On the Road Eats: Mac and Cheese

Sink your spoon into these Food Network-approved mac and cheese hot spots.

©Joe Vaughn

Joe Vaughn

On a mission to discover the country's best mac and cheese, we rounded up these top spots that serve the creamiest, most-comforting versions of the classic dish. So grab a spoon and hit the road with these masters of macaroni, savoring each cheesy stop along the way, from old-fashioned baked casseroles to gourmet lobster mac.

Yankee Lobster Company — Boston
Guy Fieri made a beeline for Beantown when he heard about this company's famous mac and cheese made with local lobster meat. The family members behind Yankee Lobster have "saltwater running through their veins," and they use fresh-off-the-boat lobsters in their specialty dish, which Guy called "the Cadillac of comfort food." After selecting a massive lobster by hand from a saltwater tank, the tender claw meat is added to a silky white wine and cheddar cheese sauce that's flecked with oven-roasted tomatoes. With a scattering of seasoned panko breadcrumbs topping 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.

The Precinct — Cincinnati
Featured on Chef Wanted, The Precinct opened in 1981 as Cincinnati's first upscale steakhouse and has since gained elite status as the longest-running fine-dining restaurant in the city. Located in a former police patrol house, this institution is known for its steaks and service, and it delivers unbeatable side dishes to match. The owner's baked mac and cheese recipe has legions of loyal fans, thanks to its upscale spin on the basic ingredients. Six different imported cheeses share the stage in this decadent dish, including English cheddar and Asiago, and a generous dose of caramelized onions adds sweet depth to the sauce. With such a rich background, it's clear why this mac and cheese continues to be a hit with diners of all ages.

Nickel Diner — Los Angeles
Set in the historic core of L.A. in the area they used to call "The Nickel," this 70-year-old hot spot is known for diner food with California flair. The menu boasts a cozy mix of comfort food from homemade pop tarts to specialty burgers, all of which go best with a side of Smac and Cheese. This retro twist on the cheesy staple uses a blend of cheddar, fontina, pepper Jack and mozzarella cheeses, and spicy roasted tomatoes are mixed in for tang. Topped with breadcrumbs and herbs, this four-cheese combo blew Guy away on Triple D. Best of all, you can order this one-of-a-kind mac any time of day, as the Nickel's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; and who says mac and cheese can't be for breakfast?

Smack Shack at the 1029 Bar – Minneapolis
What happens when a specialty food truck meets a beloved dive bar? 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. 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.

Mad Donna’s — Nashville
With a full section of the menu devoted to Mad Macs, you know that this Music City joint must be serious about mac and cheese. There are six "mad" variations on classic mac to choose from, including chicken pesto, a Cajun-spiced Mardi Gras mac and an over-the-top white truffle mac and cheese. On Heat Seekers, Aarón Sánchez and Roger Mooking braved the most intense mac of all, the blazing hot habanero mac and cheese. Amplified by whole habanero peppers and doubly spicy habanero powder in the cheese sauce, this "menacing" mac is topped with even more heat in the form of "hellfire crunch," a mix of crumbled tortilla chips and habanero powder. Aarón and Roger agreed that this fiery comfort food had a delicious "citrusy heat," but be warned that you might require an emergency glass of cold milk after just a few spoonfuls.

Cochon Butcher — New Orleans
Featured on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, this Big Easy sandwich shop is known for its incredible cured meats and homemade sausages, so it comes as no surprise that they're turning out a meaty mac and cheese as well. Cochon Butcher's pancetta mac and cheese is more than just a side dish, with its decadent combination of cream cheese and sharp white cheddar, plus a hint of tomato paste for tang. Stuffed with cubes of house-cured pancetta and finished with a Parmesan breadcrumb topping, this belly-filling mac goes far beyond "bar food" and is a must-order for every visit.

Melba’s — New York
Bobby Flay showed up to this Harlem hot spot to challenge the owner to a fried chicken Throwdown, but the homespun menu excels far beyond the bird. The owner was "born, bred and buttered in Harlem," and she still uses generations' old family recipes that harken back to the neighborhood's golden age. Her crowd-pleasing Tres Mac and Cheese blends pepper Jack, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses together for a dish that goes hand in hand with the restaurant's comforting classics of collard greens and black-eyed peas. Serving up the best mac and cheese in Harlem, it's clear that the owner has earned her title as the "queen of soul food."

The Slaw Dogs — Pasadena, Calif.
This California hot dog haven gives the humble dog a whole lot of attitude with 11 different types of dogs and 60 toppings to choose from. Featured on Outrageous Food and referred to as "avant-garde on a bun," this joint offers just about every topping you could wish for, including mac and cheese. Combining two classic comfort foods into one inventive hybrid, the mac and cheese dog tops a Vienna beef hot dog with bacon, grilled onions, Dijon, and a creamy scoop of mac and cheese. It's over-the-top decadent and undeniably delicious, and it's just one of the many ways you can customize your meal at this unusual eatery, whose hot dogs are hailed as the best in L.A.

The Duce — Phoenix, Ariz.
You'll find plenty to keep you busy at this refurbished warehouse, like a soda fountain, a jazz bar and even a boxing gym, but best of all, you'll be introduced to the kitchen's most-famous creation: mac and cheese muffins. Housed in an old airstream trailer, the kitchen churns out basketfuls of these creamy bites each night. The savory muffins host a mix of Gruyere, cheddar and goat cheese-laced macaroni that's piled over a crispy crust of panko breadcrumbs and Parmesan. With 10 of these cheesy morsels to each order, Guy compared the dish to "culinary Christmas" and claimed that they're worth an extra week at the gym. Good thing that gym is right next door, since you'll be spending a good deal of time at this underground scene with its hand-held spin on classic mac.

Blueplate Lunch Counter & Soda Fountain — Portland, Oregon
Pull up a stool at this old-school downtown spot and you'll feel as though you've traveled back to a 1920s-era soda shop, complete with scratch-made sodas and lunch counter classics like grilled cheese and tomato soup. You'd never guess there's no kitchen or stove inside, as the chef uses electric cooktops to craft his dishes, like the specialty mac and cheese. Stocked with smoky bacon and mushrooms, Blueplate's mac is threaded with basil, thyme and rosemary, and it packs a slight kick thanks to pepper Jack cheese sauce. Guy called out its incredible creaminess and "primo" bacon flavor, saying that he could eat plates and plates of this good old-fashioned comfort food.

Tee Off Bar & Grill — San Francisco
This 19th hole beer joint is everything you'd expect to find near a golf course, until you open the menu, that is. Serving "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 couldn't get enough of on Triple D. Even if golf's not your game, after a few spoonfuls of this meaty mac, you'll be glad (like Guy) that you found this five-star dive bar.

The 5 Point Café — Seattle
As the longest-running family eatery in Seattle and oldest bar in Belltown, this joint knows a thing or two about comfort food. Open 24 hours a day since 1929, it also boasts "Seattle's best jukebox" and a mean made-to-order mac and cheese. Chock-full of five different cheeses, this mac elevates elbow pasta with the option to add bacon, ham, jalapenos or chicken breast to the dish for an extra meaty mac attack. If one cheesy serving just isn't enough, try the café's mac and cheese wedges on the side — golden-brown nuggets of breaded and deep-fried pasta with a gooey, molten core. In other words, 5 Point lets you have your mac and eat it too.

Sweetie Pie’s — St. Louis, Missouri
The phrase "nobody cooks like Sweetie Pie" is a well-known St. Louis expression by now, with the owner of this soul-food spot having served up homespun favorites since 1997. Though she 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 before it's baked in giant batches. After one taste on Triple D, Guy wished he had an extra stomach for enjoying double portions of Sweetie Pie's super-cheesy mac that's always "made with love."

Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co. — Topsham, Maine
The claws came out when Bobby challenged the owner of this lobster company to a mac and cheese Throwdown featuring the crimson crustacean. Born and raised in Maine's oldest commercial lobstering village, Cal Hancock is the undefeated "lobster queen" of the Northeast, and she's got the trophies to prove it. Her award-winning Port Clyde Lobster Mac and Cheese has been hailed as "cashmere-quality comfort food," and the dish features claw and knuckle meat from the freshest local lobsters. Cal lets the sweetness of the lobster sing through by using mascarpone cheese as the base of her sauce, which adds an unbeatable silkiness and subtle tang when mixed with a secret mix of spices. Luckily for Bobby and the rest of the country, Cal's seaworthy mac and cheese is available by mail order year-round, and it can be found making waves in many gourmet food stores as well.

Clarkston Union Bar & Kitchen — Village of Clarkston, Mich.
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 restored church turned diner 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 cheese (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 each cheesy layer and declared that the dish was in the "bomb" category amongst all the macs he's tried. For a seaside twist on this legendary 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.

For more FN-approved destinations, check out Food Network On the Road.

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