Text and photos by Evan Hatch
Vit Goal Tofu Restaurant is elusive. The restaurant is situated around two corners, up a hidden drive, at the end of a nondescript strip mall, hidden behind a Big Lots that is difficult to access. Though centrally located minutes from I-40, near the crossroads of NC 54 and Hwy 55 in Durham, Vit Goal is a difficult destination to reach on the first try. However, the journey, and the amazing authentic Korean food served within, make it a prize destination for those folks who like to eat.
Although it has been open under different management for many years, new owner Joan Ooh took over at Vit Goal Tofu and Korean BBQ just four years ago, and has maintained the warm, friendly environment for enjoying their fare. Vit Goal’s look is modern, with clean lines and spare decor. Groups of four often sit around barbecue tables designed for table side preparation. Joan Ooh appears to handle every job at the restaurant with ease—host, cook, food runner, and keeper of the restaurant till. But Ooh never looks harried. She is no-nonsense, laid back, and a joy to talk with. Her recommendations for cuisine should be heeded.
The tofu is sublime. In this restaurant, as in much of Korean food, tofu is central. Often in the States, tofu is relegated to vegetarian fare, but at Vit Goal it holds its own with sausages, ham, and stir-fried pork. The tofu is alabaster and silky—dressed with black sesame, it draws character from everything on the plate. On a recent trip, Elissa Olszewski (NC Folk’s world-traveled accountant and resident food expert), Tasha Johnson, and I shared a beautiful casserole, a bubbling pot of spicy and soupy goodness. It is assertive, multi-textured, and fun to share. And why did we order this dish? It is what six other tables surrounding us were having.
Korean food is down with fermentation. Pickled vegetables and varied kimchis feature prominently. Small plates of pickled vegetables and fungi—broccoli, bean sprouts, shiitake, and potato—are distributed to the tables for sampling. Grab a set of stainless-steel chopsticks, and taste the complex, cool, and fresh flavors that make all great Korean food even better. We do love a sampler. The Korean-style pancakes are a crowd favorite, and the fried rice is an excellent go-to.
Asked for another food recommendation, Ooh said she is very proud of Hot Stone-Pot Bibimbap. It looks like another trip is in store. So go to Vit Goal, and go again. Listen to Joan Ooh. Eat well, and eat healthy. And I am not even going into the red-bean sweet ice cream. That’s another post all together.
Vit Goal Tofu Restaurant
2107 Allendown Drive
Durham, NC 27713