“Ma’s Hope”- Cambodian Restaurant
Mahope 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
3935 Spring Grove Ave,
Cincinnati, OH 45223
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!