Mahope Restaurant

Mahope

“Ma’s Hope”- Cambodian Restaurant

Location:

Mahope Restaurant is located in the North Side, Cincinnati. Northside is on the west side of town and is known for their historic, yet eclectic nature. In a sea of eccentric buildings, Mahope stands out with its bright blue exterior.

Mahope Restaurant

Meet The Owners:

Vy Sok is the owner of Mahope along with her husband and business partner, Mike. Vy was originally born in Thailand after her family fled from Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge genocide. In 1984, Vy and her family moved to America, where Vy eventually realized her dream of opening her own restaurant. Vy fantasized of having her own family recipes on a menu of her own. As a young girl, Vy’s mother was hopeful she would turn her dreams into reality. This inspired a name for the restaurant. The direct translation of “Mahope” in Cambodian is “food”, but the English translation “Ma’s Hope” was perfectly fitting for what Vy and her mother had envisioned years ago. Pursuing her passion, Vy completed the Mortar program in Cincinnati, Ohio, a program supporting young urban entrepreneurs. In 2017, she opened a Mahope food truck at Urban Artifact, a food, craft beer, and music event in downtown Cincinnati. In 2018, Mahope was at Cincinnati’s Taco Fest, where Vy received an award for her  now famous “cheesecake taco” (see below). Transitioning from a pop-up patio at a restaurant in downtown Cincinnati, Mahope finally found its home in North Side.

Mahope Restaurant

The Food:

I asked Vy to describe traditional Cambodian food in three words and she said: “savory”, “earthy” and “fresh”. Cambodian food is traditionally cooked with a lot of herbs and fresh ingredients including lots of lemongrass, turmeric, kaffir lime and cilantro! Mahope is sensitive to different types of eating styles. For example, there is no fish sauce included in any of the recipes (although it can be added on the side) to cater to vegetarians and because the recipes are made with vegetables and rice noodles, most of the items on the menu are also gluten-free. In addition, a Cambodian classic, pickled papaya is also included in many of the recipes!

To begin, I started with the Ban Chao Roll which consists of cabbage, onion, scallions, ground pork & cilantro rolled in rice flour crepes served with Sweet & Sour vinaigrette with roasted peanuts. A crunchy, fresh and flavorful appetizer!

Mahope Restaurant

Next, I had the Bone Broth Kathiew with shrimp, a Cambodian soup with rice noodles is garnished with cabbage, cilantro, and lime with rice noodles. This soup, similar to Vietnamese pho, is a perfect combination of earthy and savory in flavor and soft and crunchy in texture.

Mahope Restaurant

The Cambodian Chicken Taco is a Cambodian twist to tacos. When I asked Vy if there was a challenge integrating Cambodian cuisine to the Cincinnati culture, she replied in the affirmative, but mentioned how the chicken tacos at Mahope are a good stepping stone for someone who may have never tried Cambodian food. The tacos consist of grilled and marinated chicken, cabbage, pickled papaya, sriracha aioli and cilantro served on a grilled corn tortilla. The chicken was perfectly marinated and moist, with the pickled papaya adding a Cambodian touch to a Mexican classic.

Mahope Restaurant

The cheesecake taco referred to previously features homemade cheesecake within a Sopapilla taco shell, topped with fresh strawberries, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and some more cheesecake. Not Cambodian, per se,  but a perfect dessert to an excellent meal nonetheless!

Mahope Restaurant

The Experience:

Mahope is a family friendly restaurant that offers an excellent eating experience for those curious about Cambodian cuisine.  It is a spotlessly clean restaurant, with a large Buddha that greets you at the entrance, along with the aroma of delicious South-east Asian spices. I can’t wait to go back and highly recommend to anyone in the Cincinnati area.

Visit: 

Mahope
3935 Spring Grove Ave,
Cincinnati, OH 45223
513-499-7176

Hannah Thornsburg is a Cincinnati local with a creative palate and a passion for food. As a young professional, she loves to try different cuisines around town!

Ha La Sushi Restaurant

Ha La Sushi

Hidden behind a bundle of trees in a small shopping plaza in Alamo, California,  Ha-La Sushi buzzes with frenetic energy. As the regulars pile in, they are greeted with a beaming smile by an amiable, middle age man with a fun, spiky haircut. Hugging regular patrons, Ken Ma- the owner of the restaurant, always seems to remember everyone’s name, as well as what was going on in their lives. Customers seem genuinely happy to see him and the other employees of Ha-La Sushi.

Ken Ma makes sure to treat everyone who comes to Ha-La Sushi, along with his employees, as a family. It’s no wonder that most of his employees never want to leave and still work with him after many years. He accepts and values people as they are, and sympathizes with challenges - his life after immigrating to the US has taught him not to take anything or anyone for granted.

In 1996, Ken moved to the United States from Hong Kong, right before the sovereignty over Hong Kong transferred from the United Kingdom to China. This handover marked the end of the British Empire rule, along with significant trepidation in the hearts of citizens of Hong Kong regarding their future. The major fear was that Chinese culture of control and corruption would undermine Hong Kong’s economic development and free political expression.

Ken’s life flipped upside down as he left his country a prosperous businessman and came into the United States as a nobody. Instead of managing a business, Ken found himself behind a kitchen sink in a restaurant, washing dishes. While not ideal, this 2-year stint gave him the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of running a business in the United States.  From dishwasher to the waiter, to sushi helper, and finally to becoming a sushi master chef - Ken paved the way to his success by working 2 jobs with no days off for several years until he had enough money saved for a down payment on opening his own restaurant.

As Ken began to look for his own place to develop a restaurant, a major setback came crashing down on him - the loss of all the family savings. He found himself back at square one, the shining ‘end of the tunnel’ to his dream even further away. The consequences that followed had Ken battling with depression and despair - he had worked 60 hours per week for 7 years with no breaks saving every penny he was given - only to have it all vanish right in front of him.

Yet, Ken rose from the ashes once again and started his long, laboring trek by asking his family and friends to help him in finance the down payment. Because of his trustworthiness and work ethic, everyone reached out to help and Ken was soon able to open his first ever sushi restaurant in Benicia, CA  in 2003. Word about Ken’s wonderful food got around quickly wonderful food and his business grew despite being in what many would consider a “sketchy” or “unsafe” locations. Even non-local customers would come from across the bridge just to eat at Ken’s sushi restaurant.

Things started looking up as his business grew. Shortly after his restaurant opened, Ken bought his first house, got remarried and had a son. But even with his success, he never relaxed and kept working around the clock- a new idea of owning a restaurant across the bridge in the East Bay hovered in his mind.

Ha La Sushi
Ha La Sushi

A developer who visited and immediately fell in love with Ken’s sushi place searched him out and offered a new location in Alamo. Ken opened Ha-La Sushi in 2005. Currently, Ken owns 2 restaurants: one in San Leandro and the other in Alamo, managing his time between the two places. He is diligent, hard-working, and never takes anything or anyone for granted. He always appreciates the people in his life, his employees, and most importantly, his family. When you come to Ha-La Sushi, you are treated not just as a customer, but as a friend too.

Ha-La is an Asian fusion, a sushi restaurant that combines Japanese and Chinese cuisine. Ask the owner for a recommendation, and you will be in for a special treat. Ken might ask you when you come in: “What do you feel like?”, and somehow makes any desire happen. Anything from oysters, and extra special Toro, to rolls and udon, and of course, Ken's famous lamb chops - will make you happily satisfied.

Since we were at the restaurant in Alamo, we had to order the Alamo Roll. This roll has deep fried shrimp & crab on the inside, tuna & salmon on the outside, and it is completed with tobiko & spicy sauce on top.

Pork Katsu- breaded pork cutlets, is a comfort-food in Japan. Ha-La sushi is able to make these cutlets especially delicious by ensuring that the pork was filled with juicy flavor and the coated bread crumbs had just the right crunch.

Tempura Vegetables. Tempura is a Japanese dish filled with battered and deep-fried vegetables. At Ha-La, tempura tastes clean, fresh, and delicate. The coating was extra crisp, lacy and feather light.

Salmon Sashimi - The secret in Ken’s exceptional quality of food lies in his long-established relationships with produce supplies. While also being treated as one of Ken’s good friends, they are expected to deliver only the best and freshest fish. Although basic, the Salmon sashimi we ordered melted in our mouths and still lingered long after devouring it. If you are adventurous and open to trying new food, ask Ken for the Special Fish of the day and follow the question up by asking him if he has Toro. If he does, you are in luck. Toro is a term for the fatty part of the tuna, found in the belly portion of the fish. It is more expensive due to their relative scarcity, but worth the experience.

Ha La Sushi
Ha La Sushi

The Super Lion King Roll was a creamy, mouthwatering treat for my brother, who is a California roll fanatic. The Lion King rolls is essentially a California roll with the exception of being wrapped in salmon and also baked and topped with Ha-La’s special sauce. The crunchy decorations were a wonderful touch in tying the roll together.

The Caterpillar Roll at Ha-La Sushi was very carefully crafted. With unagi and crab meat on the inside, wrapped in fresh avocado, the roll looked like a beautiful caterpillar creation. We learned that Caterpillar rolls were completely an “American” invention, so it is unlikely to be found in Hong Kong or Japan. The Unagi inside the roll was grilled to perfection - crisp and coated with a sweet sauce on the outside while being tender on the inside. Ken told us that unagi is very good for one’s health: high in omega-3 helps to improve blood pressure, lower cholesterol and reduce the risks of diabetes and arthritis.

In my opinion, HaLa sushi embraces what I consider to be a truly international restaurant. A chef serving cuisine they did not grow up with in pursuit of the American Dream.

Visit:
Ha La Sushi
115-C Alamo Plaza
Alamo, CA 94507
(925) 838-5583

Yara Elian is a 10th grader at Northgate High in the San Francisco Bay Area, who loves languages, cultures, food, and writing.