Thepthikone Keosavang smiles whenever customers say he’s serving comfort food at his new restaurant, TK Noodle House.
He said there’s an honesty and directness to that connotation, one which translates to “food that people want to eat.” It’s those foods that seem so simple but are not actually simple at all.
At TK Noodle House, located at 75-5772 Hanama Place, Kailua-Kona, those soul-warming dishes include pho soup (meatballs, brisket, tendon, tripe, rare beef, rice noodles, bean sprouts, herbs and beef broth), seafood yentafo soup (vermicelli noodles, shrimp, calamari, mussels, herbs and a sweet and sour shrimp broth), and oxtail noodle soup (ginger garlic soy braised oxtail, rice noodles, bean sprouts and cinnamon anise beef broth). The menu features more than a dozen flavor-packed soups.
Here, noodles are the focus, from dry to the stir-fried and broth-laden. In addition to popular dishes such as beef chow fun, pad thai and vermicelli, the restaurant offers clay pots filled with pork, beef, lamb, head-on prawns or braised spicy tofu. Various delectable appetizers and salads are also available. Prices range from $7 to $21.
Opening a noodle house is Keosavang’s longtime dream. A recent visit to the Crown Noodle and Pasta Factory in Honolulu, where he met the owner, was the inspiration he needed to realize the timing was right. TK Noodle House opened about two weeks ago and a grand opening will occur at a later date.
Keosavang, who is known for his nouvelle Asian fusion cuisine, also owns Lemongrass Express in the Queens’ MarketPlace food court in the Waikoloa Beach Resort area. Prior to opening his own eateries, Keosavang worked his way up through various restaurant kitchens, including Emeril’s Fish House, Gatsby’s, The Mansion, NOBHILL, MGM Grand Buffet, Skyloft, Shibuyu and The Fairmont Orchid Hawaii’s Brown’s Beach House.
Offering authentic dishes with bold flavors and the freshest ingredients is something Keosavang strives to do when cooking. He’s also been on a quest to re-create the food he loves, including that from his childhood in Laos, where he was born and raised mostly by his grandmother, who had a 10-acre rice field. Noodles, in particular, have always been a special fixation. Keosavang recalled how his grandmother often would make chewy, soft udon out of rice and potatoes, and how the bits of tendons and tripe in the soup were the perfect textural complement.
Kona resident Hin Cheung returned to TK Noodle House for a second time because he enjoyed the duck noodle soup, which reminded him of something his mother used to make at her own Chinese restaurant. He said few restaurants exemplify the comfort food of his roots and there aren’t too many places in Kona that focus on noodles. He especially liked the Southeast Asian flavors at TK Noodle House.
At all of his restaurants, Keosavang believes in paying forward the knowledge and experiences he’s received throughout his career. He does so by giving passionate, burgeoning food entrepreneurs and young people the opportunity to work their way up and lead. His staff includes 21-year-old cook Jackson Takiah, 19-year-old chef Paul Antonio and 17-year-old Honokaa High School senior and “waitress that’s a jack-of-all-trades” Jessica Domingo.
Another passion Keosavang plans to pursue at TK Noodle House involves “pop up dinners” and proving the old saying “too many chefs in the kitchen” wrong. He will invite colleagues, friends and other culinary professionals to cook in his kitchen on an occasional basis and offer special multicourse dinners for a select number of guests. He’s already in the planning stages and hopes to hold the first dinner within the next three months. He’s excited to see how it works, as well as looks forward to offering foodies something unique in Kona and showing the camaraderie that exists among chefs.
TK Noodle House is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from noon to 9 p.m. weekends. For more information, call 327-0070.