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I Wish Tenya Was Not a Fail’ya as a Robota’ya

I was hoping Tenya would be good, but hoping didn’t help my G.P.A. either

On a weekly basis living in Los Angeles, I would go eat yakiniku (grilled meat) to yakitori (grilled chicken), so I was happy to hear that a robota-ya would take over where Kazan Ramen had been located.

In Short:

  • Tenya is a very poor value: big prices and small portions by robata and yakitori standards.
  • Inconsistent: poorly prepared to properly executed food.
  • Lackluster and tiny menu with “crudo” (this isn’t Starbucks with their quasi-Italian menu) to the food supplier foods like the fries, takoyaki, to the kim chi (saw the store bought bottle in the fridge). 
  • No apparent front of the house manager with a very green staff which led to forgotten orders although it did improve later.
  • They take all the fun out of this type of food because I didn’t see any drink specials.
  • All the kushiyaki (skewered items) comes in a set of two, and you can’t order individually.
  • Nothing like robatayaki in Japan.
  • Where’s the soul?

What is “robota” or “robotayaki

Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto”, if you thought there was a connection, nope there isn’t. What “robatayaki” does mean is “fireside cooking” and it is a style of charcoal cooking from Hokkaido in Northern, Japan. It is a region a lot like Colorado in terms of weather, so when it snows there, they really appreciate their 1,000F degree irori/fire pit to cozy up to.

Tenya just opened recently (2 months)

The menu, the food, the service all need work, but there’s hope because at least they’re not Izakaya Ronin that flat out has the worst attempt at doing “yakitori” out of any place I have been to. If you’ve been to Ronin, it’s as if they thought chicken teriyaki or a buffalo wild wing on skewer would somehow make it yakitori.

First Impressions

Not good.

I think I’ll order a beer…. I didn’t even have to look at the menu.

No service even though we got here at 8:00 pm, after a supposed rush (they were not in the weeds).

Finally, our very personable server made it on over to our table, so that I was able to order my beer. Unfortunately that didn’t go well, and I had to remind her twice for my beer except the second time around, I knew in a matter of a minute that she wasn’t coming back with my beer, so sad. That’s when I realized I would have to go get it myself. #teamgreg

Shichimi togarashi and shio (salt)

They don’t have an expansive enough of a menu to utilize either or.


$6 fries

Tasted like frozen food distributor fries served with a wasabi aioli which is wasabi powder, egg, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice, plus labor cost, a bit of furikake from a 1.7 oz bottle costing about $2.58, and you have Tenya’s expensive $6.00 fries.

In America, that dish they served the fries in, is usually reserved for the dipping sauce.

Jeebus, I think I can poo out better fries because if I’m going to charge $6 for a tiny bit of fries, like Tenya, at least I would have done yamaimo fries, or yamagobo chips, but this is a lazy hack of an attempt.

Tenya does a mediterranean dip and now they think they’re fancy huh.

These fries pissed me the fock off because how do you eff up on such a simple item that you know the food cost is nothing.

French fries comparison

Tenya, DenverI thought they would have at least put the furikake on the actual fries, but then it’d be the $10 fries.$6.00
West End Tap House (their neighbors)Belgian fries with seven aioli to choose from or three other dipping sauces.$4.75
The Original Chubbies, DenverBasic but delicious fries.$3.00
Far Bar, DTLAWasabi aioli, nori, sesame seeds, green onions, and a few hot female’s.$5.00
Shin Sen Gumi
Fountain Valley
The 2nd most expensive fries, but I can’t help but order these seasoned potato wedges.$4.80
The wasabi fries at Far Bar in DTLA. Image by David W. aka IG@wueats (check out David’s Lego pics, super cool shots)

$1 cheaper, yet they’re located in DTLA’s Little Tokyo, so how is it that Tenya charges so much for so little (arrogance)?

I had these Belgian fries over at their neighbor, the West End Taphouse, $4.75

You don’t have to go far to get better fries, and you would think if you’re going to open a business, wouldn’t you at least try to be competitive (like doing basic market research, like what’s on this page, you’re welcome). The answer appears to be ‘no’ since the neighbors offer, not just one aioli, but a sriracha lime, spicy maple, parmesan peppercorn, horseradish, to a roasted garlic aioli. Don’t like aioli, how about blue cheese, curry catsup, honey mustard, to an Asian BBQ sauce?

How about quantity: 5x’s more fries (it’s sitting on top of the paper bag it came in), same quality, but at the Original Chubby’s it was only $3.00
When I feel like a baller like Jay Z, I get these from Shin Sen Gumi $4.80.

I would rather eat any other of the fries listed over what Tenya is churning out.


$8 karaage (Japanese fried chicken)

A good karaage depends on the soy based marinade to the type of flour or starch used, but with Tenya they charge upwards of 60% more for an average one.

$8 karaage,  maybe it’s the pricey shibazuke (pickles).

The best in Denver is either at Kiki’s or Sushi-rama.

For almost $3 less, head on over to Kiki’s to try their karaage, one of their most popular items.

My karaage is better because I put in the effort and something called love (I have a lot of that to go around).

Karaage comparison

Tenya, DenverFor a +$1.19 more, I would go with the Popeye’s chicken 4-pc combo.$8.00
Sushi-Rama, DenverDeep-fried in potato starch.$7.00
Kiki’s, DenverDeep-fried in rice flour.$5.25
Popeye’s Chicken, Denver4-pc chicken, side, biscuit, and a sml drink.$9.19
A dollar cheaper than Tenya at Sushi-rama.

Is this place robatayaki?

I have had binchōtan (white charcoal) cooked food which is chosen for it’s stable cooking temps, but if this is their way of preparing robata style foods, it doesn’t reflect well on the cuisine.

Pork belly ($10) and chicken wings ($6).

Everything comes in sets of two (like Mormons) vs. individual (like emo loners) kushiyaki although I had hope they would do yakitori, but that didn’t happen like a lot of things in my life (if only her big toe was not bigger than the other, she’d be perfect).

This is robatayaki in Japan, the food is handed over with long paddles (shamoji). Image by Schellack via Creative Commons.

Yea, not even close to Japan, so maybe they’re going for Robata Jinya in Hollywood (that’s the closest thing I can think of)?

Robata Jinya, Hollywood. Image courtesy of La Brea Dining Co, LTD.

Jinya isn’t a necessarily the best place to aspire to be like.


The underwhelming $34.00 spread (fries not pictured).

Pork belly ($10), wings ($6), karaage ($8), fries ($6), and potato salad ($4) which is more expensive than two pizzas at the neighboring restaurant.

Hops and Pie, neighborTwo (large) 18″ pies, $15.75 each$31.50

What you need to try at Tenya

There were only two things done right here (I’m not referring to the initial service). I am talking about the chicken wings and chicken thigh and the pricing wasn’t too far off either (only the latter).

$6 teba (chicken wings)

2 tiny wings from Tenya for $6, or you can have approximately 5 wings from Buffalo Wild Wings for $6.99 (a dollar more 3 more wings).

The teba was perfectly prepared, but each skewer is $3 each ($6 order).

Teba (chicken wing) comparison

Tenya, DenverOne of two items that were nicely prepared.$3.00 ($6)
Tokio, DenverA big ole wing, well worth the money.$3.0
Buffalo Wild Wings EverywhereApprox. 5 traditional wings with 22 sauces to choose from.$6.99
Nanban-kan, Los AngelesTwo pieces on one skewer.$4.00
Shin Sen Gumi,
Los Angeles
The happy hour price is under $2.00$2.00
Kappo Honda,
Fountain Valley
The wings are so good here, but expensive.$2.50
Hachi, Las VegasHachi in Vegas kills it on the West Coast.$1.50
At Tokio $3.00

$5 negima (thigh and green onion)

These are the most standard of cuts, but that does not matter because they were properly prepared (grilling and seasoning).

Tenya’s thigh and green onion, $2.50 each ($5.00)

Negima comparison

Tenya, DenverTwo of two items on the menu done well.$2.50 ($5)
Tokio, DenverChicken thighs and welsh onion.$3.50
Kappo Honda
Fountain Valley
Leg meat and green onion.$2.00
Torimatsu, GardenaChicken thigh  and green onion.$2.55
Torihei, TorranceEvery time I had been here, it was too busy to even get a table.$2.30
Nanban-kan, Los AngelesDark meat chicken and scallions.$2.00 ($4)
Shin sen gumi,
Los Angeles
Chicken thigh and green onion.$2.25
Perfectly grilled, but the thigh and green onion were, $2.50 each ($5.00)

The bad

If this place weren’t so overpriced, the bad food might have been forgivable.

One scoop of watery potato salad is $4.00, wtf?!
Those are cherry tomatoes, so you know how small of scoop this is.

A watery potato salad that they’re charging $4 for a scoop!? Don’t bother or waste your money on this dish, and go down the street and get a scoop of ice cream (sml: $4.25 to med: $5.25) from High Point Creamery.

Potato salad comparison

SafewayThe Deli Counter Mustard Potato Salad, 16 oz (2 cups).$4.09
Shin Sen Gumi
Los Angeles
Mashed potato, carrot, cucumber, onions, white pepper, mayo, sprinkled w/sesame seed.$4.25

$10 pork belly

Pork is a really cheap meat, yet Tenya charges nearly double the price.

$5.00 each for this, how?!? ($10 set)

I sent this one back. Obviously it had been sitting way too long on the grill because it was all dried out which is what I told them. The response, I got back was “it was placed on the grill at a lower heat.” Yea, it was on it way too long, and if you’re going to slow cook it, aka barbecue, there needs to be better management/placement of the meat on the grill.

2nd time around: If you ever worked a grill, I don’t have to tell you how this one came out.
I’d like to see how the kakuni turned out since it’s braised.

Pork belly comparison

Tenya, DenverDry, chewy, cuts of belly fat.$5.00
($10)
Tokio, DenverLarge chunks of Berkshire pork$7.00
Yatai Maru, PortlandPork belly in the PDX$4.00
Koshiji, TorrancePork belly w/shiso leaf$2.75
Kappo Honda
Fountain Valley
Pork belly done right.$2.50
Shin Sen Gumi, GardenaGood ole pork belly$1.95
At Tokio, the pork belly portion dwarfs any yakitori’ya in Japan or California which is why they charge $7.00.

My makeshift container for my skewers since they don’t provide one like most restaurants do.

$12 harami (skirt steak)

Typically I only eat harami as yakiniku or in fajitas. 

$12 for the stuff used in fajitas at Tenya.

How in the world is skirt steak of all cuts being priced at $6 each? Because of the aka (red) miso?

Harami with aka miso at Tenya

We gave up after this order, and paid our $65 tab (fries, pork belly, chicken wings, chicken thighs, potato salad, and fried chicken) and went to the Original Chubby’s and had five beef enchiladas, french fries, and a drink for $20.

Harami comparison

Tenya, DenverYou’re better off getting fajita’s
(little pieces)
$6
($12.00)
Manpuku, Los AngelesPrime outside skirt “harami.
(actual slices)
$12.50
Chili’s, everywhereMix and match fajitas$12.99
Cobau, Ginza, JapanKuroge wagyu harami 
(steak)
$36.00
Chili’s the chain restaurant delivers up a fajita meal for $12.99

Fajita’s or Tenya?

The harami with salt and Tokyo green onion $12.50 at Manpuku in Torrance.

I already know I’d rather have Manpuku yakiniku.

Wagyu harami from Cobau Ginza
Wagyu harami, part of the multi-course meal starting at $85, Cobau Ginza, Japan.

Your panties or your boxers would drop (not your banana hammock because those are too tight to drop) if you ate this wagyu, it’s that good.

The price is wrong Bob!

The reason why the previous tenant, Kazan failed was because it was ridiculously overpriced. They were charging $15-18 for ramen!??! The only two places that I know of that are any good and somewhat deserve to charge that much are Mensho in S.F. ($16) and Ichiran in NY ($16/$18.90). I have been to both Mensho and Ichiran, but there is no way you can compare the average Kazan to the epic ramen Mensho does. As for Ichiran, I went to the one in Fukuoka and regardless if a ramen-ya is Michelin starred, or as notorious as Ichrian, the vast majority of ramen in Japan only costs $8-9. That goes the same for places in L.A. where ramen is on average only about $8-12.

You can throw out words like “bistro” or “crudo (it’s ‘sashimi‘ since the owners don’t know that raw proteins is called that in Japanese),” but that adds no value to what you’re doing if your product is not good on price, quality, to service. Unfortunately, Tenya is riding on the delusional coattails of Kazan, and we all know how that worked out.

This is where we went after going to Tenya, the Original Chubby’s and this is what $20 gets you.

Pros

They did a better job with the interior than the previous tenant. Little touches like the “noren” like room divider improved the feel of the place, and I’m glad that at least two of the menu items were good.

Cons

A lackluster menu and a very poor value, and if they don’t turn things around, they will not be able to recover once the initial wave of excitement passes through (as of now, they are a 3.5 stars on Yelp which is not good).

Tenya Japanese Soul Food

Berkeley neighborhood
3901 Tennyson St
Denver, CO 80212
(720) 535-7253
www.tenyadenver.com

Monday-Sunday
5:00-10:00 pm
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