Umma’s excites with bold, fresh takes on classic dishes. Relatively new to the Downtown restaurant scene, Umma’s has served Charlottesville diners Korean-Japanese American fusion since 2022. Popular for their novel food combinations — like Southern collards over ramen noodles or caramel apple enveloped in Taiyaki pastry — Umma’s is a great spot to visit with friends for innovative comfort food at a reasonable price.
Umma’s is located Downtown on the corner of Water Street and 2nd Street SW — about a 25-minute walk from Central Grounds. They serve dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and until 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. They also serve late-night bites from 9:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. Umma’s does not accept reservations.
Umma’s pays homage to the women in chef Kelsey Naylor’s family, whom she credits for her love of cooking. It is her grandmother’s gentle smile that graces the restaurant’s logo. “Umma” translates to “Mom” in Korean, a fitting name for a restaurant inspired by mothers.
Umma’s dishes reimagine conventional Korean, Japanese and American cuisines. The dishes fuse food traditions — like the kimchi-making custom in Naylor’s family — with the chefs’ own food histories — like snacking on American cheese. The resulting Asian American menu is uniquely authentic to the chefs and their experiences.
My date and I walked to Umma’s for a Friday evening dinner. We sat at a window with a view of their cozy outdoor patio decked with string lights. Inside, the space reinforced the East-meets-West theme. Traditional East Asian prints and hanging plants adorned the walls, while 1970s disco hits tinged the air with American nostalgia.
There is a lot to digest on Umma’s menu — no pun intended. They serve several variations of their ramen and fried chicken, and they offer quite a few other plates and sides. Their menu also frequently changes to highlight seasonal ingredients or to sample new concepts, so there is always something different to try.
We started our dinner with two skewers. The first was a roasted cauliflower skewer served with a smear of yuzu kosho, a citrusy chili paste. The zesty, creamy yuzu kosho nicely cut the bitterness of the charred cauliflower.
The second skewer distilled the essence of Japanese Nikujaga, a traditional dish of stewed meat and potatoes. Smoked potato wedges were drizzled with a rich beef sauce flavored with a hint of sweet soy. Each bite was hearty and warm, akin to spoonfuls of a homemade stew.
Next, we tasted one of Umma’s signature dishes, their “Korean Fried Chikin” drenched in “Mamabird’s KFC sauce.” The thick batter on the chicken wings delivered a satisfying crunch, and the sweet, tangy sauce stuck to our fingers. Fresh daikon, a crisp Japanese root vegetable, provided a hydrating complement to the chicken. This was a great dish to share — my date and I giggled as the sauce dirtied our faces.
Perhaps the clearest illustration of Umma’s fusion concept came from the Miso Paitan ramen. Pork rind, noodles and an onsen egg grounded the bowl in Japanese flavors. But there were distinctly American additions — pork belly and collards rendered the classic Southern pairing of ham and collard greens, and a slice of American cheese melted over the thick chicken broth. The dish produced an unusual profile of savory, salty and bitter that intrigued my tastebuds.
My favorite bite of the night came from the Kimchi Carbonara Tteokbokki, a delicious twist on the Italian pasta dish. Chewy rice cakes were tossed in a cream sauce with grana padano cheese and smoked bacon. The carbonara was piled atop mild kimchi and garnished with seaweed and a fried egg. The dish effortlessly melded two cuisines, delivering Italian with Korean touches and textures.
For dessert, we ordered two Age Taiyaki, dense fish-shaped waffles stuffed with different fillings. The first was filled with smooth red bean paste, which was delightfully earthy and sweet. The second, their fall special, was filled with miso caramel apple. The miso enhanced the classic American apple pie flavor with pleasant umami. The Taiyaki concluded our meal with yet another inventive fusion of Asian and American culinary traditions.
I enjoyed the novelty of Umma’s, and I think many others in Charlottesville share the sentiment — a line of waiting patrons snaked around the patio when we left. I’d recommend arriving at the restaurant early, especially on weekend nights, to secure a table.
With dishes ranging from hefty ramen bowls to little skewers, Umma’s is the perfect place for either a big, filling meal or just a few bites with friends. As such, diners can make Umma’s very affordable with smaller orders. Our dishes ranged from $3 to $18.