America consumes 70 million pounds of tater tots a year, and approximately 69.3 million of them are mostly crappy -- they're either too "crunchy", too "soggy", or too "not covered in pulled pork, cheese curds, grainy mustard, and a fried egg".
Ensuring you're only eating top-shelf tots going forward, here're Chi's 12 best ones.
Animal Tots at Park Tavern (click here for address and info) Near West Side The tots are topped with pulled pork, cheese curds, grainy mustard, and a fried egg, then covered with Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout gravy. Like God intended them to be.
Incan Tater Tots at Suite 25 (click here for address and info) Logan Square It's almost unfair to even call these tots. The giant, hand-mashed tater... balls?... are stuffed with sirloin meat (yes, sirloin), hard-boiled egg, black olive, and onions, and are then pan-fried and served with a mayo pesto sauce.
Tater Tots at Brownstone Tavern & Grill (click here for address and info) North Center No bells, no whistles, no gravy; these are just perfect tots. The outside is incredibly crunchy, while inside the potatoes are silky smooth. And they're always served piping hot (don't say we didn't warn you, roofs-of-mouths).
Sweet Potato Tots at Aberdeen Tap (click here for address and info) West Town Much like DMK's sweet potato fries, Aberdeen takes the seldom fried potato to new, tater-y heights. While most tots thrive under ketchup, these sweet potato tots give you the excuse you really didn't need to go through an entire cup of ranch.
House-made Tater Tots at 2 Sparrows (click here for address and info) Lincoln Park Handmade, these oversized tubes of glory are finely shredded potatoes wrapped around themselves like the world's most delicious rubber band ball. Bonus: they serve 'em at brunch, too!
Tater Tots at Skylark (click here for address and info) Pilsen The secret behind Skylark's tot game? 1) they frequently change the oil, and 2) they keep them on the extra-crispy side.
Pickle Tots from Trencherman (click here for address and info) Wicker Park Most tots on this list have some sort of topping, but the beauty of Trencherman's pickle tots lies within. Before frying, crushed dill pickles are mixed in with the potato hash to create a part-tater tot, part-fried pickle hybrid that they then class up with red onion yogurt, some scallions, and a thin ribbon of chicken breast... because, why not?
Buffalo Tots at Bub City (click here for address and info) River North Blue cheese. Buffalo sauce. Tots. It's really that easy. Nice glass of tot-complementing whiskey optional. Sorry, "optional".
Mega Taters at Black Rock (click here for address and info) North Center Don't be fooled by the name. The tots themselves are actually standard size, but the 'mega' comes into play with the toppings: a heaping pile of bacon, nacho cheese (!), sour cream, and scallions.
Master-Tater Tots at Local Option (click here for address and info) Lincoln Park The perfect complement to its collection of rare beer, these tots thrive on their simplicity: they're cooked to perfection with a crispy exterior and a hot/soft interior.
White Truffle Tots at The Rocking Horse (click here for address and info) Logan Square The Rocking Horse is one of the few places in Chicago that realizes that adding white truffle aioli, parsley, and Pecorino Romano takes its otherwise-fairly standard tots and turns them into a must-eat side dish.
Colin Joliat is a freelance food and alcohol writer who taught Napoleon Dynamite everything he knows about tots. Follow him @FlintSkinny.