Tender Tenders serves up exceptional chicken, mediocre ambiance


Samantha Parr

Tender Tenders storefront in San Rafael.

After hearing countless opinions about the crispy chicken and addictive fries at Tender Tenders, I knew that I had to see what the chatter was all about. Tender Tenders, a fast-food restaurant in San Rafael, focuses on one thing: chicken tenders. It is tucked away in the spacious parking lot of the West End Center, which also houses Best Buy and Pink Owl Coffee.

It was nearly impossible to miss the restaurant, due to a massive sign overhead which stated “Tenders to try before you die!” The vinyl sign was slightly intimidating for a newcomer like myself, and made the restaurant seem unwelcoming. Although the restaurant was relatively new, it gave off a feeling that it was temporary or not completely established yet.

When I swung open the door, the first thing I noticed was the luscious smell of fried chicken wafting out of the kitchen. Despite it being a strange time to get fried chicken – 1pm on a Wednesday afternoon – the line of customers nearly exceeded the doorway.

The next thing I noticed, however, was the unsettling atmosphere of the restaurant. The menu was presented on a piece of printer paper. The interior of the building lacked a sense of culture, and the tables were speckled with crumbs from previous customers.

Another disappointing aspect of Tender Tenders was that they only take cash. My friends and I had cash, luckily, but this could create an obstacle for some. 

There were many salad options on the menu, such as garden, caesar, cobb, baja, and asian citrus. There were three choices for chicken — three tenders with one sauce, four tenders with two sauces, and five tenders with three sauces. The chicken tenders came two ways: crispy and extra crunchy. 

Samantha Parr
The Crispy Chicken from Tender Tenders

We got one crispy 3-piece order, one extra crunchy 3-piece order, an order of fries, and a caesar salad. This totaled up to around $30, which seemed pricey for chicken nuggets.

No more than a few minutes after we sat down at a table, our food was ready. The tenders arrived in a small tin trough and the fries in a cardboard one. The tenders were as big as my hand, and steaming hot. 

First, I tried the crispy tenders. At first bite, a rush of memories flooded my brain. I felt like I was eating dinosaur nuggets in my kitchen as a child, but this was even better.

Pieces of chicken tore away seamlessly with each bite. Despite it being scaldingly hot, the sweet breaded coating still maintained brittle. The chicken had the consistency of butter as it melted in my mouth. 

Next, I sampled the extra crunchy tenders. They look almost identical to the crispy tenders, with the golden coating and sprinkling of sesame seeds for flair. The chicken in these tenders had a tougher consistency, which I preferred to the juicy chicken of the crispy tenders. 

Despite the apparent difference in the texture of the chicken, the tender was slightly short of “extra crunchy.” The coating did not taste significantly different than that of the crispy tender. It might have been able to pass as just “crunchy.” 

The fries, however, swept me off my feet. They were as delicate and crispy as dry leaves on a fall day. They were just salty enough, and their flakiness sizzled with each bite. The interior of the fry radiated heat and tasted as smooth as mashed potatoes. 

Overall, I would advise one not to sit and eat at Tender Tenders, but rather take the food to go. The food was superb, but eating inside degraded the experience.