Naija Boy Tacos: This first-generation Nigerian chef fuses West African and Mexican cuisines at New Sacramento restaurant
Can you make tortillas with plantain?
The question popped into Rasheed Amedu’s mind in 2017 while working as a sous chef at TableVine in Sacramento. As he researched and developed a recipe, he avoided the obvious approach. “I didn’t want to just use green plantains, where they would be starchy enough for it to work,” he says. “And I know we’re so used to eating sweet plantains in the culture, so I did half and half.”
The “we” of the “culture” to which Amedu refers is the group of black diaspora countries where sweet plantains feature in everyday dishes – places ranging from West Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas. As a first-generation Nigerian from Chicago, the 32-year-old grew up eating plantains and Mexican food. His curiosity was therefore not exaggerated, but rather an expression of his past.
Turns out he could make these tortillas. “I was like, ‘Okay, this is killer,'” Amedu says of the sweet and green combination. “I knew I had to keep this recipe.”
Five years later, the spirit of Amedu’s tortilla theory lives on at Naija Boy Tacos, his open-air Nigerian-Mexican fusion restaurant, which will make its official debut in downtown Sacramento in mid-July. . Californians are spoiled for choice with taquerias, but West African options are harder to come by, usually found in places like the Bay Area and Los Angeles. But Amedu, who has lived in Sacramento for six years and has a wealth of cooking experience, from fine dining to popups, saw an opportunity to introduce a style of cooking by fitting it – literally – inside a style. more familiar. “With Naija Boy Tacos, I really want it to be like one of your favorite taquerias or one of your favorite taco trucks,” Amedu says. “There is something on the menu for everyone.”
He also didn’t hold back when putting together the menu: there’s chicken milanesa spiced with suya – suya being the warming seasoning mix used on grilled meat and served kebab style in Nigeria – with a drizzle of creme fraiche and crispy plantain chips doused in brilliant chimichurri, Amedu’s version of fries and salsa. For the tacos, he kept the traditional toppings from his roots, with beef and chicken stews and curried goat cheese on cassava plantain tortillas. But one of the vegetarian options, a roti-wrapped mushroom shawarma taco, is pure, playful innovation. Amedu says it’s one of the most popular items on the menu.
Naija Boy Tacos also works as another lane type. It’s the first step towards a restaurant that Amedu also plans to open, a Nigerian-Californian dining experience called Iya-mi, Yoruba for “my mother”. For all this, he partnered with John Vignocchi, CEO of Urban Capital, a development and investment group; in Naija Boy Tacos, Vignocchi functions primarily as an investor.
“Naija Boy Tacos bridges the gap between my culinary adventures and my position as an owner,” says Amedu. “This is me going out and doing it on my own.” Traversing different worlds – Nigeria and the United States, culinary arts and business operations, high-end restaurants and food trucks – comes naturally to Amedu. He grew up in “not the best neighborhood” in Chicago, he says, but has fond memories of walking from his house to a nearby Jamaican bakery for patties. (Naija Boy Tacos’ spicy beef and curried spinach patties are reminiscent of his nostalgia.) His mother, a registered nurse, often worked late, leaving Amedu in charge of feeding his two younger brothers for dinner; making boxed macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs is how he developed a love for cooking.
Amedu’s culinary range has exploded since then, but he has retained these values of caring for his people and celebrating the places they come from. Naija Boy Tacos is surrounded by a painted wooden fence inspired by Nigeria’s iconic football shirts from the 2018 World Cup. The airy dining area has more subtle aesthetic touches representing the African diaspora, pallet furniture that grows with corrugated metal Canna lilies that top the shed-sized bar. And Amedu intends to bring his local community with him as he makes this progress: the landscape design was done by Sac City Stems, owned by a queer black woman, and he enlisted Unseen Heroes, managed by POC, for the marketing and commercialization of Naija Boy Tacos. Branding. “I want to give opportunities to people who look like me,” says Amedu.
He’s also clear about the contributions others have made to his dream, crediting natural wine bar Ro Sham Beaux and Urban Roots, the craft brewery and barbecue smokehouse where Amedu served as sous-chef for two years. Urban Roots owner Rob Archie says that although he runs a high-volume business, “we try not to take ourselves too seriously and always be upbeat so chefs like Rasheed can come in and experience “. Archie, who also founded Pangea Bier Cafe and chicken shop BAWK!, believes that after two years of creative deprivation as chefs operated in survival mode during the pandemic, a culinary renaissance is occurring in Sacramento. “For Rasheed, that’s how you make a name for yourself,” he says. “Now is the perfect time.”
As Amedu gets closer to the official opening of Naija Boy Tacos – he expects it to be on July 14 – he has been hosting private dinner parties to an enthusiastic reception. Once it opens, “people can come here for lunch, happy hour, even dinner and hang out, and that makes me feel good,” he said. “It’s walkable, and you can just hang on. That’s the purpose of this.
Tacos Naija Boy (628 15th Street, Sacramento) opens to the public in mid-July.