The tater tot means an an awful lot of things to many people. Advocates for change in public school lunch programs, for example, tout the tot as a symbol for all that is wrong with cafeteria food (“We don't serve Tater Tots,” a Central Valley school district official sniffed, proudly). Napoleon Dynamite, on the other hand, loved his tots so much that he kept a handful nearby for when the craving struck; subsequently, his home state of Idaho passed a resolution commending the filmmakers for, among other accomplishments, featuring the bite-sized potato pellet, “thus promoting Idaho's most famous export.”
Idaho's most famous tot-sized export was born in 1953 to one Ore-Ida. It was conceived as a profitable way for the frozen foods company to use the potato scraps leftover from cutting spuds into French fries. The tater tot has come a long way since then, from freezer aisle to curious plaything for chefs and pub grub for a nostalgic hipster generation. It also found a place alongside the hot dog: both Fab Hot Dogs in Reseda and Dog Haus in Pasadena offer tater tots as complements to their dogs. In this Food Fight, it's tot-à-tot as we pit Fab's taters against Dog Haus's version.
Fab Hot Dogs is known for its ripper dogs, a New Jersey specialty that puts a deep-fried beef and pork hot dog in a bun. Both the dog and the tots arrive in classic diner-style paper trays. The tots, jumbled together like unorganized spools of thread in your mother's sewing case, are piping hot and crispy. A good touch of salt and just a bit greasy, it's exactly everything your cafeteria tot was not.
Further east in Pasadena is Dog Haus, whose interpretation of the hot dog is decidedly more West Coast than East: the dogs are nestled in King's Hawaiian Bread (“because we think it tastes awesome”) and topped with everything from avocados to fried eggs. Even the tots can be as non-traditional as you would like: the “Sweetie Pie”, for example, tops sweet potato tater tots with brown sugar and cheddar cheese. As tempting (or not) as that is, we ordered the tots unadorned for purposes of this Food Fight.
The scraggy exterior of Dog Haus's tater tots were delightfully crunchy, with just the right amount of seasoning. What really sets a Dog Haus tot apart from one at Fab's is the interior: after the crunch, you sink into a soft, fluffy pillow of potato. Had our memories of cafeteria food been more comforting, our first bite into one of these may very well have triggered a Ratatouille moment.
Both Fab Hot Dogs and Dog Haus have excellent tater tots. In the end, though, it's not quite tit for tot, as Dog Haus's perfectly golden fried tater tots bests Fabs's in this dogfight. Yeah, Napoleon. We're gonna eat our tots.