Thomas Jefferson helped popularize mac and cheese when he served the dish at an 1802 state dinner (after lugging home a pasta machine from France). Ever since, chefs have been whipping up their own incarnations of this quintessential comfort food.
At Queens Kickshaw in New York, for instance, cooks throw green beans into a mix of fancy Gruyère and smoked mozzarella, while San Francisco’s Blue Plate submerges its noodles in wine-drenched goat cheese.
Other restaurants, like Community Q in Atlanta and The Old Fashioned in Madison, WI, win over diners by perfecting the mac-and-cheese basics.
“While I admire the creative concoctions coming out of a lot of kitchens, I’m a purist when it comes to mac and cheese,” says Yasmin Fahr, a recipe columnist at SeriousEats.com. “I don’t want bits of bacon, lobster, or kale in there—just good old-fashioned noodles and cheese—the more cheese, the better.”
No matter how they prefer it, enthusiasts would surely agree on two points: mac and cheese can be so much tastier than the kind that comes in a blue box, and it’s worth traveling to sample the very best.
As Stephanie Bourgeois, head recipe tester at Food52.com, a food site for home cooks, puts it: “Looking for the perfect mac and cheese can feel a bit like the quest for the Holy Grail.”
It seems daunting to even try to unearth America’s best mac and cheese, but we sure had fun along the way. Check out our favorites and share yours in the comments below.