Over the last few years, more and more restaurants have been offering what people in Japan call “one coin meals,” costing less than 500 yen (US $5), the highest denomination coin here.
We recently found a restaurant in Kumamoto Prefecture, on the southern island of Kyushu, that just barely misses the cut with its 700 yen tempura set. That extra 200 yen is totally worth it though, because it gets you all-you-can-eat tempura. And when we say all-you-can-eat, we mean that literally; there’s no time limit for how long your meal can last.
Located in the city of Yatsushiro, the restaurant’s name is Tempura Ten Made Todoke, which translates as “tempura, reach to the heavens!” Both “tempura” and “heavens” (ten) are written with the same kanji character, but the name isn’t there just to accommodate diners who like a side of puns with their meal. With 30 different kinds of tempura available, and an unending supply of them thanks to the all-you-can-eat deal, you could easily build a tower of dizzying heights out of your food.
▼ The start, but definitely not the end, of the all-you-can-eat tempura set
With this kind of variety at this price, you might expect that the chef simply cooks up a huge pile of tempura first thing in the morning, then lets it sit until customers start rolling in. Ten Made Todoke’s owner wants to serve the best-tasting tempura possible though, so he times his batches so that they can go right from the pan to your plate.
The restaurant’s generosity isn’t limited to tempura either, as there are free refills for rice and miso soup as well. The service doesn’t extend to beer, unfortunately, but at just 300 yen for a medium-sized draft, Ten Made Todoke is still friendly on the wallet, even when you’re challenging both your stomach and your liver.
The tempura itself is delicious, with just the right level of crispiness. The menu’s standouts are the vegetable items, which are grown by the owner himself, Tenshin Miura. And yes, the “Ten” in Mr. Miura’s first name is once again written with the same character as “tempura” and “heavens,” so we’d say running this restaurant was his destiny.
We particularly recommend the juicy cheese-covered tomato slices, which combine some of the best parts of eating tempura and pizza.
“I love this town, and I want my customers to know what a great place it is, too,” explains Miura, who keeps pesticide use to a minimum in growing the produce he uses in his restaurant. Between the generosity of his pricing plan, diligence in providing tasty food, and concern for our health and well-being, we came to see him as a tempura-dispensing guardian angel during the course of our lunch.
Even as full-grown adults who are young-at-heart (seriously, we’re not sure how this “immature” rumor got started), we can appreciate a limitless supply of chow. All-you-can-eat deals are really at their best, though, when you’ve got the appetite and metabolism of a teenager, and Ten Made Todoke is fittingly popular with girls from the local high school, many of whom continue to frequent the restaurant after graduating and getting jobs in the area.
Kumamoto Prefecture is a fair way off the beaten path and tends to be under the radar of most visitors following the standard Tokyo-Kyoto sightseeing route. Travelers who can fit it into their schedule will find plenty worth seeing though, such as its beautiful castle and smoldering volcano Mt. Aso. And of course, the wonderful Ten Made Todoke.
Tempura Ten Made Todoke
Address: Kumamoto Prefecture, Yatsushiro City, Honcho, 2-4-35, Honcho Arcade Entrance
Maximum occupancy: 12 people