When Vy Sok enrolled in local business accelerator Mortar in 2016, it was with the long-held goal of bringing Cambodian cuisine to Cincinnati, the city her family had adopted after fleeing the genocidal Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. The resulting Mahope—which means “food” in Khmer—debuted as a food cart at Urban Artifact and Rosedale OTR’s Mortar Mess Hall before landing its own kitchen and becoming the first Cambodian restaurant in the city in late 2018.
Sok, who learned a mastery of traditional dishes from her parents, holds the menu to a predominately authentic script—ban chao rolls of crisp cabbage, scallions, and mushrooms ensconced in fluffy rice crepes paired with peanut-sprinkled sweet-and-sour vinaigrette; bone broth kathiew, a Cambodian pho with brown sugar–sweetened broth; and chilled vermicelli noodles entwined with veggies, roasted peanuts, and a light, savory dressing. Family maintains a central role beyond menu sourcing, with Sok serving as sole chef and her partner, Mike Laguna, handling front of house. She tosses in a few fusion dishes, too, like the Cambodian chicken taco with grilled chicken and pickled papaya piled high on a grilled corn tortilla—a nod to her upbringing in the Queen City’s varied gastro culture—and bite-size cheesecakes wrapped in pillowy sopaipilla shells. If you decide to eat in, don’t be put off by the no-frills dining space; your chosen dish is the real star.
Mahope, 3935 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, (513) 499-7176