Goodbye, Thai Nazi: Darawan Charoenrat of Kanomwan
You may not have even known the restaurant by its proper name, Kanomwan. And it's even more likely that you did not know its proprietor's real name, either-- Darawan Charoenrat. For eaters "in the know" for the last decade or more, both have simply been called Thai Nazi, or the restaurant was called Telephone Thai. Last week, Houston's infamous Thai Nazi died, and Kanomwan is, at least for now, closed.
If it seems curious to mourn a man with such a nickname (a play on Seinfeld's "Soup Nazi"), you probably weren't a Kanomwan regular. Though Charoenrat was often brusque, barking, "It's not time for you to order yet!" or "You should order this!" he came off more like a difficult grandparent than a heartless dictator. Diners willing to go along with his, shall we say, suggestions, found his bossiness to be part of the restaurant's charm, and tales of the "Thai Nazi" encouraged others to go and see him for themselves.
Kanomwan's food itself was also a draw, with Charoenrat's wife managing the kitchen. Regulars will remember their favorite dishes by letter and number--S3, H5--and many argued that the curries and soups were some of the most authentic and fiery in town. The whole fried red snapper and deep-fried pork toasts were also legendary and will be missed if Kanowman remains closed.
If the restaurant reopens, it's hard to know if it can be the same without its "Thai Nazi" at the front of the house. Those who got to know Charoenrat were able to pierce through his gruff exterior and discover his soft spots for teachers (he was one himself back in Thailand) and families with kids. In fact, when the news of Charoenrat's death broke, many of his regular customers thought immediately of his grandson. At dinner service, the Thai Nazi was often joined at the register by his young grandson, who apprenticed for him, ringing up bills, making change and offering customers a piece of Juicy Fruit gum on their way out the door.