Oh, macaroni and cheese. There is something special about breaking into a baked cheese crust to find noodles swimming in even more cheese. Comfort food is spreading like a wildfire in this city, so there are quite a few noteworthy versions of the dish. Take a look... we've come a long way since the Kraft mac n cheese of our youth.
Photo by Eric A. on Yelp
Dig into a bowl of Q's "Macaroni and Cheezy," made extra special topped by tater tots. One bite of this combo, and the flavors will transport you back to your childhood kitchen. It is dually crispy and gooey, and is just as decadent and comforting as it sounds.
Photo by Mission Cheese
Sara Dvorak loves her cheese, so leave it to her to come up with the most balanced flavor profiles possible at her store on Valencia. She rotates 4-5 regular cheeses, which always include an earthy clothbound cheddar and a robust meaty melter, like Cowgirl's Wagonwheel or Reading Raclette from Vermont's Spring Brook Farm. It's baked to order with buttery Della Fattoria bread crumbs and served in a small cast iron. Get there early, because they do sell out.
Photo by Eva Frye
Chef Cory Obenour's recipe for Blue Plate is so spot-on that it hasn't changed much in the 13 years it's been on the menu. He starts with a béchamel and kicks it up with Tabasco, nutmeg, dry mustard, and a little worcestershire to round out a savory flavor. But back to the cheese: A firm Spanish drunken goat cheese, called Murcia al Vino. The tang of goat cheese is the first to hit you, followed by the warm acidic punch of Tabasco. Although it was my third tasting of the day, I almost finished the entire bowl, served bubbling hot in a terra cotta cazuela.
Photo by Eva Frye
A small ramekin comes to your table, thick brown parmesan crust hiding pasta below. Break into it and you'll find perfectly al-dente macaroni noodles swimming in molten white cheddar cheese. The crust is crunchy and salty, the sauce tangy and fragrant with rosemary. This small ramekin of Paragon's version is big on flavor and is rich enough that it's actually the perfect serving size.
Photo by Dan Jung
If you take your mac seriously, then you must head over the bridge to Homeroom in Oakland, a restaurant that specializes in the dish. Owners Allison Arevalo and Erin Wade are fond of their traditional version: Large, ridged elbows with 2-year aged cheddar and a little pecorino. But their biggest seller is the "Gilroy Mac." They make roasted garlic butter and combine it with gouda and pecorino. It has just the right amount of garlic, and the gouda makes it incredibly creamy. And don't forget about the "Trailer Mac," with sliced hot dogs and a crumbled potato chip topping.
For the do-it-yourselfers: Grub has a mac n' cheese bar. It comes with fusilli pasta as the base, in a creamy blend of white and sharp cheddar, finished with grana padana parmesan breadcrumbs. There are a multitude of toppings and combinations, but a favorite is a south-of-the-border spin with Chorizo and Jalapeño. Or, if you're feeling fancy, try Maine lobster and truffle oil.
Photo by Eva Frye
American Grilled Cheese Kitchen
Down in SoMa, American Grilled Cheese Kitchen will give you a hearty serving of the dish topped in crispy crumbled garlicky croutons, whose fillings change daily. This week, they had bacon, leek, red wine. Owner Nate Pollak's favorite was a soppressata, roasted tomato, italian herb combo. Or, get a mac 'n cheese grilled cheese. That's right, mac 'n cheese stuffed into a grilled cheese sandwich with, you guess it, more cheese (and bacon!). Nate said there's easily 1/3 a pound of cheese in there.
With all the possible add-ons people jazz up their mac 'n cheeses with, Farmer Brown's is special because of simplicity. Chef Jay Foster keeps the flavor profile straightforward with Tillamook cheddar, served baked golden brown in an individual cast iron skillet. Add some fried chicken and collard greens to the table for the ultimate in a comfort-style meal.
Gruyère, aged cheddar, and parmigiano-reggiano come together in Fat Angel's version for one of the cheesiest versions on the list. Seriously, the cheese-to-noodle ratio is like 2:1. Top it in a generous handful of bread crumbs, and there's no way it couldn't make the list.
Photo by Elise on Foodspotting
Piquant Shropshire Blue, creamy Dutch Gouda and tangy white Cheddar seem to combine to make just the flavor combination that Tipsy likes–and why not cook the cheese sauce with bacon fat? It ensures smokiness throughout the dish. They crumble bacon on top to finish, and bake it with parmesan.
Who serves your favorite version of mac 'n cheese in SF?