Tater tots aren't just for kids; plenty of chefs have elevated the dish into a work of potato perfection. Of course, just because you can have truffle-laced tots or tots enhanced with cheese and bacon, that doesn't mean a good ol' classic tater tot is passe. These ten restaurants and bars offer an array of spectacular spuds, from high-end, housemade masterpieces you might find cuddling up to a wagyu steak to out-of-the-bag frozen beauties that get fried and go perfectly with a pile of eggs or a greasy burger. No matter how you like them, there's a tot for everybody, even one that doesn't have any potato at all. So take this 2017 tater-tot tour and rediscover a childhood favorite both at old-school joints and new eateries.
1. Bacon Social House
2434 West 44th Avenue
It may not surprise you to find out that the tater tots on chef Brian Crow's swine-themed menu contain the namesake item. That's right, there's bacon buried in the tots, along with a hearty dose of cheddar cheese. Each nugget is a little bigger than your average tot, and the size does well to hold in all of that potato-porky-cheesy goodness. Dip your dish in a side of chipotle ranch for a little smoky creaminess and consider the meal complete. Get a big order to share for $9 or simply garnish your entree with a $3 side; either way, you'll leave Sunnyside happy.
2. Carbon Cafe & Bar
1553 Platte Street
As expected from an eatery that caters to the stoner crowd, Carbon's housemade tater tots aren't merely a simple dish of fried potatoes. Here the downtown spot builds a pot of loaded tots: just like nachos, only with tots instead of tortilla chips. Named the Hangover Tots, each $10 order comes with green chile, white cheddar, shredded pork, guacamole and cilantro yogurt. Eat them fast, because the longer you let the mess on top sit, the more your once-crispy tots will lose that pleasing crunch, and let's be honest — who wants that?
3. Fire on the Mountain
3801 West 32nd Avenue
Sweet-potato tots are totally a thing, and although this Highland wing joint buys its tots frozen and in a bag, they still taste amazing. Each little orange ball has a crackling crust and light, candied dusting that come from nothing more than natural sugars caramelizing during frying. You don't need a lick of ketchup or any other sauce to enjoy this side dish; just order one of the many beers on tap — perhaps a stout to play off the sweetness of the tots. Orders come in small, medium and large, starting at $4.
4. Highland Tavern
3400 Navajo Street
The kitchen at this LoHi staple has been churning out the same tasty homemade tots for the past eight years. That means that the guys behind this decade-old neighborhood joint — owners Brian Sommatino and Andy Stutz — know what they're doing. Heck, you can even buy a cute T-shirt commemorating the Tavern Tots. To make these famous spuds, the chef treats the potato like a hash brown and spices it up with garlic, onion powder, cayenne pepper and a dash of tamari. Then each little plug gets deep fried and served with your choice of blue cheese or ranch (and BBQ sauce, if you ask nicely). Get a large, $7 order for the whole table or, for $2, you can sub out your fries. It's well worth the up-charge to try something so deliciously classic.
5. Jill’s Restaurant and Bistro
900 Walnut Street, Boulder
Much to the delight of the customers and guests at the St. Julien Hotel & Spa, chef Laurent Mechin fries up these cheese-and-potato dream tots every day and serves them with truffle aioli. "They under-promise and over-deliver, and they’re simply delicious and addictive," the chef says, adding that this appetizer has graced the menu since the restaurant opened in 2005. That was before Mechin joined the team, but because he and the diners like them so much, they have remained a staple. To get the tots so smooth and creamy, the cooks rice the peeled russet potatoes and gently fold in free-range eggs, gluten-free flour and Grana Padano, a regional Italian cheese similar to Parmegiano-Reggiano. You can get them for $7.95 an order to eat solo or with any of the main courses.
Keep reading for more of the best tots in town...
6. The Royal
4000 Tennyson Street
When you order a burger at Josh Epps's Berkeley hot spot, make sure you give it the royal treatment by adding a side of housemade tater tots. Although this side dish looks more like a nugget than a proper tot, it sings with fried-potato joy. Each one is shaped by hand and cooked properly so that you don't end up with a mouthful of oil — a problem with deep-fried snacks from lesser kitchens. Each order of four or five large balls runs $4.
7. Sam's No. 3
435 South Cherry Street, 303-333-4403
2580 South Havana Street, Aurora, 303-751-0347
1500 Curtis Street, 303-534-1927
Head to one of the three Sam's diners, not for artisan or handmade tater tots — Sam's uses frozen food-service potatoes — but because you can get them on just about anything you desire. That means you can have tater tots over one of more than fifteen skillets on the morning menu, or even sub tots for home fries with any breakfast dish. Then for lunch and dinner, get the spuds to accompany your burger or sandwich. Or, order a side bowl (yes, bowl!) of these fried beauties to dip in the gooey cheese of an enchilada plate, to pair with that grilled trout or to soak up the juices from a steak. There's nowhere else in Denver where the tater tot reigns to such an extent.
1550 Market St.
These may be the biggest tater tots in Denver. When they were first delivered to our table, my companion commented, "Are those fried marshmallows?" No, the ping-pong-ball-sized orb is definitely a tot, something that can be confirmed with one bite — and a good one at that. Despite the size, each three-bite spud has a lovely crispness to the outside and a flavorful creaminess on the inside, thanks to a three-cheese mixture of fontal, aged Jack and aged cheddar. Dip your tots in the spicy chile remoulade and you have a winning accoutrement to this new steakhouse's slabs of beef, or the perfect cocktail-soaking bar snack.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
9. TAG Burger Bar
1222 Madison St.
When you get a bowl of the jalapeño cheesy tots at this Troy Guard establishment, they look like little buttons rather than the usual cylinders. Don't let that sway you; these piping-hot beauties are true tater tots enhanced with so much more. Each potato-filled bite offers tangy cheese and a spike of spicy jalapeño, a component that grows as you pop them in your mouth. They're almost addictive: Once you start munching, you won't want to stop. Luckily, the generous $5.50 order proves big enough for two, though you might have to order more after they hook you.
10. Zeps Epiq Sandwiches
The tater tots coming out of this awesome sandwich shop aren't fancy. In fact, they're just the standard frozen potatoes that are fried up to order. But what makes them stand out from others comes in the form of added ingredients. Sure, you can opt for regular tots, which come out super-crispy and with a hearty dose of salt and pepper, or you can spike your spuds with a barrage of seasonings. We're talking bacon-jalapeño-cheddar; salt and vinegar; truffle; or Bloody Mary, an option that adds a kick of spicy tomato. Each hearty side, regardless of the add-on, comes for a mere $2.50, so really you don't have an excuse to pass them up.