Tater Tots were invented in 1953 by innovators at Ore-Ida looking to make use of scraps left over from french-fry production. The crisp, chewy cylinders failed to take off, however, and for the next half century they remained sidelined as a kids’ food. In the 2000s, some chefs began experimenting, and the tot scene exploded. The first breakout dish? The “totcho,” a pile of tots topped like nachos with cheese, salsa, and guacamole. From there flavorings have gone uptown to include bacon to blue cheese, braised short ribs to truffle oil. (French President Emmanuel Macron, presumably no stranger to haute cuisine, reportedly enjoyed a cheeseburger with a side of tots the day after an April state dinner in Washington.) Here are some spots to entice the tot-curious. And vets can consider making a crawl, starting in Allston and going through Fenway, the South End, and ending downtown.
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Lulu’s has several tot dishes on their brunch and lunch menu. Since we are starting here, if you want to taste a perfectly cooked baseline tot, order the pizza tots on the Bites + Shares portion of the menu. They are seasoned fresh out of the fryer with pizza seasonings and served with a garlic aioli (on weekends this is swapped for cajun tots, but it’s the same idea.) But don’t stop there! The Weekday Hash (or White Trash Hash on weekends) is a pile of tots topped with braised short ribs and either cheese sauce or hollandaise depending on the day. This is a dish intended to eat as an entree, but for the purposes of a crawl it works great as a shared dish. Finish your beer and let’s head to the next stop.
I am always surprised this hidden gem isn’t the most Instagrammed restaurant in the city. This is the kind of Korean-Mexican fusion that people go wild for in LA and New York, but for some reason it hasn’t quite caught on here. You can choose a variety of different meats (or tofu) to put on your tots, but I definitely suggest the popular grilled beef classic, bulgogi. Add an egg and make it spicy if you can handle it! Jump on the Green Line to Kenmore Square for the next spot.
The Lower Depths
There was a time when the Lower Depths was the No. 1 place in town to get tots. A few years ago they changed to more of a taco focus, but they still have some great tot options. The standard totchos have refried beans, tomatillo-mint salsa, pepper-jack-cheese sauce, cotija, and cilantro. There is sometimes another rotating tot special, and for a bonus item you can get a taco with tots on it. The Kenmore Tot-co is filled with tots, andouille sausage, black beans, bacon, and cilantro. Call an Uber cause we are heading to the South End.
FIVE HORSES TAVERN
Both locations of this popular neighborhood hangout (the other is on 400 Highland Ave., in Somerville) have weekly tot specials. I have eaten many versions from a riff on classic loaded tots to one served up with pastrami and cabbage. They will also surprise with Asian-inspired flavors like char sui duck with marinaded cabbage and house chili sauce or perhaps one pegged to an event like their marathon week “runners tots” with bacon, banana, peanut butter, and cheddar.
The tots at Precinct are hidden on the dinner menu as a side dish, but they can be ordered all day at the bar. They are smothered in a buffalo sauce and topped with blue cheese. I know they are filling, but don’t worry they next stop is right across the street!
The tots at Grill 23 are made in house and come truffle flavored. As at Precinct they are listed as a side on the menu but can be ordered stand-alone at the bar. Some may consider these more of a potato croquette than a tot because they are made with mashed potatoes and not pieces of potato, but they are too delicious to leave off this list.
This is probably the most traditional “loaded tot” dish on the crawl. Bacon, cheese sauce, scallions. What more can you want? A side of sour cream, that’s what. I know you are getting full, but don’t quit on me now. Only one stop left!
Yvonne’s is upscale and elegant on the inside, but sure enough, they have totchos on the menu. Well, they call them “crispy tater cubes” but they are not fooling anyone! The tots themselves are house made, and true tater tots this time, composed of pieces of potato. They are hot and crispy and served on top of joppiesaus, a popular Dutch concoction that is mayo-like with a hint of curry flavor. They are then topped with grated gouda cheese and a beet-pickled egg.
Dan Whalen, a Boston cookbook author and blogger (www.TheFoodinmyBeard.com and @tfimb on Instagram) is the author, most recently, of “Tots!: Tot-ally Awesome Recipes from Totchos to Sweet Po-tot-o Pie’’