Denver is the place to eat and drink right now. With new restaurants and breweries opening every month, our food and bar scene is booming at a wonderful pace. The River North neighborhood is contributing significantly to Denver’s lively culinary scene, and if you haven’t had the chance, you must check out Tengu, a ramen house and izakaya – Japanese tavern – located in the new Industry building.
Once you arrive at Industry, don’t walk through the main entry. Save the exploration of the large warehouse, home to start-ups, eateries and retail spaces for another day. Or at least eat and drink at Tengu first.
Head straight to the side of the building facing the main parking lot. You will know that you have arrived at the right place when you see a large black metal door with tree branch for a handle. Don’t hesitate, go inside and take a seat at a small intimate table or at the large wooden community table in the main dining area, where you can comfortably watch the kitchen staff prepare delicious bowls of ramen and small plates.
The menu is simple and well executed; you can choose from five main ramen bowls, side carrs (housemade condiments like honey garlic, country miso pork, and sesame shishito seven spice), a Japanese curry dish, and a curated choice of starters, including gyoza and edamame. Tengu offers both traditional and innovative ramen bowls. If you like to stick to a more traditional style ramen, go with the #1: chicken and pork broth, soft cooked egg, spicy bamboo, bean sprouts, and scallions. The honey garlic side carr paired well with this ramen bowl.
I highly recommend bowl #5: Tengu’s “Denver style” ramen. The broth has a delightful spicy flavor, featuring chicken curry broth, pork, soft cooked egg, carrots, bamboo, jalapenos, and scallions. Adding the sesame shishito seven spice side carr provided an additional level of spice and complexity.
Tengu is named after the mythical birdman goblins from the mountains of Japan. Tengu are also known for their exceptional sword skills and for their wicked sense of humor. The owners named the restaurant Tengu to represent “mischief,” and the restaurant has several playful elements spread throughout. For example, in the bathrooms you will find “Learn Japanese” lessons painted straight on the walls. There are also Daruma, or Dharma dolls, placed around Tengu. In Japanese culture, Daruma dolls symbolize good luck in the pursuit of working towards a specific goal. The restaurant owners give each employee a Daruma doll to work towards a goal, and once the goal was fulfilled the second eye of the doll is filled in.
After eating, head downstairs to Tengu’s tavern, where a special experience awaits. Modeled after a traditional izakaya, or Japanese pub, the space is designed as a gathering place to unite people. On each table you will find a reminder of your childhood, a “cootie catcher” that you can play with while enjoying a variety of sakes and beers. The sake menu is quite impressive, and it includes rare types of sakes, best served cold. Sake is a popular Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. The dimly lit space creates the perfect atmosphere for an intimate pub experience to share drinks, good conversation and laughter with friends.
The final say: the atmosphere is playful and comfort-able, the food is delicious, and the service is top-notch. It’s worth the visit, but hurry up and get there before everyone else finds out about Tengu—this rare gem will soon become a Denver favorite.