“I’ve been here almost 24 years,” Naverrez said. “I started cooking as a kid. I’m from Acapulco. But I have experience in the kitchen with almost any kind of style of cooking. When Cenk came to me and talked to me about this idea, I said, ‘We can do it.’ So his idea and my idea together was to make it 60% Japanese and 40% American.”
So far, the bestseller is the Tenya Rice Bowl, topped with slices of 24-hour braised pork chasyu, scallion, pickled red radish and cucumber sweet soy reduction, Japanese slaw and sesame seeds.
“I braise the pork for 24 hours at a very low temperature, then refrigerate it for 20 hours,” Naverrez said. “It’s really good, and I recommend it to everyone right now. The second one is the Curry Rice Bowl, with brined chicken tenders, and pickled radish, sesame seeds, and Japanese slaw.”
“I tell everyone our menu is very easy,” Portillo said. “You can have it on rice, you can get it as a plate with fries or salad, or you can get it as a sandwich. And we make our own homemade milk bread here every morning. So it’s fresh, and that’s why it tastes so delicious.”
The visual standout is the Chicken Katsu Sando, served between two thick slices of milk bread, with Japanese slaw, and Tenya katsu sauce. But other sandwich options include brined chicken tenders, curry chicken, or fried tofu sticks.
Besides their 60/40 take on Japanese American food, Portillo and Naverrez have a distinctively DIY approach to creating an atmosphere that’s contemporary and a little kooky. A steady stream of Japanese pop music bubbles in the background, and the radiant artwork includes a kitschy neon display illuminating the words “katsu me crazy.”
“Before, it looked like a New York-style pizza parlor,” Portillo said. “When we took it over, the landlord asked us to change the whole place. We promised to come up with new ideas, and a new concept for the place. So we took everything out, including the ceiling, the walls, the floors, the AC, the bathrooms, and we did everything ourselves. Now it’s very clean, organized and bright. And that’s what we were aiming for.”
Tenya Iida is one of the characters in a Japanese superhero manga series, “My Hero Academia.” But Portillo declares that Tenya means “the food that is served to gods and kings.”
“We want to make sure that our customers are special people,” he said. “For our customers, we are serving green tea, as much as they want, for free. Also special water with cinnamon and clove. We’re frying with rice oil, which makes everything a little healthier, and we’re going to be coming up with more vegan options.”
If all goes well, Portillo and Naverrez plan to open additional Tenya locations. “Hopefully, Tenya Buckhead, Tenya Midtown, Tenya Tucker,” Portillo said. “We’ll katsu crazy everybody.”
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; noon-9 p.m. Sundays.
2064 N. Decatur Road, Decatur. 678-723-1388, atltenya.com.
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