This is the fourth in the Life desk’s series of reviews during Charlottesville’s 2023 Restaurant Week — food writers also ate at Mockingbird, The Ridley, Bizou, Fig and Tavern & Grocery.
My recent trip to Maru proved that the restaurant does not disappoint in guaranteeing extraordinary flavor in a cozy and intimate setting. A popular Korean restaurant and bar, Maru’s cuisine consists of a wide variety of food and drink choices, including a decent amount of vegetarian and vegan options for those with dietary restrictions. A group of four, my friends and I had heard good things about Maru and wanted to see if it lived up to its standards. After my impromptu trip to the restaurant this past weekend, I recommend paying Maru a visit anytime between Jan. 30 to Feb. 5 during Charlottesville’s Restaurant Week with your friends or family to enjoy a wide, accessible selection of quality food.
Although Maru is now located at 412 E. Main St on the Downtown Mall, its original location was in Washington D.C. When I asked our server how Maru came to Charlottesville, she told our table that because the rent had gotten so high in D.C., the quality of the food declined and the main chef decided to move to Charlottesville — a beautiful town that he believed would improve the food quality and emulate the cozy family restaurant scene that he pictured Maru to be.
Maru, a Korean idiom for “a family room to eat and gather,” stays true to its name in every sense of the phrase. As soon as I walked into the restaurant, I immediately felt at home — not only was the staff friendly and amiable, but the serene interior and soft lighting of the restaurant had an intimate and familiar atmosphere that made me feel warm inside, and not just because I was hungry.
Upon arriving, we were immediately seated and promptly asked what we would like to drink for the night. We ordered their signature Soju cocktail, a famous Korean alcoholic beverage which here was flavored with grapefruit which added a sharp, tangy kick to the drink. For our appetizer, we decided on the fried pork dumplings, which were crunchy and crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. The sauce that came with it added a nice touch of acidity to the savory flavor.
I found that the friendliness and personability of every staff member I talked to certainly accomplished creating a cozy atmosphere. The colorful pillows cast around the tables and perfect overcast lighting also made Maru feel like you’re enjoying an intimate family dinner on any given weekday.
Of course, for the main course, we wanted to try traditional Korean plates, choosing the Bulgogi Beef and the Dolsot Bibimbap. Both these options are available during Restaurant Week as part of a three-course meal for $35 to $45 per person.
Two of us chose the Bulgogi Beef, which came in a sizzling hot firewood pan and a side of steamed rice, lettuce wraps and banchan, its enticing aroma reverberating off the pan. The other two decided to order the Dolsot Bibimbap, which includes your choice of beef, spicy pork, chicken or tofu, on a bed of rice topped with an assortment of steaming vegetables that came in a fiery hot stone bowl. Overall, we all found our meals to taste as delicious as they smelled.
By the time the check came around, I was happily sedated into a food coma and thoroughly satisfied with the delicious meal that Maru had provided. Our server repeatedly checked in to see how our table was doing, and kindly welcomed us to return as soon as we could.
Overall, my last-minute visit to Maru was worth it, and I would definitely recommend checking it out if you like good food, good vibes, and a great time. So, grab some friends and visit Maru for delicious food and even more delicious deals during Restaurant Week.