Longtime Cincinnati Restaurateur Opens Brand New Korean Restaurant
A longtime Cincinnati restaurateur who owns eateries around the University of Cincinnati’s campus is branching into Over-the-Rhine with his newest venture.
Inho Cha opened Kanji Sushi & Korean Cuisine in the former Harvest Pizzeria space at 1739 Elm St. across from Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine. Flip through the photos above for a look inside.
Cha told me that he’s always been interested in the Over-the-Rhine area. When he found out that Harvest Pizzeria, which closed amid the pandemic, was in the market to get out of its lease, he jumped on the opportunity.
“I know it’s kind of risky to open another restaurant in this pandemic, but I think it was worth it to take a risk because of the location – the Findlay Market area is still developing and there’s no Korean food here,” he said.
The Kanji menu specializes in traditional Korean cuisine, as well as sushi. It includes items like:
- Dolsot bibimbap, a dish of carrots, soybean sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, zucchini, spinach and rice, with a choice of beef, pork or tofu topped with a fried egg and served in a sizzling hot stone bowl that crisps the ingredients as it is stirred
- Deep-fried katsu, in chicken, pork or fish, which is battered in tempura and served with a ginger house salad
- Bulgogi, sliced beef and onions marinated in a sweet Korean sauce and topped with sesame seeds
- Jab chae, sweet potato noodles with mushrooms, onion, carrots and spinach
- Gabi, beef short ribs in a sweet marinade with onion
- Kimchi chi ke, spicy cabbage stew with tofu, rice cakes and pork.
Cha is a native of South Korea who came to Cincinnati to study classical music – he plays the violin – at University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. While studying for his master’s degree he struggled to find places to eat that served familiar flavors, so in 2007 he ended up opening what is now known as Drunken Bento, serving sushi and Japanese cuisine, on McMillan Street near campus.
His second restaurant, nearby the original, was Mexican eatery Drunken Taco, inspired by the Hispanic kitchen workers at Drunken Bento who would cook their own flavors of home for Cha.
With Kanji though, Cha wanted to focus on the cuisine of his native Korea, using his family’s recipes.
“This area, there’s no Korean food, no sushi, so I’d love to introduce my food to people who shop at Findlay Market or OTR,” he said.
Kanji sits in 2,500 square feet and has capacity for 60 diners under social distancing requirements imposed due to Covid-19. It is open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Cha leased the space from building owner Kim Starbuck.
“The concept brings something brand new to Findlay Market and OTR in general,” Starbuck said. “The story from my point of view is the optimism coming to this community before we are out of the woods.”