The potato tots at P. J. Clarke’s take nearly a day to prepare. Photo by Daniel Swartz.

Day-old bread can be reborn as bread pudding, panzanella and croutons. But what is there to do with potato scraps left over from making french fries? When Ore-Ida co-owners and brothers F. Nephi and Golden Grigg found themselves in this spud-nundrum in 1953, they created the Tater Tot. Ever since, the tubular treats have become freezer-aisle favorites. “They’re pure comfort,” says Kyle Bailey, the executive chef at Arsenal, where he serves three fancy takes on the classic. “They’re one of those perfect foods.” Especially when they’re made from scratch and gussied up with gourmet toppings, like the tots found at these local restaurants.

300 Tingey St. SE; 202-524-4862, (Navy Yard)
Sure, you could order a batch of the standout house-made tots seasoned simply with salt and white pepper, delivered with good old Heinz ketchup ($6). However, you should consider getting your spuds smothered. There are three topping options: melted white cheddar with Tasso ham gravy; house-made Buffalo wing sauce with crumbled blue cheese; or General Tso’s-inspired sauce spangled with scallion rounds ($8.50 each). “We’re taking machine-made food and reverse engineering it,” Bailey says. “This is real food made by real people using their hands.”

P.J. Clarke’s
1600 K St. NW; 202-463-6610, (Farragut North)
Executive chef Thomas Schoborg has fond memories of Tater Tots from his years in elementary school. “I looked forward to the days they were served,” he says. His handmade Parmesan-accented tots ($9.35) are labor-intensive, requiring almost a day to make. Russet potatoes are parboiled, cooled, peeled, grated and mixed with cheese and chives. The shredded spuds are formed into the traditional pluglike shape by being packed into a prescription pill bottle with the bottom cut off. “It’s a weird trick, but it works,” Schoborg says. “We tried cookie cutters, but the potatoes stuck.” The tots are coated in panko breadcrumbs, frozen overnight and fried to order. They arrive dusted with Parmesan and fresh parsley, plus a side of Sir Kensington’s artisanal ketchup for dunking.

Food, Wine & Co.
7272 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-8008, (Bethesda)
“These are adult Tater Tots,” executive chef Michael Harr says of the dinnertime-only spud snack ($7) he makes by adding roasted garlic and Gruyere to baked-then-shredded Yukon Gold potatoes. “I use a lot of cheese, so they’re nice and gooey when you bite into them,” he says. The mixture is formed into marshmallow-sized cubes that are deep-fried. The tots are served with Heinz ketchup pepped up with coriander, garlic and chilies. They’ve become one of the biggest sellers at the restaurant. “I can’t take them off my menu,” Harr says. “People would stab me in the eyeballs.”

Juniper at the Fairmont Hotel
2401 M St. NW; 202-457-5020, (Foggy Bottom)
Growing up in England, executive chef Mark Timms never had a chance to try Ore-Ida’s famous invention. That changed after he moved to the States and read this post on a friend’s Facebook wall: “Tater Tots are the bomb.” “I thought that was funny, so I had to try them,” Timms says. “She was right.” Now he offers gourmet tots ($12) accented with nutmeg and topped with garlicky chive aioli and your choice of bacon and/or sauteed mushrooms. They’re served on a mound of mac and cheese made with blue cheese, creamy Boursin and cheddar. “Some foods you eat slowly; some you want to inhale without breathing,” Timms says. “These fall into the latter category.”