While excitement about the new Nigerian taqueria, Naija Boy Tacos, has been spreading around Sacramento, owner Rasheed Amaedu says he is not a newcomer to the scene.
The idea for the restaurant was the result of a culinary experiment he did a few years back where he successfully created tortillas from plantains. He was working as a sous chef at a Sacramento restaurant at the time, but the restaurant idea didn’t emerge until he met his business partner, John Vignocchi, two years ago. Vignocchi had a plan to develop a residential property in the area with commercial, retail space at the bottom. Naija Boy Tacos fit perfectly into this vision.
Amaedu wanted to test his innovative taco recipe first before turning it into a full-blown eatery. He started setting up pop-up kitchens around Sacramento, first at Ro Sham Beaux wine bar and then at other spots through the city that catered to millennials.
“We were always going to do the restaurant but we realized we wanted to try it out first and see what we get,” Amaedu said. “And it worked out so here we are.”
The response from customers was amazing. They loved everything about Amaedu’s plantain tortillas and the West African-inspired toppings that filled the taco. It was a unique culinary experience combining two of the world’s most flavorful cuisines to create a new, infused flavor.
“People were able to give a lot of feedback right in the moment and that was super great and really beneficial,” he said.
Naija Boy Tacos is providing a transformative glimpse into the future of African cuisine. Amaedu had no desire to reinvent the wheel, but he wanted to add a Nigerian flare to established Mexican dishes. Instead, he created a taco from a different perspective that celebrates the Nigerian food palette.
“The flavor profile and execution is just different and people are super excited about that,” he said.
Most of the recipes used for the proteins topping the tacos come directly from his mother’s kitchen. Amaedu tapped into his food memories to resurrect the flavors of his childhood. A first-generation Nigerian-American, he wanted his food to embody the zest of his mother’s homeland.
“The beef stew and chicken stew are literally recipes that my mom made for me growing up, you know,” he said. “There was always rice in the fridge but there was always beef stew and chicken stew in the fridge.”
Amaedu plans to capture the hearts of customers with familiar flavors with a different presentation. Folks love their Mushroom Shawarma and, although he is sticking with some traditional Nigerian spices and flavors, he also is thinking outside of the box and innovating new ways to transform dishes and keep customers coming back for more.
“I wanted to be as traditional as possible with just like things that are going to go on top of the tortillas but then kind of play to the fact that we’re in California with using like veg on some things and utilizing mushrooms on certain things,” he said.
The millennial entrepreneur realizes there isn’t much Nigerian representation in the culinary world at a high level and he is aiming to change that. Even in Sacramento, he doesn’t see many restaurants specifically serving Naija cuisine. Knowing Nigerian cuisine is loved in cities all over the US, Amaedu has plans to expand.
He and his business partner still plan to build the brick-and-mortar version of Naija Boy Tacos once they’ve been in the upcoming outdoor setup for a year. After that, Amaedu hopes to open up a shop in his hometown of Chicago. In the midst of what could be called a renaissance of Nigerian culture in America, Amaedu knows he is making the best decision when it comes to letting his culture lead him to greatness in the culinary world.
“I just think Nigeria is having a moment with music, culture, and art and I think I wouldn’t do it any differently,” he said.
Naija Boy Tacos is scheduled to open in August 2022 in Sacramento, CA.