On the Road: Best Mac and Cheese

Whether you’re craving a classic bowl of mac bubbling over with cheese or an entirely new spin, check out these rich and creamy finds beloved by Guy Fieri, Michael Symon and other Food Network stars.

Photo By: HenryCherry ©(c)2014

©Joe Vaughn

Mac to the Max

Mac-and-cheese cravings don’t end in childhood. Some of the country’s best restaurants and bars are elevating the comfort-food classic, concocting new ways to create creamy, ultra-appealing renditions with luxurious add-ons (think lobster and truffle oil), filling mash-ups (mac burger, anyone?) and multicheese marvels. So grab a spoon and hit the road with these masters of macaroni.

Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant

In a city known for its country music and ’cue, this lively Nashville restaurant lets diners get their fill of both. Michael Symon stopped by on Burgers, Brew & ’Que to dig into a platter that combines mac and cheese with Southern smoked meat. Cherry-smoked pulled pork is doused in a bold barbecue sauce, then piled high with a heaping portion of paprika-spiced bacon mac. Make the dish your main event or enjoy it as an opener for a night of live country music onstage.

Smack Shack at the 1029 Bar

What happens when a specialty food truck meets a beloved dive bar in Minneapolis? They combine to form what Guy called an "adult Disneyland" that serves up lobster dishes of all sorts — and plenty of brews on the side. The Smack Shack uses the bar's kitchen as its home base and stuffs the menu with freshly made lobster rolls, po' boys and the house favorite, lobster mac and cheese, which Guy tasted on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Combining lightly poached lobster meat with a fontina and Taleggio cheese sauce, Guy compared this ocean-fresh mac to creamy fondue, calling it “rich a la rich.” With added crunch from sweet corn kernels and panko breadcrumbs, this indulgent dish is an unexpected find inside a neighborhood watering hole.

Andiron Steak and Sea

Sin City is known for its excessive inclinations, but even so, a waffle crafted from mac and cheese is like hitting the culinary jackpot. Served at sleek modern steakhouse Andiron Steak and Sea — owned by Vegas power couple Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla — the over-the-top creation starts with a four-cheese mac. Individual portions of the baked mac and cheese are coated in panko breadcrumbs, then pressed into the waffle iron. The result is a crackly, golden-brown crust that gives way to a gooey, cheesy center, making for a dish that earned raves from Fabio Viviani on Guilty Pleasures. A topping of ground Parmesan cheese and a side of silky cheese sauce round out the richness.

Cheesetique

Cheese is the name of the game at this gourmet shop and restaurant. Not only does owner Jill Erber stock more than 300 cheeses at her two locations, but she also serves a menu of cheese-centric dishes, including her signature mac. Cheesetique’s kitchen elevates the basic recipe with three cheeses and one especially luxurious ingredient, as Geoffrey Zakarian explained on Top 5 Restaurants. This addition — white truffle oil — lends an earthiness to the cheese sauce, made from a robust blend of goat Gouda, Cacio di Roma and Asiago. Semolina pasta, finely chopped shallots and a topping of breadcrumbs round out the cheese lovers’ ultimate mac.

Alewife

Though this hip Baltimore tavern — housed in a former bank — bills itself as a beer bar, its 90-plus brews aren’t the only draw, as Guy Fieri soon realized during his visit here on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Alewife also cranks out seriously creative eats, including a hearty mash-up that turns mac and cheese into a pub-food poutine. Traditional elbow macaroni is switched out for rotini, which is coated in a three-cheese sauce composed of Gruyère, Parmesan and locally sourced cheddar. The pasta is then heaped onto duck-fat fries, along with collard greens and pork belly.

The Little Jewel of New Orleans

Chinatown may not be the first place that comes to mind in a search for Cajun and Creole cuisine, but that’s exactly where Los Angeles chef Marcus Christiana-Beniger has created a deli-market in a converted Chinese restaurant. Guy headed to The Little Jewel on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives for stick-to-your-ribs dishes that incorporate signature Big Easy flavors, as with the crawfish-laced mac and cheese. The three-cheese mac incorporates caramelized onions, white wine and a Creole spice blend, with the pasta cooked in seafood stock to ensure maximal flavor.

Clarkston Union Bar & Kitchen

For the "most-macked mac and cheese" in Michigan, Guy turned to Kid Rock's favorite hometown hangout to try a twist on the creamy comfort food. This diner in a restored church is churning out American classics like flaky pot pie and meatloaf, but it's the mac and cheese that really put it on the map. Made with Canadian sharp cheddar and mild Pinconning (an aged, Colby-style cheese), this mac uses penne rigate pasta instead of elbow macaroni so the thick cream sauce settles into the ridges. Guy was impressed with the breadcrumb crunch hidden between the cheesy layers and declared that the dish was in the "bomb" category among all the macs he's tried. For a seaside twist on this dish, try Clarkston's lobster mac and cheese, too, which combines roasted jalapenos and pepper Jack cheese with the fresh crustacean for a spicy, briny kick.

Roaring Fork

This Austin-based modern New American restaurant group offers a menu that channels the Old West, showcasing wood-fired cooking and bold Southwestern flavors. Even mac and cheese gets a turn in the wood-fired oven, creating a creamy-crunchy combo that Fabio Viviani raved about on Guilty Pleasures. Roasted poblano peppers give the dish a Texas twist, added to mounds of pepper Jack cheese and caramelized onions. The mix coats elbow macaroni that’s poured into a miniature cast-iron cauldron and topped with panko breadcrumbs, creating a satisfyingly crunchy crust in the oven.

Catch

Catch is known for its celebrity clientele, but you don't have to be famous to feast on seafood at this multilevel colossus. Catch’s lobster-studded mac is a star in its own right, as Tia Mowry enthused on Guilty Pleasures. A luscious Maine lobster stock is the base for a buttery cream sauce, which is used in place of water to cook the elbow macaroni and infuse extra flavor. Mascarpone cheese adds silky consistency, with breadcrumbs and chives for crunch and a kick. Morsels of claw and tail meat stud the dish, filling each spoonful with briny-sweet flavor.

Boston Burger Company

Mac and cheese goes meaty at this multilocation burger joint, which cranks out a mac-burger mash-up sandwiched between toasted buns. Guy headed to the Boston Burger Company on Triple D to check out the over-the-top Mac Attack Burger. Chef-Owner Paul Malvone starts with a buttery, onion-studded sauce made with American, cheddar, cheddar Jack, Parmesan, Pecorino Romano and a healthy pour of hot sauce. Once poured onto elbow macaroni, the mixture cools overnight until it can stand up to the final step: a turn on the flattop. An individual-size portion of mac is heaped with shredded cheddar Jack and grilled until gooey, then topped with strips of bacon and piled onto a beef patty.

Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co.

The claws came out when Bobby challenged the owner of this lobster company to a lobster-mac-and-cheese throwdown. Born and raised in Maine's oldest commercial lobstering village, Cal Hancock is known as the "lobster queen" of the Northeast, with the trophies to prove it. Her Port Clyde Lobster Mac and Cheese features claw and knuckle meat from the freshest local lobsters. Cal lets the sweetness of the lobster rise through by using mascarpone cheese as the base of her sauce, which adds silkiness and subtle tang against her secret mix of spices. Luckily for Bobby and the rest of the country, Cal's seaworthy winner is available by mail order year-round.

Tee Off Bar & Grill

This 19th-hole beer joint is everything you'd expect to find near a golf course — until you open the menu, that is. Though the restaurant serves elevated pub grub like pulled pork and porterhouse steaks, the signature dish is mac and cheese. Tee Off Bar & Grill's version is studded with crispy sauteed pancetta and crowded with cheeses, including cheddar, Monterey, Asiago, fontina, Parmesan and provolone. With so many gooey cheeses on board, there's barely room for the noodles themselves, which results in a “super creamy, dreamy” mac and cheese that Guy dove into on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Even if you don’t have a tee time, this meaty mac is worth a visit.

Yankee Lobster Company

Guy made a beeline for Beantown on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives when he heard about this seafood market’s mac and cheese made with local lobster. Once the fresh-off-the-boat catches arrive, they’re dropped into tanks that pump in saltwater straight from Boston Harbor. To make the dish some have called “the Cadillac of comfort food,” tender morsels of claw and tail meat are added to a silky white wine and cheddar cheese sauce with oven-roasted tomatoes. With a scattering of seasoned panko breadcrumbs to top it off, this mega-rich mac "puts a shadow over all other mac and cheeses" and is well worth a road trip any time of year.

Sweetie Pie’s

There’s a reason "nobody cooks like Sweetie Pie" has become a well-known St. Louis expression: This soul-food spot has served homespun favorites since 1997. Though Sweetie Pie started out as a singer, she eventually put down the mic and picked up a pot, which she fills with signature dishes like her mammoth-sized mac and cheese. It's been made the same way in her family for 40 years: Macaroni is blended with cubes of Velveeta cheese, cheddar, Colby Jack and sour cream, then baked in giant batches. After one taste on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Guy wished he had an extra stomach for enjoying double portions of Sweetie Pie's super-cheesy mac that's always made with love.