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Junk Food, Berkeley Style

In the epicenter of local and fresh, we find fried and fascinating


David Goldin

Entering Berkeley’s Sumo Grub, my stomach rumbled in a combo platter of anxiety and exhilaration. My Diablo colleagues had been puzzled about this place for weeks, and I volunteered to check it out. See, Sumo Grub’s claim to fame is that they deepfry everything. Pizza. Tacos. Burgers. Twinkies.

What I wanted to know is: Outside of a county fair, why would someone deep fry a burger? More important, how could this happen in the middle of Berkeley, the mecca of all things local, organic, and sustainable?

Could it be that owner-chef Jason Sum Jr. was raising a metaphoric middle finger to the foodie snobs of the Gourmet Ghetto? After all, the Queen of the Food Revolution, Alice Waters, started an organic lunch campaign in the cafeteria at Berkeley High, which is directly across the street from Sumo Grub. Or is a deep-fried burger simply so damn delicious that it’s worth risking a heart attack?

I ambled to the counter of the tiny diner and ordered the tempura burger. I was the only customer in the place, so my food came out fast. The patty was crusted with house-made bread crumbs and it didn’t ooze oil. Sumo’s secret sumo sauce had a tangy taste and provided necessary lubrication, as the burger was pretty dry. The bun looked suspiciously similar to the Rainbo brand I buy on sale at Safeway. I polished off the $4 burger in five quick bites.

Verdict? Meh. I paid the check and skipped the deep-fried Ding Dong dessert. Sumo Grub’s fare probably plays best as a postpub bender for college kids (the diner stays open late), but it’s not going to start a turf war with Alice Waters anytime soon.


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