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Posted Tuesday, August 29, 2017

In the decade I've worked downtown, one thing has left me mystified: how can so many restaurants in the heart of the business center do so poorly while those further up the street in Over-the-Rhine flourish? Case in point: 628 Vine St. seems a perfect, well-trafficked spot, and yet so many restaurants have come and gone there over the years.

Back in 2007, it was a 50s diner with great Chicago dogs and gravy fries called Dink's. It was a Balboa's Philly Cheesesteaks for a short while; then a Mediterranean restaurant called Turquoise, founded by the same family who'd brought us Cafe Istanbul in Newport. The name soon changed to Istanbul Cafe, which managed a five-year stint. Now the spot is home to Haru, open since July. Haru assumes the mantle of premier downtown Korean left by yet another recently fallen eatery, Sung Korean Bistro.

Haru dining room Dining room

We stopped by for dinner after perusing what appears to be one of the most diverse, yet familiar, menus in town. A lunch menu is also available at reasonable prices. There are a number of dishes listed here we've not seen in other area Korean restaurants beyond Korea House in Mason/Symmes Township. That's no coincidence, as Haru's owner and chef, Igor Kuan, once worked there. So if you've eaten at either 3501 Seoul or Haru, you can thank Korea House, because both have their roots in the Mason restaurant. Haru's menu highlights all the classic Korean hits, like various bulgogi and bibimbaps, noodle dishes and large soup (Guk) and stew (Chigae) entrees, but there are notably more obscure ones, like their monk fish entrees and vegetarian offerings, that should compel some of the more discriminating Korean aficionados.

Off Haru's drink menu, I ordered a traditional Korean punch called Sujung Gwa ($3). This reddish-hued drink is sweet and spicy with assertive hits of cinnamon and ginger, sprinkled with a few pine nuts. It's listed in the dessert menu, but worked great ordered along side my entree, the Mae Woon Tofu Bokgum ($15.99), a tofu stir-fry with zucchini, cabbage, onions, broccoli, mushrooms and carrots, all lightly dressed in a sweet and spicy chili sauce.

Sujung Gwa Sujung Gwa
Banchan Banchan side dishes

My girlfriend chose a cold buckwheat noodle dish called Mui Neng Myun ($13.99). The entree includes sliced beef, Asian pear, cucumber and radish in a mild broth.

All entrees come with six of the traditional Korean side dishes called Banchan, which included kimchi, pickled radish, a cole slaw-like concoction, fish cake strips, pickled carrots and pickled eggplant.

My Mae Woon Tofu stir-fry was easily one of the best Korean meals I'd ever had. I absolutely loved this tofu dish. I'm not a fan of crispy or fried tofu --I typically get it steamed because I find the texture of fried tofu disconcerting. This was a notable exception. The unusually large cube shape and the light outer crispiness of this tofu made for a superbly pleasing textural experience. The sauce was pleasantly spicy and savory, lightly applied without the greasiness one might expect from the dish. All of the vegetables, particularly the broccoli, exhibited such a toasty stir-fried char that it was hard not to swoon over the flavor. I was simply thrown off guard by how much I enjoyed this entree. It also came with a side of purple rice, which was a nice touch, adding a pleasing nutty element to the dish.

Mae Woon Tofu Bokgum Mae Woon Tofu Bokgum
Mui Neng Myun Mui Neng Myun

My girlfriend's buckwheat noodles were long, thin and tightly bundled such that it came with a pair of scissors for the diner to cut at leisure. The cold aspect of the dish was a bit jarring to me, but she very much enjoyed it and the mildly spiced sauce lent cool, refreshing notes on a hot summer day.

Our first impressions of Haru were universally positive. Of all the Asian restaurants in town influenced by Korea House, we easily found Haru to be the best iteration. In fact, we thought it was better than Korea House itself. Once again, downtown Cincinnati has a Korean restaurant it can be proud of.

Haru Korean Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Haru Korean Restaurant

Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 3.5 out of 43.5 stars

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Ratings Legend
four stars = Outstanding
three stars = Good
two stars = Fair
one star = Poor
  • From Jones about Haru Korean Restaurant:
    As a long time reader, I found this review to be one of your loveliest and most enthusiastically vivid. I can't wait to try this place!
    posted: Tue., Aug 29th, 2017 @ 9:48 AM
  • From Jordan about Grand Central Delicatessen:
    posted: Sat., Jun 3rd, 2017 @ 12:16 PM
  • From Tabitha about Tickle Pickle:
    Haha, love your comment: " If you were deemed "different" in high school, dressed "weird" or regularly got beat up only to go on to have a decidedly higher net worth and confidence level than the rest of your abusive, judgmental peers, Northside is your home away from home." I know I saw a Groupon for Tickle Pickle recently - might have to check if that's still available!
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:33 PM
  • From Tabitha about Chilango Fresh Mexican:
    This is definitely going on the list. Thanks for posting. Do they also have margaritas?
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:23 PM
  • From holly may about Urban Grill on Main:
    This is Israeli couscous, the super tiny stuff is Moroccan. I personally prefer the Israeli (also known as "pearl".)
    posted: Fri., Mar 24th, 2017 @ 4:28 AM
  • From Sommer about Chilango Fresh Mexican:
    We really love having Chilango so close to us in the Kings area!!! We have gone a few times and you are right - the Chicken Tinga is the best chicken taco you can get in Cincinnati!!! Thanks for reviewing this little neighborhood gem!
    posted: Tue., Mar 21st, 2017 @ 9:12 AM
  • From Tabitha about Lalo: they have margaritas?
    posted: Thu., Jan 12th, 2017 @ 12:32 PM
  • From Cincinnati Bites about Swad Indian:
    @MJ: I heard family members of those who'd run Dusmesh now work out of the former Amol India in Clifton. It's called, Grill of India (
    posted: Thu., Dec 29th, 2016 @ 11:45 PM
  • From mj about Swad Indian:
    It seems Swad has changed hands. Have not see the former Dusmesh owners in my last visit (10/1/2016) and the food is just ok. Wonder where they went this time?
    posted: Wed., Dec 28th, 2016 @ 8:22 AM
  • From Rachel about Bamboo Kitchen:
    Hey there,
    I would recommend Basil Thai and Bangkok Terrace. They have wonderful Thai foods there :)
    posted: Sat., Nov 19th, 2016 @ 11:28 AM
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