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What on Earth Is a ‘French Taco’?

And will these meaty, cheesy fast-food snacks take off in places like Montreal?

A French taco with beef

Say hello to one of the newest European food imports to North America: the vaguely-sexual-sounding “French taco”.

In recent years, two restaurants specializing in these decidedly un-Mexican foodstuffs have surfaced in the city — the aptly-named French Takos serves them up on Jean-Talon right near the market, and that same restaurant expanded to a downtown location on Mackay Street in 2019.

Now, that restaurant looks like it could be morphing into a chain: A third location is now slated for the Plateau, and will open in the coming months on Mont-Royal Avenue, just west of Papineau.

Yet for the relative success of this one business, few Montrealers actually know what a French taco is. This probably isn’t a surprise — only one other restaurant in town regularly serves them: Mont Tacos on Côte-des-Neiges, and it has only been open a couple of months. Elsewhere on the continent, they’re almost nonexistent — one outpost of French chain O’Taco used to exist in Brooklyn, but has since closed down.

The obvious interpretation — that it involves French ingredients served on a tortilla (beef bourguignon taco, anybody?) is not the case. They’re more or less a grilled tortilla with meat, fries, and a cheesy sauce all wrapped up inside. They’re served as a wrap of sorts — they’re closest in size and price to your average shawarma pita, and in France, are sometimes served with shawarma, gyro, or doner meat inside, although there’s usually a near-total absence of vegetables, unless you’re ordering a vegetarian version, or counting the French fry filling.

Given that format, it would perhaps be more accurate to call them “French burritos”, although realistically, any “Mexican” influence starts and ends with the fact that they’re served on tortillas (and even then, Montreal’s French Takos restaurant labels these flatbreads as “galettes” instead of “tortillas” on its menu).

They’re a relatively new fast food phenomenon, even in France — while stories about the French taco’s origin vary, most seem to agree that they originated from Lyon in the early 2000s, and that they were created and popularized by Moroccan immigrants to France.

But that origin doesn’t mean that calling them a Moroccan-French dish is any more accurate. They’re the product of some fairly intense (or some might say excessive) fusion — there’s the tortilla (Mexican), fries (originally from Belgium) and cheese (Emmenthal, usually from Switzerland, is the most common French taco).

But the meats (or meat substitutes) are where the French taco goes into overdrive — the menus of most French taco purveyors are so wide-reaching that just reading them might induce a sort of mental whiplash. Among the varieties served at Montreal’s French Takos are the “fiesta” (a creamy chicken and mushroom entity), the “cordon bleu” (with chicken nuggets, turkey ham, cheese, and “Samurai sauce”) or the “Lyonnais” (somewhat confusingly, made with a Philly cheese-steak filling and “Algerian sauce”).

Over in France, the approach is similar. O’Taco, a rapidly-expanding chain serving French tacos, offers a slightly more restrained selection of meats: merguez (a nod to the Moroccan background), falafel, chicken nuggets, ground meat, and “cordon bleu”. But on top of that, there’s nine cheeses (from raclette to goat cheese), and a hefty list of sauces that runs from curry to “Texan pepper”, and mayo.

So then: are French tacos any good? Well, that’s a matter of personal taste — with a heavy concentration of meat, cheese, and fries, the dish at large does feel tailor-made for a teen boy kind of diet. But the same could be said of poutine — and it managed to become a treasured local favourite.

Both dishes could be called excessive, but with quality ingredients and appropriate presentation, there’s no reason French tacos can’t be tasty (all the while occupying the “eat occasionally” section of the food pyramid).

Montreal’s French Takos seems to lean slightly in this direction — in a year and a half in business, it’s had a warm enough reception, with generally positive reviews alongside a modest number of detractors (some of whom call it bland, others who dubbed the meaty concoctions to be excessive).

With the restaurant expanding, the French taco has evidently been popular enough, so it should be little surprise if more restaurants jump into the slightly greasy French taco game — but just don’t pretend that they’re actually tacos.

French Takos

275 Rue Jean Talon E, Montréal, QC H2R 1S9 (514) 667-6066 Visit Website