First Look: Tenya Japanese Eatery brings fast-casual goodness to Decatur

Tenya is a new restaurant in Decatur. The owners consider it "60% Japanese and 40% American.” The menu includes (clockwise from top) Chicken Katsu Sando, Curry Rice Bowl, Tenya Chicken Tenders, and Tenya Rice Bowl with 24-hour Braised Pork Chasyu. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Tenya is a new restaurant in Decatur. The owners consider it "60% Japanese and 40% American.” The menu includes (clockwise from top) Chicken Katsu Sando, Curry Rice Bowl, Tenya Chicken Tenders, and Tenya Rice Bowl with 24-hour Braised Pork Chasyu. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Cenk (pronounced Jenk) Portillo and Miguel Naverrez might seem an unlikely duo to open a Japanese restaurant.

Portillo is from Turkey. And longtime Atlanta chef Naverrez is from Mexico. But the business partners, who met working at Greek- and Italian-inspired Chris’ Pizza in Toco Hills, recently debuted Tenya Japanese Eatery in Decatur.

Located in the former Rocco’s Pizza space in a shopping center on North Decatur Road, the fast-casual menu includes an array of sandwiches, salads, bowls, sides and sauces — plus soft drinks, including Ramune Japanese Soda.

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Tenya Cold Soba Noodle Sesame Salad. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Tenya Cold Soba Noodle Sesame Salad. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

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Tenya Cold Soba Noodle Sesame Salad. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

“When we decided to do something together, at first we thought about Greek-Mexican fusion. Then we thought about something like pizza or sandwiches,” Portillo said. “During the pandemic, it was hard. But we finally found this place, which was closed, and came up with the idea of Japanese food. We said we would come up with a good menu, and make it affordable for people to eat good food, with good-quality products.”

“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.”

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Tenya Rice Bowl topped with 24-hour Braised Pork Chasyu, scallion, pickled red radish and cucumber sweet soy reduction, Japanese slaw and sesame seeds. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Tenya Rice Bowl topped with 24-hour Braised Pork Chasyu, scallion, pickled red radish and cucumber sweet soy reduction, Japanese slaw and sesame seeds. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

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Tenya Rice Bowl topped with 24-hour Braised Pork Chasyu, scallion, pickled red radish and cucumber sweet soy reduction, Japanese slaw and sesame seeds. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

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.”

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Curry Rice Bowl with Tenya fried tofu sticks, pickled red radish, sesame seeds and Japanese slaw. You also can get this dish with brined chicken tenders instead of the fried tofu. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Curry Rice Bowl with Tenya fried tofu sticks, pickled red radish, sesame seeds and Japanese slaw. You also can get this dish with brined chicken tenders instead of the fried tofu. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

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Curry Rice Bowl with Tenya fried tofu sticks, pickled red radish, sesame seeds and Japanese slaw. You also can get this dish with brined chicken tenders instead of the fried tofu. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

“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.”

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Homemade milk bread is part of what makes the Chicken Katsu Sando at Tenya delicious. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Homemade milk bread is part of what makes the Chicken Katsu Sando at Tenya delicious. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

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Homemade milk bread is part of what makes the Chicken Katsu Sando at Tenya delicious. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

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.”

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Tenya's co-owners are chef Miguel Naverrez (left) and Cenk (pronounced Jenk) Portillo. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Tenya's co-owners are chef Miguel Naverrez (left) and Cenk (pronounced Jenk) Portillo. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

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Tenya's co-owners are chef Miguel Naverrez (left) and Cenk (pronounced Jenk) Portillo. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

“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.”

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The owners of Tenya completely revamped the space. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

The owners of Tenya completely revamped the space. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

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The owners of Tenya completely revamped the space. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

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.”

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The exterior dining area of Tenya in Decatur features characters on the tables. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

The exterior dining area of Tenya in Decatur features characters on the tables. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

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The exterior dining area of Tenya in Decatur features characters on the tables. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

DINING OUT

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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