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Ken Takagi Joins the List of Houston's Biggest Food Personalities

Ken Takagi is a the hardest-working man in sushi-business at Sushi Tora.
Ken Takagi is a the hardest-working man in sushi-business at Sushi Tora.
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt

I'm loathe to say that Houston has any "soup Nazi"-type characters dominating its dining rooms or kitchens -- only because I hate to start any post off with Godwin's Law. Instead, I prefer to think of people such as the late, great Darawan Charoenrat of Kanomwan (a.k.a. the Thai Nazi) as Houston's biggest food personalities: restaurant owners, chefs or even simply waiters whose mere presence is both awe-inspiring and intimidating.

That's how it is with Ken Takagi at Sushi Tora, the subject of this week's cafe review. Armed with sharp knives, a belligerent attitude and a foul mouth, Takagi is as much a reason to visit Sushi Tora as the sushi itself.

"We don't do half rolls!" I heard Takagi yell at Sushi Tora's sole waiter on a busy Friday night recently. When the waiter asked why, Takagi's response came viciously fast: "Because I don't fucking feel like it!" And within seconds, he was back to slicing fish with a smile and chatting gregariously with customers at the bar in his narrow, shotgun-style restaurant on Montrose.

A few days later, we witnessed Takagi, the aforementioned waiter and the waiter's girlfriend get into a screaming row outside on the patio. Seemingly unfazed, Takagi trotted back into the restaurant once the fight was finished and sent out a few bottles of hot sake to the tables who'd been nearest to the action. The customers who filled out the restaurant seemed as unfazed as Takagi, quickly going back to their hand rolls and chuckling amongst themselves about his latest outburst.

And that's the thing with Houston's big food personalities: Love them or hate them, they're as much of a draw as the food in most cases (and, in most cases, they're actually softies on the inside).

Takagi's own mother, Mami, was known for her own shenanigans when she operated Coco's Yakitori on Westheimer. While you can't get berated by Charoenrat anymore when you order Thai the wrong way at Kanomwan, you can still visit Mami most evenings at her son's restaurant, Sushi Tora. And you can visit these big food personalities in their own restaurants, too.

Lashkari hides a kind, accommodating personality under his gruff exterior.
Lashkari hides a kind, accommodating personality under his gruff exterior.
Photo by Mandy Oaklander

Kaiser Lashkari at Himalaya

Best known for: Steadfastly refusing to give up the space in the middle of Himalaya's dining room that also houses his office desk and computer.

Jonathan Levine at Jonathan's the Rub

Best known for: Kicking out Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook after she requested her steak re-cooked at a different temperature.

Lu is a beloved lunchtime fixture for downtown workers.
Lu is a beloved lunchtime fixture for downtown workers.

Julie Lu at Doozo Dumplings and Noodles

Best known for: Being the famous "dumpling Nazi," who keeps the long lunch line at Doozo running smoothly by making sure customers order with machine-like efficiency.

John Katsimikis at Byzantio

Best known for: Refusing to take your order at the 24-hour diner once known as One's a Meal and bringing you what he thinks you should eat instead, although Katsimikis can now be found at Byzantio, just a few streets over.

Craig (far right) with his family, who help him run his restaurants.
Craig (far right) with his family, who help him run his restaurants.
Photo by Dawn McGee

Ricky Craig at Hubcap Grill

Best known for: Long, vicious Twitter spats that occasionally spill over into real life.

Ken Takagi at Sushi Tora

Best known for: Yelling at anyone who stands still long enough (customers typically excluded) while weaving an impressive tapestry of profanity.

Read more about Ken and his restaurant, Sushi Tora, in this week's cafe review.



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Use Current Location

Related Locations

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Sushi Tora

920 Studemont
Houston, TX 77007

713-864-8672

miles
Kanomwan Thai

736 1/2 Telephone Road
Houston, TX 77023

713-923-4230

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Himalaya Restaurant & Catering

6652 Southwest Freeway
Houston, TX 77036

713-532-2837

www.himalayarestauranthouston.com

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Jonathan's The Rub

9061 Gaylord St.
Houston, TX 77024

713-465-8200

www.jonathanstherub.com

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Doozo Dumplings and Noodles

1200 McKinney
Houston, TX 77010

713-571-6898

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Byzantio Cafe & Bar
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Hubcap Grill

1111 Prairie St.
Houston, TX 77002

713-223-5885

www.hubcapgrill.com


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