the flesh, they are a sort of street food pouch filled with cheese, sauce, fries, and choices of meat. If assessing them purely via a street food set of rules, they’re great. Self-contained, salty, multi-textured, adaptable, dip-able, a little bit gross. They have nothing to do with an actual taco, though, which I thought to be their failing instead of their triumph, hence my avoidance and disdain.
My disdain in fact was so great that I didn’t want to actually read the New Yorker article on French tacos because I didn’t want to give them any undeserved attention, adding oxygen to their perverse flame. I prefer to ignore the class clown because every giggle his antics earn just makes him more obnoxious. But then a friend of mine texted and said he couldn’t wait to visit us in Paris so he could get his hands on some of the French tacos he read about in the New Yorker. The class clown had won over the whole room, now I was the clown for not joining in. So I read the article and slowly began my descent into French taco appreciation.
I won’t attempt to recreate for you the engaging cultural journey, the forensic search for origins, the social commentary that the the New Yorker article achievesNew Yorker article achieves. Go read it for a good time that will convince you that it’s your social responsibility to give your euros to French tacos (that probably wasn’t the author’s goal, but was the effect she had on me). Long story short (or if you don’t have a subscription to the New Yorker), no one knows for sure where French tacos started or how–it appears to have been a very grass roots moment of “why not?” kitchen innovation in a little to-go spot somewhere outside Lyon. One cook decided to stuff some tasty trucs into a tortilla for fun, and bam, French tacos. These are the same type of shops selling burgers next to kebab, next to maybe pizza as well, all foods that have a long history and cultural identity. They chose the name because of the tortilla, not because they knew a single thing about Mexican cuisine, a point that makes this creation even more confounding. Someone got smart and created the O Tacos franchise and now he’s a billionaire. That’s the story.
The juicy part of the French taco saga is, sadly, the racist part, but more accurately, how these French tacos are kind of too much or too little for right-wingers to attack. French nationalists are getting sour about any street foods that aren’t a jambon beurre, turning “kebab” or “halal” into dirty words. These conservatives can’t say jack about French tacos because they don’t represent any single immigrant culture, least of all the Mexicans they took the word “taco” from. There’s nothing to shake their finger at: it’s a nothing food for everyone. It has no history or country of origin. The tacos are the food equivalent of the orange people in that episode of South Park where humans are time traveling back in time and they’re all totally orange and featureless because we’ve all intermarried and created one race of entropy. Dare I say it, it might be a food impervious to fascism. Sadly, I’m sure where there’s a racist will, there’s a racist way, but I love the rogue streak built into these little food pockets.
Once the New Yorker put it to me like that, I actually felt it was my duty as someone who values multiculturalism to try some of these French tacos that aren’t tacos at all.
We decided on O Tacos because it was nearby and available on UberEats. Fearing the size and gut punch of a pouch containing french fries, bechamel, and chicken, my husband and I split one and also got some fries and chicken strips. And honestly, it wasn’t that good! It was kind of white and creamy, it needed some onions or tomatoes, a crispier exterior, a more oozing inner core. The closest thing I can compare it to is one of Taco Bell’s grilled stuffed burritos, but those are at least twice as delicious and more interesting to eat. The best part of the meal were the sauces that came with it: we chose Algerian, curry, and bbq. Multiculturalism sneaking into French households by way of dipping sauce. But outside of the sauces, I’m too vain and interested in fitting into my jeans to eat this food very often. But I still respect its spirit.
Don’t take my word for it. You should definitely give them a try, for how often does one have a chance to try a completely new type of cuisine that is uniquely French but not, tacos and not tacos, without a cultural past (except we know it’s actually there), and is somehow now a food for everyone.