The Best Mac and Cheese in the U.S.
Mercer Kitchen, New York
Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is known for delicately flavored Asian-influenced French cuisine, not heavy comfort food. But the mac and cheese at Mercer Kitchen—his wife, Marja’s recipe—is a showstopper. Served in a piping hot cast-iron pan, the recipe includes elbows, three types of cheddar (mild, sharp and extra sharp), Monterey Jack and cream cheese for liquid creaminess.
The Southern fried chicken joint opened by Top Chef alum Jeff McInnis offers a celebrated macaroni with five cheeses: medium-sharp cheddar, Swiss, Grayson, Red Leicester and Parmesan. In place of the familiar elbows, McInnis opts for torchio, a spiral-like torch-shaped pasta “perfect for catching the cheesy sauce,” he says. Inspired by his grandmother’s crispy-crusted macaroni casserole, McInnis tops the cheesy side with bread crumbs and fresh herbs and presents it in overflowing individual cast-iron baking dishes.
Chef-owner Shawn Cirkiel finishes his made-to-order elbow macaroni and cheese with a sprinkle of Parmesan and bread crumbs to create a superthin, crispy crust. “The hardest part is not taking a bite right when it comes out because it will burn the top of your mouth, like good pizza,” Cirkiel says.
Murray's Cheese Bar, New York
Of course, NYC’s most famous cheese shop serves a killer mac and cheese at its new restaurant annex. The elbow macaroni’s arsenal includes Tickler cheddar from England for ultimate meltiness, Murray’s cave-aged Gruyère for nutty flavor, Mozzarella di Bufala for creaminess and bits of spiced tasso ham. Finally, the mini cast-iron pan of pasta is finished with more shredded Gruyère and fried onions for a fantastic crust.
Beecher's Handmade Cheese, Seattle & New York
The Seattle-based founder of this Pike Place Market staple, Kurt Dammeier, is a rule breaker when it comes to mac and cheese. “A lot of purists think it has to be made with elbows. But penne is better,” he says. His choice is chewier, with ridges that cling to the cheese. However, he credits the overwhelming success of the dish (he sells 40,000 pounds of it a year) to a signature cross between Gruyère and cheddar called Flagship, the “umami bomb that is our cheese.” He mixes a bit of Jack cheese into the dish for extra gooeyness.
Cheesetique, Arlington & Alexandria, Virginia
A mix of rich Gouda, sharp Asiago and tangy Cacio di Roma in the Mac ’n Cheesetique showcases just a few of the cheeses on sale at this DC-area cheese shop/wine bar. “The resulting combination is savory and slightly sweet,” says owner Jill Erber. Made with elbow macaroni for a “down-home feel,” the dish is finished with crispy bread crumbs tossed with a touch of truffle oil.
Little Bird, Portland, Oregon
F&W Best New Chef 2007 Gabriel Rucker’s beloved bistro serves a macaroni gratin that can best be described as a “snowballer,” according to general manager Devin Haskell: “Once you see it come out of the kitchen, you have to order it.” Made with small elbow macaroni, the bubbling hot pasta uses white Tillamook cheddar, Emmi Gruyère and a third rotating cheese—right now it’s funky Rogue Creamery blue. Bread crumbs and chives crown each order.
Table Fifty-Two, Chicago
Using a wood-burning oven, Art Smith and Table Fifty-Two chef de cuisine Rey Villalobos developed a mac and cheese with smoky flavor. Villalobos rotates the three cheeses he uses in the dish as well as the pastas, which range from cavatappi (small corkscrew-shaped pasta) to fusilli to nostalgic wagon wheels. The dish is offered as a side but is filling enough to be an entrée. An extra 16 ounces of cheese tops the mini cast-iron pan of gooey pasta, creating an irresistibly cheesy crust. tablefifty-two.com
Publick House, Boston
The beer-geek bar offers customizable macaroni and cheese to help counter the effects of pints of classic Belgian beers like crisp, unfiltered La Chouffe, or terrific domestic craft beers such as Victory Brewing’s deliciously hoppy Prima Pils. The basic, cheese-only option is made with little-ear-shaped orecchiette pasta, which acts as mini scoops for the five pungent cheeses: cheddar, provolone, Fontina, blue and Asiago. From there, guests can add a wide range of toppings and mix-ins from scallops to braised short rib to a fried egg.
The Blue Plate, San Francisco
Chef and co-owner Cory Obenour created his much-lauded mac made with Drunken Goat cheese more than a decade ago. Today it has a cult following. “It’s one of the most talked about things on the menu,” Obenour says. “It’s a little different, but not bastardized.” The semifirm goat cheese he uses comes from Murcia, Spain; it’s cured in red wine for two months, which accounts for the import’s funny name and slightly fruity, tart flavor. He rounds out the recipe’s unique taste with a little sharp white Cheddar, Tabasco, fresh nutmeg, dry mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Sourdough bread crumbs from the local Boudin Bakery finish each order.
Slows Bar BQ, Detroit
Brian Perrone’s superrich mac-n-cheese is so intense that it has been called “a truly life-changing experience” by Man v. Food host Adam Richman. The signature side dish includes medium pasta shells, creamy béchamel sauce and mild cheddar cheese. For a final cheesy touch, Perrone grates more cheddar on top and broils it. “It is really quite luxurious,” Perrone says.
OK Café, Atlanta
The key ingredient in OK Café’s Triple Cheese Macaroni is ranch seasoning, which gives the side dish a terrific tang and makes it uniquely Southern. Owner Susan DeRose credits her grandmother's cook, Gertrude, with the recipe. Sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack and Parmesan are mixed with squiggly cavatappi pasta.
Blue Star Café, Los Angeles
Diner by day and a punk club by night, Blue Star serves classically gooey, creamy baked elbow macaroni. Chef-owner Kash Brouillet says he created the dish to honor his great-grandmother, “a master at making the simplest and greatest-tasting food from nothing.” Brouillet uses three cheeses: cheddar (“because you need an orange tint”), mozzarella for texture and Asiago, which contributes a pungent kick.
Cochon Butcher, New Orleans
James Beard Award-winning chef Donald Link’s Cochon Butcher is most known for its sandwiches, house-made terrines, cured meats and sausages, but the wine bar/sandwich shop’s unusual side of mac and cheese also garners praise. The recipe calls for elbow macaroni, cream cheese, sharp white cheddar and tomato paste for depth and tang. Since the shop does specialize in meats, they add in some house-cured pancetta as well. A sprinkling of Parmesan and bread crumbs finishes each order.