Saturday, July 16, 2011

VANCOUVER SLOP: THE (DOWNTOWN) KOREAN TACOS



Since the Kogi trucks first hit it big a few years back in Los Angeles, it seems that any city with a food cart program will inevitably see a variation - or outright copy - of their Korean-meets-Mexican (trying hard not to use the word 'fusion' here) fare. And so it is with Vancouver, and here's a review of two food carts downtown that fit in that category, and, more specifically, the tacos they offer.

(Note: before you send/leave us cranky emails or comments, we also know about our glaring omission, not having included Coma Food Truck. There's two reasons for this: (a) at the time we wrote this, Coma simply wasn't running in the downtown core, and (b) we just plain haven't made it out to try them yet...but will soon enough. We also didn't include the Roaming Dragon's taco, as their menu is much more pan-Asian than Korean specific.)

Ursu Korean BBQ (Georgia Street, between Homer and Richards)

Irrespective of what their menu (which also includes quesadillas and hot dogs) might read, $10 nets you three tacos at Ursu Korean BBQ, an extremely mom-and-pop operation that sits awkwardly in front of the Budget Rental Car's chain link fence. The 'mom' is disarmingly charming, the sort that heals colds and knits sweaters and embodies comfort itself.

And that's what makes this difficult to say: the taco's not great, and that's being generous. While I know bulgogi (choose between chicken or beef) is and should be slightly sweet, Ursu's is cloyingly so, a fact that I presume they must know considering the river of hot sauce that they topped it with when I asked for their recommended amount. It comes with grocery store, pre-packaged 'Mexican assortment' cheese (marble, cheddar, mozz), a bit of veg, served on a cold tortilla (your choice of hard or soft; we went with the latter). If food court Korean and Taco Time are your thing, you will do well at Ursu.

Cartel Taco (Dunsmuir Street at Hamilton)


A considerably better deal can be found at Cartel Taco, both economically ($10 for 4 tacos) and qualitatively. The balance between Mexican and Korean tips more heavily towards the former than at Ursu, though in a much more composed way. The bulgogi doesn't have as much of a tang, but it's got much more depth, and the quality of ingredient (free range beef or Fraser Valley pork) is readily apparent. They're served with a bit of kimchi, a twist of orange or pork, and a healthy amount of the house...er, cartmade salsa verde or smoky salsa roja give it legs. Now if only the location were better....

Joe.
the clutterer Web Developer

7 comments:

  1. Hi Joe,

    You piqued my interest in Cartel taco. Those pictures look pretty respectable.

    I've been sort of down on Korean (Korxican? Mexirean? :) ) tacos... partly because of the strange trendiness, and partly after trying the ones at Roaming Dragon, which were just plain bad. (To be fair, I only tried them one time, so it could have been an off day.)

    In my Roamin Dragon experiment, the tortillas were dried out, the supposedly Korean-style short ribs were prepared in a "pulled" manner that lost any resemblance to short ribs or Korean food, and there was no presence of shitake or nori as promised on the menu. The tacos I was presented with were essentially bland, wet, pulled, mystery meat with bland carrots and spinach (no discernible sesame or other Korean flavour "hints", on drying-out tortillas that quickly failed as the damp from the meat and spinach bled through.

    Well, that's out of my system. I guess I'm just pouty because I'm so excited that Vancouver is allowing street food, but it looks like it's going to take a couple years before we separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Having just given Roaming Dragon such a tough time for their tacos, I will say that I did enjoy their lychee and basil soda, and the fried rice balls were enjoyable as well.

    Their guo bao seemed unnecessarily westernized, though. I think those pork belly morsels should be pretty accessible even in their original form. Anyone know where the good ones in Vancouver are? So far the only ones I've found downtown are at Super Wok (pretty good), but I'm still hoping they will start adding cilantro to theirs. :)

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  2. Good disclaimer about Roaming Dragon :P Cartel Taco looks tasty though! I love the double shells on the tacos just like at La Taqueria.

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  3. I'd give Roaming Dragon another shot, abandoning all expectation of tradition. I wouldn't expect them to do a traditional guo bao - it's not their intention.

    But: Superwok. That place just serves up surprise after surprise (how many places have Hakka sticky rice zongzi?), and though it's flabbergastingly inconsistent, I can't think of anything remotely similar in the business core of downtown (Well Tea is probably the closest), and it just draws me back again and again.

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