As we all know, sumo is a sport punctuated by ritual. I’ve created a new ritual for myself: I like to enjoy a trip around the start of every honbasho to Sumo Dog – a Japanese and quasi-sumo themed hot dog specialty restaurant in Los Angeles. In anticipation of the upcoming Haru basho, I did this again today. It is both odd and cool that a sumo-flavored restaurant exists and for those of you who are reading and are very near or very far from Los Angeles, please enjoy the following review of the Sumo Dog experience.
Sumo Dog is a fast-casual establishment which opened about a year ago on the periphery of Los Angeles’s Koreatown neighborhood. Opened by Chef Jeffery Lunak and Mark Stone, it’s an unassuming small shop on a block which has now come to be lined with ever more ridiculous dessert options (like cotton candy ice cream burritos). With that in mind, we’ll focus on the main Sumo Dog selection.
When you enter the restaurant you are created by an impressive sized statuette of a yokozuna. I believe this is Asashoryu in the below image (if it’s not, please correct me in the comments!), however when I asked one of the chefs one day (which may have been one of the owners) he said “that’s Sumo Joe.” For a sumo fan, it was not the most impressive response.
The walls are plastered with Sumo Dog posters which comprise of a drawing of a rikishi and the Sumo Dog logo, as well as their admittedly very impressive and cool selection of merch, like t-shirts and hats. The atmosphere overall is casual and good and one can imagine it might not be out of place in Tokyo with a bit of work.
Sumo Dog’s menu is where they really shine. Out of the 8 hot dog based dishes, several have taken very liberal inspiration from Japanese flavors. I’ll add a few photos of the menu below from several trips.
The Sumo Dog is their signature dish, and comes covered in wasabi relish, furikake and nori as well as pickled peppers, onion, spicy mayo and teriyaki sauce. I have never been much of a hot dog person, but I love Japanese flavors and they have captured some great – potentially even complex – flavor in this dish. It gives you the sort of satisfaction you get when you see a classically executed uwatenage.
The Miso Katsu dog is a spot on recreation of a classic dish in hot dog format, with a perfect panko crust giving a nice contrast to the miso and cabbage. At $13, the Godzilla is perhaps best suited to aspiring sekitori, and is a monster foot long hot dog covered with many of the same elements of their classic Sumo Dog as well as their togarashi cheese sauce and slaw. Perhaps they should rename it the kinboshi because it is simply so big that taking this hot dog down is like a rank-and-filer trying to knock off a Yokozuna: it’s hard work, and if you can finish it, people will be very impressed!
The menu also sports a number of more Angeleno-centric and traditional inspirations, but each one of the frankfurters has some kind of Japanese element, whether it’s the pickled daikon and togarashi on the chili dog, or the tempura crunch that’s been added to their “Romero” guacamole hot dog.
Finally, Sumo Dog is also known for its sides, especially the tater tots formed from sushi rice which are delivered with a generous helping of wasabi and the togarashi cheese dipping sauce. It’s a nice compliment for a Ramune, several flavors of which are kept in the cooler.
Sumo Dog is a very good, fun addition to the food landscape in Los Angeles and a great place to enjoy an interesting take on Japanese ingredients. While the restaurant has done a great job capturing some sumo-themed elements in their branding and merch, if they can put some more work into paying homage to the sport in the restaurant’s overall design and staff’s knowledge, they will have a very special winner. As ever, I’m sure I’ll be visiting ahead of the Natsu basho as well.
Sumo Dog is located at 516 S. Western Avenue in Los Angeles – and you can check out their full menu on their website at eatsumodog.com.