In Capitol Hill, in a ghost kitchen the size of a storage container, a pair of French entrepreneurs are cooking up a dish that has taken their homeland by storm but is almost entirely unknown in America.
Before you get too excited, it’s important to understand: This is not the delicate, sophisticated cuisine Americans normally associate with France. It consists of French fries, cheddar cheese, cheese sauce, chipotle sauce, caramelized onions, and meat (or meats) wrapped in a big flour tortilla and cooked on a panini press. It’s the kind of thing a Taco Time employee would make after having four beers, or a college kid would consume after having six beers. It’s called a French tacos (even one is a “tacos”), and it has basically nothing to do with actual tacos, or Mexico.
French tacos, according to an exhaustive New Yorker story from 2021, probably originated in the suburbs of Lyon and were probably invented by people of North African descent. Its origins are murky, but in the last two decades the dish has become a bona fide craze in France and surrounding countries — it’s the kind of carb-and-meat-heavy, grab-and-go item that appeals to a diner’s lizard brain — and also attracted controversy; some Mexicans in France have accused the whole phenomenon of being a case of cultural appropriation.
Across the Atlantic, French tacos don’t have the same name recognition. If Americans have heard of French tacos, they’re likely confused that they are called “tacos,” look a bit like burritos, and taste like neither. Maybe partly because of this confusion, they haven’t caught on in North America outside of Montreal, where a chain called French Takos has three locations. An outpost of the popular French chain O’Tacos opened in New York in 2017 but closed a little over a year later; a vegan French tacos joint was supposed to open in Portland, Oregon, last year but doesn’t seem to have materialized. So what are these tacos doing in Seattle?
They come via Brick’N’Cheese, a small Canadian chain founded by Baptiste Petit and Samy El Jabri. It opened as a takeout-only ghost kitchen operation in Vancouver, Canada, in April 2020 — at the onset of the pandemic, when takeout was the only game in town. A year later it opened a brick-and-mortar in Toronto, and is now testing the U.S. waters in Seattle.
“It’s a mix of a burrito and a kebab,” is how Petit describes French tacos. “The name French tacos doesn’t make any sense. It’s hard for us to explain that. Even in Canada, it’s the same because everyone that hears ‘tacos’ expects to eat Mexican tacos.”
Brick n Cheese calls its tacos “bricks” as a way to distance them from real tacos, Petit says. Its “signature brick” includes ground beef and chopped-up fried chicken in addition to the fries, cheese, and chipotle. It’s not as dense a gut-buster as you might think, a cheesy, meaty, comforting meal (or two meals) that stacks up well to takeout alternatives like Chipotle. (Taco Time is probably the closest Seattle comparison in terms of flavor profile.)
For now, both Brick’N’Cheese founders are in Seattle cooking the food themselves — with the help of one employee — at Capitol Hill Kitchens, a ghost kitchen operation on 13th Street. That means it’s only available to order through delivery apps or at an unmanned tablet sitting at the takeout window.
So far there have been a few hiccups in the Brick’N’Cheese rollout. On Instagram, the company announced that it was opening in “Seattle downtown,” a classic out-of-towner geographic error. Its first day of business, Monday, September 18, was a “disaster,” Petit says, because “Uber Eats wasn’t working well. But we had the first order.”
Eater Seattle interviewed Petit, and watched him assemble a brick, in the bare-bones ghost kitchen space on Tuesday afternoon. Not too many people knew about Brick’N’Cheese, or it was a little early in the day for that kind of food, because there weren’t any orders coming in.
Near the end of our conversation, the ticket machine started buzzing and a couple orders came out of the printer. Petit glanced down. “That’s actually the customer who ordered yesterday,” he said in surprise. Already, the French tacos have found their audience.