Macaroni and cheese is about as iconic in American comfort cuisine as hamburgers and apple pie. Its versatility surpasses most dishes, with seemingly endless pasta and dairy options to choose from. We think beyond the blue box to provide you with 10 melty varieties that can be considered entire meals on their own.
Beer may be the best beverage to pair with a dish of cheesy mac. The right brew will cut through its creamy texture and be refreshing at the same time. You can test our theory in Seal Beach, where the OC outpost of Beachwood BBQ provides fine specimens of both. Gruyere beer sauce is the creamy base for hot pasta, plus smoked chiles, green onions and bacon. Hey, that practically covers all the food groups! 131 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 493-4500; www.beachwoodbbq.com.
Chapter One: the modern local
And now, a few words from our editor:
"Mac and cheese is the 'street taco' of the gastropub world. A cliché that, even at its heights, never amounts to much. But Chapter One has always been the exception—what else can you say to a glop of love featuring white Cheddar and fontina cheese, with bacon chunks that explode like chicharrones, and finished off with caramelized-onion relish, toasted panko and truffle oil? What's great about this dish is that it evolves as you eat it, from the initial crunch of the panko to the silken mac-and-cheese part as it transitions to the smokiness of the onion relish, the umami of the bacon and truffle oil, then ends with that crunch."
227 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 352-2225; www.chapteronetml.com.
You could go crazy and order Eat Chow's extreme loaded order of truffle mac. Or you can appreciate a five-cheese blend of Tillamook, muenster, Spanish manchego, Emmentaler Swiss and French goat cheese. The kitchen deviates just a bit with the use of penne, but a Parmesan-and-panko crust more than makes up for it. Savor the calcium bomb while there's still room in your tummy. Locations in Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Santa Ana; www.eatchownow.com.
Former Forker Shuji Sakai pointed out one of the better macs in the area is off Bristol:
"Chefs have to temper their desires to drop their skills on the most inviolable childhood favorites. Some of the best results of that chefly tension? The fontina, gorgonzola and pancetta mac and cheese from Costa Mesa's Ecco restaurant. The ear-shaped orechiette pasta scoops and holds the smooth, creamy sauce made with the easy-melting thickness of fontina cheese and the sharp tang of a gorgonzola blue cheese. Mated with the salty, mildly sweet umami of a cured pancetta, this ranks as one of the best adult mac and cheeses in the county."
2937 Bristol St., Ste. A103, Costa Mesa, (714) 444-3226; www.eccopizza.com.
Elbows Mac N Cheese
It wouldn't be much of a roundup without at least one specialty joint. While there are a bunch of other things to choose from on the Elbows menu, why would you? Aim for the highest cheese pull with its abundance of tried-and-true combinations. Elbows is exactly as it touts: quick, comforting and delicious! 215 W. Birch St., Brea, (714) 784-6613; www.elbowsmacncheese.com.Pig Pen Delicacy
How do you take mac and cheese a step further? Turn it into burger buns! This is the next generation of ramen burger: gooey on the inside, crusty on the outside. Don't deny yourself such brilliance. The MacAttack Burger knows no boundaries, housing an all-beef patty and candied bacon. We can feel those arteries clogging just thinking about it. Various locations, www.pigpendelicacy.com.
Unless you're staying at the hotel (or a well-versed Disney fan), folks are unaware of this fine-dining spot at the main Disneyland Hotel. Pricing may be on the higher side, yet the service, quality of ingredients and attention to detail are what make the difference. For this indulgent side option, Cheddar and black truffle coat the pasta. A toasted blend of herbs and shaving of Parm finishes the dish. More than enough to share, it's what should accompany any proper steak. 1150 W. Magic Way, Anaheim, (714) 778-6600.
The Blind Rabbit
If you're able to gain access to this Anaheim speakeasy, you'll be greatly rewarded with many of the better bartenders and beverage selections around. Blind Rabbit's modest menu is also noteworthy, especially for a shredded duck confit in three-cheese bechamel sauce. Factor in some truffle essence, and you've got a luxe pairing to everything you plan to imbibe. Be still, our booze-infused heart. . . . 440 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim; www.theblindrabbit.com.
The Recess Room
When comparing every dish subsequent to attacking Recess Room's notorious pig's head, Edwin went on to say,
"Everything else we ate that night was light by comparison. The mac and cheese into which we scraped the wiggling marrow from a roasted bone was downright ebullilent— almost a palate cleanser."
For those who think an oozing skillet of mac is no big deal, we double dare you to go the distance and get your bone marrow on. Chucked into a trio of jalapeño mozzarella, pepper jack and Cheddar, it's so wrong it's definitely right. And if you can score extra bacon, might as well. 18380 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 377-0398; www.therecessroom.com.
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Here's what put the Wharf on our Top 100 last year, according to yours truly:
"Someone did the hard part already, and all I had to do was appreciate the handiwork? Done! This homemade version of my tuna mac casserole was as cheesy as can be. Served in a cast-iron skillet, every forkful contained sizable chunks of seafood. Washing it down with beer in the middle of the bustling dining room made it better. So keep struggling with (crawfish-) peeling duty; I'll be macking on my pasta."
12941 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 530-1388; www.thewharfoc.com.