Macaroni and cheese is one of those perfect foods. Whether made with powder from a packet or a combination of five cheeses and béchamel sauce, it’s nearly impossible to dislike. In recent years, mac and cheese has become a staple of restaurants ranging from barbecue joints to bistros, and we’ve tracked down the best examples in America.
Macaroni and cheese is one of the most democratic foods in existence. There’s a version for everybody: Kids grow up fiercely devoted to either Kraft’s powder-based version or Velveeta’s shells and cheese, and adults rediscover their childhood favorite as a more upscale offering, created by chefs who employ a variety of cheeses, carefully selected with an eye for meltiness and flavor, and may change up the pasta to something more interesting than elbow macaroni.
Devising a winning recipe for mac and cheese is a lot more difficult than it looks. You can’t just melt a bunch of cheese over pasta; you’ll end up with a rubbery mess. Some cheeses also melt better than others: a big chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano isn’t going to soften much at all, while Gruyère melts like a dream. Fresh mozzarella has a nice stretchiness when it melts, but also imparts a lot of moisture. Some cheeses, like Cheddar, can turn chewy when they melt, making the finished product waxy and greasy, but, in the right hands, they add a sharpness and depth of flavor like none other. And some of the best macaroni and cheeses start with béchamel sauce (essentially roux that's been thinned with milk or cream); when the right combination of cheeses is added to this mixture, it becomes a creamy, gooey, unctuous cheese sauce that serves as the foundation for a world-class pasta dish. Add-ins like peas, bacon, or sausage may play a major role in the finished product as well.
In order to choose America’s best macaroni and cheeses, we rounded up a list of dozens of variations from all across the country, taking advantage of pre-existing rankings and tapping into the knowledge of our team of editors and city editors. We then graded each mac and cheese on composition (blend of cheeses and pasta selection), level of local and national renown, and overall deliciousness factor. It was neck-and-neck, but, in the end, one rose to the top of the pack. Read on to learn which restaurants are serving the best macaroni and cheese in America.