Baked Four Cheese Macaroni at Fat Willy's Rib Shack ($11)
As the name suggests, the baked four cheese macaroni is a big bowl of gooey melted cheese—specifically, the stringy kind that refuses to break free. It's the opposite of a light meal. But if it's excess you're after, and if you equate the deliciousness of mac and cheese with the amount of the latter ingredient, then Fat Willy's is your place.
Make Your own Mac & Cheese at Kuma's Corner ($13)
Like everything at Kuma's Corner, the mac and cheese is an astonishingly well built dish masquerading as an absolute mess. Though it looks like a uniform mass of cheesy noodles, the truth is far different. In fact, those noodles are cooked to order, tossed in a creamy but not overbearing sauce, and then topped with more cheese. This results in noodles that have real bite and cheese that hasn't congealed into a lump of grease. The only difficult part is deciding which toppings to add. We went with sweet caramelized onions and salty bacon, a duo our waitress claimed was extremely popular. We understand why.
Mac 'N' Cheese at Old Town Social ($10)
You know Old Town Social's mac and cheese is serious business when you see that funky Stilton Blue listed as one of the ingredients. But the real secret is that you can add smoked brisket or pork belly to the dish, launching it sky high in terms of bold flavor. The pork belly version is smoky with little bits distributed in each bite, but the barbecue brisket version is our pick, with crispy burnt ends acting like tiny meat croutons.
Mac N Cheese at Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ ($13)
This Southern-style mac and cheese arrives to the table in a small cast iron skillet, still bubbling from its time under the broiler. The noodles, procured from Pasta Fresh, are big, doughy-dense, and surprisingly awesome. The crisp exterior, melty cheese, and chewy pasta all come together to make a very impressive, if particularly decadent, mac and cheese.
Mac & Cheese at Hot Chocolate ($10)
Mindy Segal's mac and cheese eats more like a creamy soup than your traditional casserole-style stuff, which we're totally okay with because, well, it's delicious. Plump pasta noodles swim in a medium of buttery liquefied cheese, which is at once rich and nicely sharp. The kitchen parks the bowl in a high heat salamander before serving for that subtle hint of char across the surface.
Burnt Ends Mac 'n Cheese at Brand BBQ Market ($4.95 for a side)
Straightforward and satisfying, Brand BBQ's version is mostly the kind of mac and cheese one can reasonably enjoy as a side dish without feeling completely overwhelmed by cheese and butter. We say mostly, because mixed in are nuggets of extra crunchy burnt ends, which act like meaty pop rocks, adding bursts of salty, meaty goodness.
Mom's Mac and Cheese at Bite Cafe ($5.00, add $1 for bacon)
Mom's Mac and Cheese at Bite Cafe is a homestyle mac and cheese, with none of the fancy stuff. It's good unadorned, but we do encourage adding on bacon and tomatoes; the tomatoes add juiciness to each forkful, and the bacon adds smoke and meatiness to make the mac and cheese more substantial. It's also topped with sliced scallions, which lend a concentrated onion flavor.
Wisconsin Cheddar & Cantal Mac & Cheese at The Bluebird ($10)
The Bluebird's version arrives in a cast-iron serving vessel, which keeps the cheesy noodles hot for a longer period of time. Rather than elbow noodles or cavatappi, the restaurant opts for rotini, which trap plenty of the aged Wisconsin cheddar and cantal cheese blend. Thanks to the Nueske's chewy and ultra-smoky bacon, it's got plenty of substance. This is among the milder mac and cheeses we've encountered, but any mac and cheese with Nueske's bacon is enough to make us order a serving without a second thought.
Macaroni and Cheese at Old Oak Tap ($10)
Old Oak Tap's meal-sized portion features hearty Cavatappi (corkscrew macaroni) noodles bathed in aged cheddar, gruyère, bacon, and mushrooms. It's then topped with breadcrumbs and truffle oil. The noodles are strong enough to withstand a ton of cheese sauce, and the mushrooms add moist little bites along the way. It's definitely among one of the more substantial mac and cheeses we've seen.
Handmade Makaruni at NoMI ($28)
Sounds like a joke, right? It's not. Sure, Makaruni sounds similar to macaroni, but it is a very real noodle, one with its own unique history. So should this gorgeous plate of pasta count? Why not! A salty Parmesan-laced sauce coats each hand-rolled noodle, while wild mushrooms help give it heft. Sure it's stunning, but it's also comforting and warming, exactly the kind of dish mac and cheese aspires to be.
Mac & Cheese at Lillie's Q ($5)
Mac and cheese noodles can tend toward overdoneness, but Lillie's corkscrew pasta comes out perfectly springy and structured. The cheese flavor is tangy, almost vinegary, and the crunchy topping adds textural complexity.
GT "Mac and Cheese" at GT Fish & Oyster ($14)
The GT "Mac and Cheese" is drier than many of the others we tried, but who couldn't get behind the plump pieces of lobster and English peas that punctuate the orecchiette noodles. The flavors are subtle, but they go well with GT's seafood-centric menu.
Smoked Gouda Mac at Handlebar ($4.00 for side)
Handlebar's side dish of mac and cheese isn't particularly sexy looking, with a pale cheese sauce and the usual elbow macaroni noodles. But looks are definitely deceiving. This mac and cheese features firm noodles in a tangy smoked gouda sauce that is velvety smooth with no graininess. It's on the thinner side, but balanced perfectly to ensure that each noodle is coated.