Best Tater Tots

Sticky Rice
1224 H St. NE; (202) 397-7655

There’s something inherently secretive about tater tots, and it’s not just the way these potato pellets are made. Think Napoleon Dynamite and his stash of zipper-locked tots on the side of his pants (“Napoleon, gimme some of your tots!”). Think about your own attempts to conceal your tot habit in school, all the better to horde them for yourself.

Now think about Sticky Rice on H Street NE, surprising home of the best tots around, and its accompanying sauce. “No one really knows what’s in it,” says owner John Yamashita about his creamy, spicy sauce. Well, no one except for the people who make the sauce in-house, and they ain’t talking.

The secret sauce is the key to Sticky Rice’s tots—that and the tots’ utter simplicity. They’re deep-fried and served in buckets, as if a nod to that other icon of American fried-ness, KFC. When Yamashita opened the first Sticky Rice in Richmond, he wanted to give his customers a taste of America as well as Japan—but what part of America? He knew that he wanted to cater to America’s love for comfort foods, but French fries seemed too obvious.

Hello, tater tots. They’re now a top-seller at the sushi joint. “I had no idea they’d be a big deal,” Yamashita says.

He really shouldn’t have been surprised. Tots have been a hit from almost the day that brothers F. Nephi Grigg and Golden T. Grigg invented them in 1953 at their company, Ore-Ida Foods. During the Depression, the brothers grew and sold potatoes, moving into the French fry business after World War II. The shavings left over after the potatoes were cut into fries were first used as cattle feed. The Griggs came up with an idea to chop up the shavings, mix in flour and spices, and fry them.

The tater tot was born, which Americans now consume at an ungodly rate, 70 million a year.

Tater tots made their way from home ovens to restaurants a long time ago. Tots have made appearances at places as diverse as Michel Richard Citronelle and the Quarry House, that subterranean, post-Prohibition pub in Silver Spring. Some tots, like the ones at the Union Pub on Capitol Hill, give Sticky Rice’s a run for their money, even if you have to request the homemade chipotle/ranch sauce (otherwise you’re stuck with ketchup).

There’s no such problem at Sticky Rice, where you get that wonderfully mysterious sauce with every order of those crunchy little nuggets of fried potato.

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