Well-Regarded Houston Thai Restaurant Closes After A Series Of Setbacks — Updated
Thanks to a reader tip, we’ve learned that long-standing Thai restaurant Kanomwan at 736 1/2 Telephone closed “until further notice” back on September 7. The restaurant was established in the mid-1980s by
Darawan Yuthana Charoenrat, who passed away in 2010 and earned the affectionate nickname of “Thai Nazi”, inspired by the Soup Nazi character from Seinfeld. Kanomwan resided at two locations before moving to its last one on Telephone road in 2007.
Important Update, 12/5/2021, 11:06 a.m.: We were able to reach Patarawan Charoenrat, the daughter of Kanomwan’s founders, and she had a very surprising correction to our story. The media has gotten her dad’s first name wrong for years. It is Yuthana. Darawan is actually Patarawan’s mom. “We never asked to correct the news in the past because [we] didn’t know who to contact, so we just let it go. Since you just wrote a new story, I would like you to correct the name,” wrote Patarawan.
Patarawan shared a little hopeful news, too. There is a possibility that Kanomwan might return as early as next year. Her mom, who’s ran the restaurant ever since Yuthana passed away, is taking some time off until after New Year’s and then will make a decision about whether or not she wants to go back to running a restaurant.
Yuthana’s gruff attitude hid a kindly demeanor — that one could occasionally coax into view. After his passing, his family continued running the restaurant, faithfully executing his recipes. Kanomwan was known for not tempering traditionally fiery dishes for the uninitiated and for its exemplary Tom Kha Gai with fragrant galangal, lemongrass and Makrut lime leaves.
While notable Houston restaurants have proliferated on the east side in recent years, for most of its existence, Kanomwan was an area standout that drew not just nearby residents, but also downtown workers and even food critics who would make regular pilgrimages. In his list of favorite BYOB restaurants, Houston Chronicle wine columnist Dale Robertson said Kanomwan’s value was “off the charts”.
The restaurant’s Facebook page reveals that it had been struggling since mid-summer — not necessarily for lack of business. Starting on August 7, the restaurant stated that it didn’t have enough staff, to the point where it couldn’t keep its regular hours.
In mid-June, air conditioner malfunctions closed the restaurant for two days, and there was another issue with staffing.
All of this followed 2020, the hardest year in modern history for restaurants. Like so many others, Kanomwan pivoted to takeout-only in March of that year and wasn’t able to resume dine-in service until May.
Kanomwan made enduring marks on its fans’ memories and taste buds. On its Facebook page, the restaurant’s followers are mourning what they’ve lost, some of whom know the menu so well that they cited their favorite dishes by number, not by name. “Can’t live without S1 [and] A4 in my life,” said one. “Any updates? S1 and H6 keep calling my name,” wrote another. Another patron posted, “Please let your customers know how we can help. There is an entire segment of Houston’s population that cannot live without your food!”
Alas, it indeed does looks we will do without Kanomwan — unless Darawan Charoenrat does indeed decide to reopen after the new year. If it happens, that may end up being somewhere else. According to readers, the restaurant is fully gutted and there’s no evidence of remodeling.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.