Like Back to The Future hoverboards and Star Wars action figures, Americans can’t get enough childhood nostalgia. Even your favorite school cafeteria staples, tater tots, are experiencing a revival. What started out in 1953 by the frozen food giant Ore-Ida as a clever way to recoup potato scraps has turned into a starchy sensation, spawning everything from to’chos to to’tines.
Sharma Tots, WesBurger, San Francisco
Wes Rowe plays culinary roulette at his pop-up WesBurger, where he serves up a patty influenced by a different cuisine every week, along with tricked-out tater tots like these Shawarma Tots, made with housemade lamb shawarma, tahini, cucumber tomato salad, feta and chopped parsley. (Other popular versions include tiki chicken marsala tots and the Korean-inspired Gangnam bulgogi tots). Rowe prefers tots to fries for their higher ratio of “crunchy exterior to soft interior,” which ensures they don't get soggy as fast. He's planning to serve tots at his brick-and-mortar WesBurger n’ More when it opens in the spring. Photo credit: Wes Rowe
Tater Greens, The Lobby, Denver
With all their nooks and crannies, tots are the perfect vehicles for sopping up any topping. The Lobby at Denver's Paris Hotel offers an entire menu section dubbed “Loaded,” dedicated to spud customization (mashers, tots, fries or sweet potatoes), and they'll trick out your tots with just about any topping you like. The most popular option is Tater Greens, a nacho-inspired tot-ppetizer smothered with pork or vegetarian green chili, loaded with cheddar and Muenster, tortilla strips and pico de gallo. Photo Credit: Christian Batizy
Naughty Tottie, Stockyard Sandwiches Co., Santa Ana
Phil Burden, chef-owner of The Stockyard Sandwich Company at 4th Street Marketplace, is known for his “poutine (ish)” tots, a play on the classic Canadian drunk food. He admits the idea came to him while “drinking beer.” Also known as Naughty Totties, the tots are piled high with a choice of short ribs or pulled pork, house-made sauce (bacon gravy or Mornay), pickled onions and fried egg on top.
Tater Takoyaki, Gaijin Ramen Shop, Arlington
Leave it to two gaijin (foreigners) to give the all-American tater a Japanese twist. Gaijin Ramen Shop co-owners Nicole Mazkour and Tuvan Pham follow tradition when making their own noodles and broths, but take liberties with the takoyaki, a popular Japanese street food. Traditionally, it features tiny balls of batter stuffed with grilled octopus and green onions, but here, tater tots replace the takoyaki balls, and American-style pulled pork belly is subbed in for the octopus. Topped with tangy housemade takoyaki sauce, spicy mayo and a sprinkle of chopped greens, the culinary mashup is sweet, spicy, crunchy, salty and utterly addictive.
Short Rib HauteDish, HauteDish, Minneapolis
Chef Landon Schoenfeld of HauteDish brings the haute to the Heartland with his badass renditions of modern Midwestern cuisine. Unlike the classic tater tot casserole made with cream of mushroom soup and mystery meat, his version features short ribs with porcini béchamel sauce, garnished with a truffle-infused button mushroom salad, vibrant green beans and housemade potato croquettes cut to resemble giant taters. These are no ordinary tots: Freshly cooked potatoes are passed through a food mill, enriched with butter, cream and Mornay sauce, set, cut, tossed in potato flakes, fried and then baked to order.
Irish Nachos, Pork Slope, New York
Top Chef alum Dale Talde showcases tater tots, nachos and other lowbrow Americana bar food at his roadhouse Pork Slope. Although his traditional Loaded Nachos were dubbed best in show by New York Magazine, insiders ask for the Irish Nachos, an off-the-menu dish featuring tater tots topped with chili, cheese sauce, pickled jalapeños, cheddar cheese, onions, tomatoes, sour cream and cilantro. The idea of these alt nachos (potatoes, Irish, get it?) came to Talde after a late night of drinking and the subsequent need to soak up the poison.
Dulce de Leche Churro Tots, Border Grill, LA, Santa Monica, Las Vegas
Granted, these dulce de leche-infused donuts aren’t technically tater tots (they don’t contain any potatoes), but trust us; after one taste of the miniature caramel-y churros from Top ChefMasters Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, you won’t complain. Tots in shape and inspiration, the bite-sized churros were originally created for their Border Grill Truck as something easy to eat while standing up. Slightly gooey inside and tossed with sugar and cinnamon to order, churros tots are always available at the Truck and during brunch at all Border Grill locations.
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