Protein traffic moving from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) to the Golgi complex in mammalian cells passes through the tubulovesicular membrane clusters of the ER-Golgi intermediate compartment (ERGIC), the marker of which is the lectin ERGIC-53. The dynamic nature and functional role of the ERGIC have been debated for quite some time. In the most popular current view, the ERGIC clusters are mobile transport complexes that deliver secretory cargo from ER-exit sites to the Golgi. Recent live-cell imaging data revealing the formation of anterograde carriers from stationary ERGIC-53-positive membranes, however, suggest a stable compartment model in which ER-derived cargo is first shuttled from ER-exit sites to stationary ERGIC clusters in a COPII-dependent step and subsequently to the Golgi in a second vesicular transport step. This model can better accommodate previous morphological and functional data on ER-to-Golgi traffic. Such a stationary ERGIC would be a major site of anterograde and retrograde sorting that is controlled by coat proteins, Rab and Arf GTPases, as well as tethering complexes, SNAREs and cytoskeletal networks. The ERGIC also contributes to the concentration, folding, and quality control of newly synthesized proteins.