This is the golden age of saying things are in the golden age, but this is, sincerely, the golden age of cheeseburgers and tater tots. It’s not because of ubiquity: Burgers and tots aren’t just everywhere (they are); it’s the golden age because Dallas chefs are handcrafting cheeseburgers and fried potatoes in the fires of our youth. Chef-driven versions of the glorious fast and junk food we ate as kids pop up in Dallas’ dive bars and cocktail joints every week. There are handcrafted pods like the potato barrels at IdleRye, which are served with onion dip. Mirador, one of Dallas’ swankiest downtown restaurants, has a tater tots dish topped with king crab for $29. You can add caviar for $70 if you’re in the mood for a death-row meal.
The best tater tots in Dallas, however, aren’t great because of expense or because they're drowning in easy-to-love ingredients like cheese and bacon. They’re great because they’re fun, crunchy, golden, thoughtful homages to the food of our youth. And they’re worth every penny.
1820 W. Mockingbird Lane
It starts with slices of jalapeños and hickory-smoked bacon. Blues Burgers saddles each tot with a pepper sliver, then wraps the smoked bacon like a bandage around the tater tot. The restaurant skewers them, eight to an order, and then feathers cheddar over everything. A fiery salamander melts the cheese, and then the tots are dropped on a tray in front of you with a lounging pool of ranch. The fire and pickled acid of the jalapeños and the smoky bacon make them feel like a good meal. You won’t even need a burger (but get one anyway). This is a true Dallas appetizer.
2826 Elm St.
The tots are, in part, an accident. They’re giant: hand-formed into a size somewhere in between shot glass and poster shipping tubes. Chef Ray Skradzinski starts with a potato hash shred. The restaurant sells about 20 to 30 orders per day, so cutting Yukon potatoes per order was the “bane of his existence.” He shaves Gruyère cheese right into the hash, dashing in nutmeg, cayenne and a pinch of salt. He lets that sit with some cornstarch, scoops the mixture and hand-forms them into mini barrel shapes. Then, to order, the barrels get a light coat of cornstarch and head into the deep fryer. A crisp shell forms. The size, smaller and more portable than a Hot Pocket, is the accidental part: Skradzinski had a more traditional tot size until a new hire accidentally used the wrong scooper, resulting in a few tots that looked like radiation mistakes from a Godzilla movie. They’re served with an onion dip, a concentrated blast of creaminess and onion flavor that induces quick blackouts.
4810 Maple Ave.
They’re not handmade tots or artisanal anything. Maple and Motor’s tots are the frozen kind, and they’ve never tasted better. They’re fried in the dark magic of an undisclosed oil. Pair them with a cold beer and hearty squirts of ketchup and mustard, and you’ll feel the golden crunch in the center of your spine. The best tots have a 360-degree bronze crunch, unlike those soggy, flabby tots you got in the cafeteria aisle. These tots are universally crunchy, satisfying every urge of fried potatoes you’ve ever had. They’re also served piping hot. They’re special.
2701 Main St.
An order of the loaded tater tots at Easy Slider will turn heads. They should arrive with a coronation; it’s like watching a movie star walk the floor. If Tom Cruise delivered these tots to your table, everyone would be staring at the tater tots and not the star of Cocktail. Easy Slider fries the tots to reach the right crispness, salts them and tosses everything on the flat grill. The cheese lends a sharpness and the smooth richness you get with fresh milk, easing you into the truckload of tots. Because this is the great state of Texas, there is housemade ranch dressing. A new development: Tuesday is Tot Tuesday now. At happy hour, you can grab a tray of loaded tots for $4.