Macaroni and cheese. What began as an inexpensive school cafeteria lunch for most of us has turned into an adult's obsession: the search for the ultimate dish of firm noodles engulfed in creamy béchamel sauce and topped with a layer of golden-brown cheese.
Though the classic mac 'n' cheese consists of elbow noodles and cheddar or American cheese sauce, there are so many variations -- topped with breadcrumbs, baked into individual mini casseroles, made with upscale ingredients such as truffle oil and lobster. Frankly, we love them all.
Here's a list of our top ten favorite mac 'n' cheese dishes, from classic to epic. All have one thing in common: bubbling, cheesy goodness that warms both heart and stomach.
10. Burger & Beer Joint
The love child of mac 'n' cheese and potatoes au gratin, Mac Daddy Cheese Gratin ($7) is served as a side, but who are we kidding? We love it as a main dish. Two traditional calorie- and cheese-laden substances combine in a flash of genius to give us a dose of carbs and comfort. Now all we need is a soft pillow and a fleece blankie.
9. Purple People Eatery
Your mom always told you to eat your broccoli, so here's something to finally make you love veggies. The Purple People Eatery food truck's Mac 'n' Jack ($5) comes with three cheeses -- Monterey jack, sharp cheddar, and Gouda -- and broccoli. Add bacon for $2, and you have all of your food groups covered -- cheese, noodle, piggy goodness, and veggies.
8. City Hall
This elegant dish comes with many entrées (or as a dinner side for $8). A touch of maple syrup complements the bits of chorizo added to the dish to make it salty, sweet, and extremely satisfying.
7. Bulldog Barbeque
Top Chef alum Howie Kleinberg's venture into barbecue means a slew of traditional Southern sides are offered at his establishment. His mac 'n' cheese ($/8) has old Southern charm -- rich and creamy and a little dense -- just like a down-home after-church potluck supper, so don't be surprised if you'll want to thank the Lord after eating it.
6. Mac'n Food Truck
What is that amazing cheddar in this mac 'n 'cheese? Well, don't tell your animal-eating friends until after they lick the plate clean that it's soy! Yes, the Mac'n Food truck is totally vegan, but it's delicious -- so pull that PETA T-shirt you got as a gag gift out of the closet and enjoy the ride. P.S.: This mac 'n' cheese can also be made gluten-free.
The problem with eating macaroni and cheese is that, like soup, it's a little difficult to manage on the run. Food truck CheeseMe has solved your problems with its mac 'n' cheese pancake ($4). A generous dollop of mac 'n' cheese is thrown onto the griddle to form a pancake. Added benefit: two sides of crispy, crusty, cheesy goodness. Purely decadent and amazingly portable.
LuLu is our go-to place for truffle mac 'n' cheese ($13). Served in an individual, bubbling casserole straight from the oven, the dish boasts a perfect balance of cheese, macaroni, and truffle oil. Our nirvana: the magic moment when the cheese has cooled just enough to prevent the roof of your mouth from fusing to your fork. Dig in.
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Served in its own crock, this dish is formidable. Yardbird's mac 'n' cheese ($8) is made with oversize torchio pasta and topped with an herb crust. It's a thick and cheesy delight that makes us think we're at some dinner table in Charleston rather than a restaurant in SoBe.
2. Red the Steakhouse
This is the mac 'n' cheese that will forever clear up the notion that the dish is blue-collar only. Red the Steakhouse's lobster mac and cheese is one decadent serving of rich béchamel, fresh herbs, and lobster. Huge, pink, succulent, sweet lobster. At $49, it might induce sticker shock. But hey -- Ferraris don't come cheap either.
1. Prime One Twelve
The top steak house in town (naturally) must have the top macaroni and cheese. So it is written; so it is done. The five-cheese truffle mac 'n' cheese ($13) is perfection. Perfectly cooked macaroni is lovingly married to a blend of gourmet cheese and liberally drizzled with truffle oil before being topped with a crunchy breadcrumb topping. Is it blasphemy to say we'd skip the steak and have a second helping?