Inside Over-the-Rhine’s New Sushi Spot Kanji — From the Team Behind Drunken Bento
Local restaurateur Inho Cha recently opened his third Cincinnati restaurant with Kanji in Findlay Market.
Kanji's menu focuses on sushi and Korean cuisine and was inspired by Cha's desire to offer the Queen City a glimpse into the culture and flavors of his home country, South Korea.
"I decided to start Kanji to teach others about my country’s food and culture," Cha tells CityBeat. "With the COVID-19 pandemic, people are so focused on the negative things in life, and I wanted to share with others something that helps give me joy."
The eatery fills a gap in Findlay Market's culinary spectrum and is surrounded by French cuisine at French Crust, Vietnamese eats at Pho Lang Thang, Greek dishes at Areti's Gyros and Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine at The Arepa Place, among many others.
Cha was born and raised in South Korea and moved to Cincinnati in 2006 to attend the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. After graduating in 2007, Cha opened cozy college hot spot Drunken Bento in Clifton, which is well-known for its half-priced sushi. He later opened Drunken Tacos a few storefronts down in 2017.
Kanji officially opened in the former Harvest Pizzeria space (which shuttered over the summer) on Jan. 23. Cha said he chose this location for his new restaurant because "OTR, especially the Findlay Market area, is very welcoming and a very tight-knit community where everyone supports each other as best they can."
The menu features some familiar rolls from Drunken Bento including the Big Baller, Sunday Morning and Zen Garden, plus a wide range of new rolls to try like the Elder St. Roll (a nod to the eatery's location), with spicy crab and cucumber, topped with salmon, tempura flakes and wasabi dressing.
In addition to sushi and nigiri, the menu boasts familiar Korean dishes like dolsot bibimbap — Cha's favorite dish — served in a hot stone bowl with crispy rice, vegetables, choice of protein and a sunny-side-up egg, as well as chicken, pork or fish katsu; bulgogi; and tempura udon. Additionally the menu features several soups, salads and shareables.
The bar at Kanji is managed by Chang Joh and features twists on classic cocktails using fresh, housemade ingredients.
"Our goal is to portray traditional cocktails in a modern context, introducing relatively new trends and concepts in cocktail bars such as shrub drinks," Cha says. The cocktail menu will change seasonally, and the restaurant also offers a variety of sake and Japanese beers, which Cha says they plan to expand over time.
Kanji, 1739 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine.| Photos by Catie Viox