With spring break now over, I know some of you have post-vacation blues and may be less than enthusiastic about having to face another month and a half of school before summer. What you really need to remedy this situation are these — a hot stew with ham, spam, kimchi, ramen and spicy sauce, a bowl of white rice and a soothing cup of green tea. The gourmet food at Maru Korean Restaurant and Bar will help you appreciate your return to Charlottesville and give you the strength to face the rest of the semester –– especially if you’re a foodie.
You will not go wrong with any of the dishes on the menu. For first time Maru patrons, I recommend the Kimchi Rice Arancini for the appetizer. This dish is a compact fried rice ball with kimchi, cheese and is topped with gochujang aioli — a sweet, spicy paste found in most Korean dishes. This dish has a very special taste due to the gochujang aioli paste, but at the same time, there is a traditional spicy kimchi flavor and gooey, cheesy texture in the fried rice. Your first bite will definitely make you fall in love with Korean cuisine!
Another appetizer I recommend is their Maru fries. You might wonder why I would get fries at a Korean restaurant. But it’s more than just that — their fries are tossed with pepper flakes and scallions and topped with homemade gochujang. Maru’s homemade gochujang sauce is what makes their food so unique and delicious. When I first tried the fries, I was amazed by the combination of pepper and gochujang sauce. These crispy fries — with the added spice — make this dish a “must have” at Maru.
For entrees and stews, everything on the menu is honestly delectable — you can’t go wrong. I always try a new dish each time I go to Maru, and it just never disappoints me. But there are two distinct entrees all my friends and I particularly like. The first one is called Budae Jjigae — also called “Korean Army Stew.” As the name suggests, it is basically a hot stew with ham, sausages, ramen noodles and vegetables, and topped with cheese and Kimchi sauce. Budae Jjigae is a hot pot dish people like to have during the winter because it is so warm and comforting. The kimchi in this dish tastes homemade, while the noodles are cooked al dente. I even drink all the spicy broth whenever I have this dish.
The second entree I recommend is Tteokbokki — a spicy rice cake made with fish cakes, eggs and vegetables. This dish is very popular in Korean cuisine, and I think Maru makes the most tasty and addictive rice cake in Charlottesville. The chewy rice cakes — with gochujang sauce — has both spicy and sweet flavors which complement each other well. The soft fish cakes in this dish are also the best supplements to go with this dish. You can also ask the waiters to add or reduce the spicy sauce, depending on your spice tolerance.
Everything in Maru is affordable and reasonable. The average cost per person is between $13 and $18. The appetizers range from $4 to $8. Most entrees are between $11 and $15 depending on what you get.
I recommend making a reservation beforehand if you plan to go on a weekend night because Maru is always packed. Maru is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays –– except Tuesday when it closes for the day at 3 p.m. During weekends, the restaurant serves guests from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. If you want to get there from the University, you can definitely walk or take a trolley. I would estimate that it is a 25-minute walk from the Rotunda.
The open kitchen, uber-hip furniture and Korean music will give you an exotic and fresh atmosphere. The seats and tables are comfortable and clean. It might not be an ideal place to go for an intimate conversation because sometimes it can be a bit loud. The waiters are very friendly and helpful. They know the dishes well so they can give recommendations and answer any questions you might have. Maru is a perfect restaurant for hanging out with your friends on a Friday night!
Everything I’ve mentioned above is really just the tip of the iceberg. Everything at Maru surprises me every time. This is definitely a “must-try” restaurant if you want to indulge in Korean cuisine. Even though this is a new restaurant that opened in 2018, it has been rapidly growing in popularity among residents and students. Delicious and satisfying Korean food is just what you need to stay motivated and energized as the college grind continues.