New “Cartel” Invades Georgia & Burrard With Korean Tacos…

by Andrew Morrison | Several months ago, Abigail’s Party owner James Iranzad (interview) teamed up with Jesse Grasso and Joel Watanabe (the two kitchen rulers at Chinatown’s Bao Bei) to create “Cartel”, a street cart serving Korean-style tacos.

They’d hoped to win one of the coveted 17 mobile food vendor slots given out in City Hall’s famously messed up pilot project lottery, but no such luck. With concept, brand and menu ready to go, they were forced to wait patiently until granted a location and an operational green light. That assent from on high came late yesterday, and today – their first day of trade – went down swimmingly on the southwest corner of Georgia and Burrard.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived during noon’s final prep was the smell. It was intoxicating. It caused hundreds of hungry passersby on their lunch break to slow down long enough to catch the quick zephyr wiffs. “What are you guys cooking?” was asked just about every ten seconds. You’d think “Korean tacos” would be the least expected answer imaginable, but no one was overheard replying “that’s crazy” or worse, “ew, gross“. The expressions on all the passing faces seemed to say “whatever it is, it smells freakin’ good”. It’s rare that a deadly fine aroma is also unfamiliar. Our brains trick us into thinking we know all smells, but when a new one comes along and it’s so rad that it makes your olfactory toot, it also quickens the pulse.

The tacos come in three guises: pork, beef and vegetarian. Both the beef and the pork are done in the Bulgogi style (a wet Korean marinade, literally “fire meat”). As mentioned, it’s very aromatic stuff. Both meats are local and organic, with the pork from Fraser Valley Farms and the beef from Two Rivers. Thinly shaven, they’re sizzled on a square flat-top before landing on corn tortillas (also local, from Burnaby’s El Comal). Once plated, they’re topped with cilantro, onion and a mild kimchi. The vegetarian version is with mushroom and tofu from Sunrise Organics, but I could give a damn about that (sorry guys).

The prices are reasonable. One double tortilla taco is $3. For two, it’s $5.75; three, $8; and four, $10. I had a pair, and I’m still thinking about them 10 hours later. I’ll talk about the taste in my column on five new and upcoming eateries in the next issue of the Westender. Some food porn above (video) and below (big photos) to tide you over until you bumrush the joint at lunch tomorrow…

CartelCartel | owners Jesse Grasso, James Iranzad, Joel WatanabeCartelCartelCartelCartelCartelCartelCartelCartelFrankie digging CartelCartelCartel co-owner James Iranzad on opening dayCartel

  • jcsaucey

    Eat your vegetables Andrew!!

  • Scout Magazine

    Thanks Mom.

  • James

    Great story! I was trying to visualize where they are located and have to ask,
    how close are they to Roaming Dragon’s lunch spot?
    Bring on the LA style Korean taco wars :)

    There is a new confirmed vendor selling specialty noodles at 49th and Cambie. I’m heading by there for lunch and will have more info soon!

    The burrito cart at Howe and Cordova in rumoured to be opening on Tuesday at Howe and Cordova.

  • chizzle

    had a pork burrito from down on cordova. it’s decent, nice heat….a lil tortilla-ish and could use some other toppings possibly. pork done in marinade topped with hot sauce and fresh squeeze of lime…

  • supersocco

    mouth watering…looking forward to trying!

  • Pingback: Cartel Taco

  • David J. Cooper

    Went today. Really good food and very nice guys. Best street food in Vancouver.

  • James Iranzad

    Thanks, David. Really appreciate that feedback. Come back and visit soon!

  • Jo

    Its good and I wish these guys the best. A friend and I went there though, we both spent 10 bucks for 3 tacos, and 2 hours later we both had to go out and get more food. Its delicious, but it simply doesn’t fill you up.

  • Tony

    I appreciate the creativity as I myself am a designer, but on the cultural level – I am Mexican by culture, language, and gastronomy– people like like the Korean “taco” trucks in L.A. and others are taking the techniques and making a mockery out of the real taquerias… it makes me sad.

    On one hand you have total an complete freedom to create what you love and I sincerely commend you on that, but on the other hand I hear more and more non Mexicans talking about tacos and such and it’s irritating because my cultural traditions tat my grandmother and her ancestors lived by are now being watered down and “Tex-Mexed” if you will in the U.S. and now Canada?

    Again, I applaud you, and am very happy that the fusion of our foods seems to be ushering the fusion of the cultures but I sincerely am conflicted because it feels like my culture is being gentrified.