A Chinese restaurant in the Southwest Management District employs what is apparently Houston’s only noodle-pulling robot.

And the owner of Kuen Noodle House, Sam Zhang, grew up in Lanzhou, a province in arid northwest China, where noodles are a dietary staple. Meaning the place is the real thing, regardless of who or what is pulling the noodles.

Thanks to the Asia Society Texas Center, these are some of the fascinating things that online video viewers around the world can learn about Asian cultural attractions in southwest Houston.

Now the Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs has granted funds to the local Center to dive into such cultural gems at greater length. The Center plans to create “virtual” (online) bus tours of the Chinatown corridor for presentation to assembled groups with an in-person guide and perhaps a live lesson in Chinese calligraphy or other traditions with deep cultural roots.

“For people who never set foot in the (Bellaire Boulevard corridor) before, the idea is to bring them back on their own with a list of places to visit,” said Cathy Podell, education and outreach co-ordinator for Asia Society Texas Center.

The city grants, funded by the city’s hotel occupancy tax, are aimed at boosting the city’s post-pandemic economic recovery by focusing on factors such as “neighborhood cultural destinations.”

“Houstonians can explore their neighborhoods and city with a fresh lens, as if they were tourists within their own city,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Marking the Chinese New Year in February, the Asia Society Texas Center created videos, about 5 minutes each, exploring some of the wonders of the city’s “Asiatown” area.

That brings us back to the dependable robot and the culinary art of noodle pulling at Kuen Noodle House, located at 9140A Bellaire Blvd.

As translated in the video by Beatrice Wong, Sam Zhang explains in the video how the noodles from his native land are often hand-pulled in various thicknesses before they are boiled (for just 30 seconds), depending on customers’ preferences.

But the robot in the restaurant’s kitchen, outfitted in a white chef’s hat and tunic, is reliably consistent as it creates noodles with great efficiency.

The chief human in the kitchen explained that in Chinese culture, noodles, being long, represent wishes for a long life, and are often used to extend blessings for longevity to visitors in a home. And the hand-pulling gives the noodles their bouncy character.

As told to Wong, Zhang said it was “like destiny calling” for him to open the restaurant (because) it reminds him of childhood.” 

From the comfort of our office, we learned by going online that Kuen Noodle House offers at least 18 entrees containing these “shaved noodles,” all under $10 each, along with green onion pancakes, other dishes and beverages. 

The information provided further motivation to check it out in person as we continue to explore the many colorful businesses in the District.


— by Alan Bernstein