Herpes simplex virus (HSV)-1 keratitis (HSK) is a sight-threatening ocular infection with worldwide occurrence. A prompt laboratory diagnosis is often very useful. The purpose of this study was to evaluate molecular methods as rapid diagnostic tools compared with cell culture of HSK. Corneal scrapings from patients with clinically suspected HSK were tested by direct immunofluorescence assay (IFA) for HSV-1 antigen and by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for HSV-1 DNA, and an attempt for viral isolation was performed on Vero cell line culture. Positive samples by cell culture were 20.8%, whereas PCR was positive in 29.2%, and IFA was positive in 33.3%. IFA had better sensitivity (80%) and negative predictive value (81.8%) than PCR (70% and 76.9%, respectively); however, PCR had better specificity (71.4%) and positive predictive value (63.6%). This indicates that a combination of cell culture, IFA and PCR constitutes the best set of tools for diagnosis of clinically suspected cases of HSK. Documented infection can be further assessed by cell-culture technique or PCR depending laboratory availability.