There’s something magical about the humble Tater Tot. Some might even argue that it’s the perfect food: bite-size, salty, crispy, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, greasy but not overly oily, and a great vessel for just about any topping. Its abundant nooks and crannies allow for nearly limitless surface area (aka more crunch) and it boasts a pillowy interior that french fries can only hope to emulate — let’s just say there are many reasons why it’s one of our favorite childhood foods.
"Tater Tot" is actually a registered trademark of Ore-Ida, the company that invented them in 1953. Founders F. Nephi and Golden Grigg (great names) found themselves with an excess of potato scraps after making french fries, and were sick of selling them off for a pittance as animal feed. So they chopped them up, added in some flour and other seasonings, and then sent the whole mess through an extruder and into the deep-fryer. And a legend was born.
Tots straight out of the deep-fryer are certainly a wonder to behold (as many a cafeteria worker can attest), but one thing that makes tots great is their versatility. They can be eaten plain, sure, but why not top them with, say, pulled pork? In today’s no-holds-barred, the-fattier-the-better foodiverse, tots have taken off, most likely because not only does the humble processed spud serve as a great vessel for all types of toppings, it also takes us back to a simpler time, when all we needed to be happy was something deep-fried and delicious (come to think of it, that still applies).
Recently, tots have been making their way onto menus, and in a big way. Plenty of bars and restaurants are topping their tots with some unbelievable stuff, and even high-end places like Bar Boulud in New York City and The Aviary in Chicago offer highbrow versions of this lowbrow treat.
We’ve tracked down the best tots in the country, from pub grub utopia to fine dining whimsy, and ranked them accordingly. While some are made in-house, others are simply fried to perfection and topped with something great. The main criteria? All these tots hit that spot that only the perfect tot can hit.
So loosen your belt, and read on for our list of the country's top tots.
Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers.