Herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) causes life-long morbidities in humans. While fever blisters are more common, occasionally the cornea is infected resulting in vision loss. A very intriguing aspect of HSV-1 corneal infection is that the virus spread is normally restricted to only a small fraction of cells on the corneal surface that connect with each other in a dendritic fashion. Here, to develop a comprehensive understanding of the susceptibility of human corneal epithelial (HCE) cells to HSV-1 infection, we infected HCE cells at three different dosages of HSV-1 and measured the outcomes in terms of viral entry, gene and protein expression, viral replication and cytokine induction. In cultured cells, infectivity and cytokine induction were observed even at the minimum viral dosage tested, while a more pronounced dose-restricted infectivity was seen in ex vivo cultures of porcine corneas. Use of fluorescent HSV-1 virions demonstrated a pattern of viral spread ex vivo that mimics clinical findings. We conclude that HCE cell cultures are highly susceptible to infection whereas the cultured corneas demonstrate a higher ability to restrict the infection even in the absence of systemic immune system. The restriction is helped in part by local interferon response and the unique cellular architecture of the cornea.