Can you make tortillas out of plantain?
The question surfaced in Rasheed Amedu’s mind in 2017 while he was working as a sous chef at TableVine in Sacramento. As he researched and developed a recipe, he avoided the obvious approach. “I didn’t wanna only use green plantains, where they’d be starchy enough for it to work,” he says. “And I know we’re so used to eating sweet plantains within the culture, so I did half and half.”
The “we” of the “culture” to which Amedu refers is the cluster of countries within the Black diaspora where sweet plantains feature in everyday dishes — places ranging from West Africa to the Caribbean and Americas. As a first-generation Nigerian from Chicago, the 32 year old grew up eating plantains and Mexican food, so his curiosity wasn’t far-fetched so much as it was an expression of his background.
Turns out, he could make those tortillas. “I was like, ‘Okay, that’s killer,’” Amedu says of the sweet-and-green combination. “I knew I needed to hold on to that recipe.”
Five years later, the spirit of Amedu’s tortilla theory lives in Naija Boy Tacos, his vibey outdoor Nigerian-Mexican fusion restaurant, which will make its official debut in midtown Sacramento in mid-July. Californians are spoiled for choice with taquerias, but West African options are harder to come by, typically found in places like the Bay Area and Los Angeles. But Amedu, who’s lived in Sacramento for six years and has a wealth of cooking experience from fine dining to popups, saw an opportunity to introduce one style of cuisine by tucking it — literally — inside of a more familiar one. “With Naija Boy Tacos, I really want this to be like one of your favorite taquerias or one of your favorite taco trucks,” Amedu says. “There’s something on the menu for everybody.”
He didn’t hold back when crafting the menu, either: there’s suya spiced chicken milanesa — suya being the heat-giving seasoning blend used on grilled meat and served kebab-style in Nigeria — with a drizzle of cool crema, and crispy plantain chips doused in bright chimichurri, Amedu’s take on chips and salsa. For the tacos, he kept the fillings traditional to his roots, with beef and chicken stews and curry goat on plantain cassava tortillas. But one of the vegetarian options, a mushroom shawarma taco wrapped in roti, is pure, playful innovation. Amedu says it’s one of the most popular items on the menu.
Naija Boy Tacos functions as another type of pathway, too. It’s the first step toward a restaurant Amedu also plans to open, a Nigerian-Californian dining experience called Iya-mi, Yoruba for “my mother.” For all of 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 is bridging the gap between my culinary adventures and being in a position of ownership,” Amedu says. “This is me coming out and doing it on my own.” Traversing different worlds — Nigeria and the United States, culinary arts and business operations, upscale restaurants and food trucks — comes naturally to Amedu. He grew up in “not the best neighborhood” of 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 nod to his nostalgia.) His mom, a registered nurse, often worked late, leaving Amedu in charge of feeding his two younger brothers dinner; making boxed macaroni and cheese and spaghetti and meatballs was how he developed a love for cooking.
Amedu’s culinary range has exploded since then, but he’s retained those values of taking care of his people and celebrating the places he comes from. Naija Boy Tacos is enclosed by a painted wooden fence inspired by Nigeria’s iconic soccer jerseys from the 2018 World Cup. The breezy dining area has subtler aesthetic touches representing the African diaspora, from the pallet furniture sprouting with Canna lilies to the corrugated metal that tops the shed-sized bar. And Amedu is intent on bringing his local community with him as he makes these strides: the landscape design was done by Sac City Stems, owned by a queer Black woman, and he tapped the POC-run Unseen Heroes for Naija Boy Tacos’ marketing and branding. “I want to give opportunities to people who look like me,” Amedu says.
He’s also clear about the contributions others have made toward his dream, crediting natural wine bar Ro Sham Beaux, and Urban Roots, the craft brewery and barbecue smokehouse where Amedu was a sous chef for two years. Urban Roots owner Rob Archie says that even though he runs a high-volume business, “we try not to take ourselves too seriously and still be playful so chefs like Rasheed could come in and experiment.” 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 happening in Sacramento. “For Rasheed, this is how you make your name,” he says. “It’s the perfect time.”
As Amedu inches toward the official Naija Boy Tacos opening — he anticipates that’ll be July 14 — he’s hosted private dining events to enthusiastic reception. Once the opening happens, “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. That’s the purpose of this.”
Naija Boy Tacos (628 15th Street, Sacramento) opens to the public in mid-July.