So dang good 

Scald your tongue on delicious soup at Cho Dang Tofu

Trying to find a location on Buford Highway solely by street number is a journey best left to those with a dashboard GPS system. Cho Dang's staff struggled to express themselves in English during an en-route call for directions, and a patchy connection didn't help matters. When two female staff members began passing the phone back and forth, repeating a Korean phrase to each other in a tone that lead me to imagine they were saying, "No, you deal with this," we realized we were on our own.

X Marks the Spot: A striking sign of Korean characters in red on white with "Tofu House" at the bottom sprung into view after crossing Oakcliff Road. Although "Cho Dang" isn't posted on anything in sight, the brightly lit restaurant with nary an English word on its exterior was clearly our destination. Inside, comfortable booths line the huge plate-glass window. Servers are attentive, courteous and, understandably, more fluent in English in person than on the telephone. The menu features only 12 items. Drinks are limited to beer, sodas, hot tea and soju, a Korean distilled spirit most easily described as a bitter version of vodka. But don't let the handful of options discourage you -- Cho Dang's 11 tofu stews are a real hit parade.

Dubu How Soon?: The stews ($7.48 each), called dubu soon in Korean, are all variations on an excellent theme. Beef stock is spiked with toenjang, a fermented soybean paste that gives the stew its characteristic orange-red color and pungent flavor. A bit of dried kelp is added, along with hot red pepper as desired. Guests can order the soup in degrees of spiciness, ranging from chili-less "white" to extra spicy. Throw in silken tofu and meat of choice, and you've got some of the best wintertime food on the planet. A generous included-with-meal spread of kimchi is served immediately after orders are placed.

Hurts so good: Bubbling and spitting like lava from a vent in the earth, the stews and accompanying rice arrive in heavy earthenware bowls. The rice touching the sides of the Vulcan pots browns and crisps with a crackle. Raw eggs are provided for cracking into the stews, which remain hot enough to poach the yolk and white well after they are brought to the table. The dumplings in the Gyoza stew fall apart at being spooned up and are as delicious as they are soft. Beef and pork stews have just enough meat to flavor without adding extra heaviness, while the clams, shrimp and oysters in the seafood version are as velvety as the tofu.

Diners are advised to order the sticky, sweet and butter-tender barbecued beef ribs ($13.07) to pacify their hunger until the stews cool to enough to be eaten. Like the stews, the ribs are served as hot as food can get before it incinerates, but they cool much faster. Be careful, though: Trying to gnaw the meat off the bones before they have sufficiently cooled on their iron platter is like wrapping your lips around a meteor.

Yet losing a taste bud or two is certainly worth it at Cho Dang, where delicious food needs no translation.

cynthia.wong@creativeloafing.com

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