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

Categories: In the Trenches

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

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

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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.

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

Sushi Tora

920 Studemont, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Kanomwan Thai

736 1/2 Telephone Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Himalaya Restaurant & Catering

6652 Southwest Fwy, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Jonathan's The Rub

9061 Gaylord St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Doozo Dumplings and Noodles

1200 McKinney, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Byzantio Cafe & Bar

403 W. Gray, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Hubcap Grill

1111 Prairie St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

My Voice Nation Help
12 comments
frangelico
frangelico

Ken Takagi is more than a big "personality". He's also a drug addict, bicycle thief and convicted date rape drug and meth dealer. Might want to reevaluate your opinion of this guy.

HTownChowDown
HTownChowDown

I was surprised to see Randy Rucker not on this list, but then I remembered that he hasn't had a gig in the restaurant business in a while.  

LolaLynn
LolaLynn

As for sushi Tora, It's actually Takagi. And while you do have to go in at any given evening, prepared for a screaming match, loud music, possibly someone getting fired (and immediately re-hired), refusal of a roll cuz' he doesn't feel like it', he is indeed a softy.... Mami is a doll, and to be honest, the atmosphere, and never knowing what to expect, topped with the best, yes, I said, THE BEST tuna in town ... Keeps all of us regulars coming back for more and more :-))

Joanne Witt
Joanne Witt

They were characters when they were on Fountainview, then onto Westheimer & now Studimont. Can't wait to go by.

Guest
Guest

I had heard John Katsimikis was no longer at Theo's.  Is he back?

francie
francie

I would add Marco Wiles from Da Marco to the list. I remember a customer who insisted on having a "cup" of soup, and was eventually asked to leave in favor of the nearest Denny's instead. And Marco's refusal to stock height-chairs for the kitties; or allow guests to create their own pasta dishes.

 

erichenao
erichenao topcommenter

This is what makes dining and adventure in Houston. Love it more and more!

Wuwu
Wuwu

you have to like the spirit the sushi toro dude has...although his food falls in the average range I like what he does and who he is...this article should include Minh from Cafe TH, no better dude in the houston restaurant scene at this time....

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @LolaLynn Thanks for the heads up! Spelling error fixed.  :)

francie
francie

 @Guest John is no longer at Theo's, but he's not far from there, at a much better place in my opinion: Byzantio.

 

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @Wuwu I absolutely adore Minh and I agree with you that he's probably the best front-of-house guy in Houston right now. But I don't think I've ever heard him utter a single profanity nor grumble to one of his customers.

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