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America's Best Mac and Cheese (PHOTOS)

Posted: 10/15/2013 12:39 pm

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.

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. It seems daunting to even try to unearth America's best mac and cheese, but we sure had fun along the way.

--Jessica Adamiak

See All of America's Best Mac and Cheese

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  • Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, Seattle and New York

    <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/americas-best-mac-and-cheese/9" title="America's Best Mac and Cheese" target="_hplink">See More of America's Best Mac and Cheese</a><br><br> Located in Seattle’s iconic <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/travel-guide/downtown-seattle/activities/pike-place-market" target="_hplink">Pike Place Market</a>, Beecher’s wins multiple American Cheese Society awards each year and has been heralded by die-hard fans as well as <em>The Martha Stewart Show</em> as the “world’s best.” The dish gets its special oomph from Beecher’s Flagship cheese, which is aged 15 months to develop its signature nutty flavor. A dash of chipotle adds a hint of smokiness. No plans to venture west? Swing by Beecher’s New York City outpost—or try <a href="http://www.beechershandmadecheese.com/CheesyInfo/Recipes/FirmCheese/BeechersWorldsBestMacCheese.aspx" target="_hplink">the recipe</a> at home. <br><br><em>Photo: Courtesy of Beecher's</em>

  • Cheesetique, Arlington and Alexandria, VA

    <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/americas-best-mac-and-cheese/9" title="America's Best Mac and Cheese" target="_hplink">See More of America's Best Mac and Cheese</a><br><br> In 2004, Cheesetique owner Jill Erber ditched a cushy office job developing software to open her very own cheese emporium (and wine bar, as of 2008). We’ll be forever grateful she did: the shop’s decadent mac features a mix of rich goat Gouda, zesty Asiago, and tangy Cacio di Roma. For extra crunch, Erber tops her gooey masterpiece with crispy bread crumbs coated in truffle oil. <em><a href="http://cheesetique.com" target="_hplink">cheesetique.com</a></em> <br><br><em>Photo: Courtesy of Cheesetique</em>

  • Mizuna Mac and Cheese, Denver

    <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/americas-best-mac-and-cheese/9" title="America's Best Mac and Cheese" target="_hplink">See More of America's Best Mac and Cheese</a><br><br> Inspired by mentor Thomas Keller’s famous lobster mac and cheese with orzo, chef Frank Bonanno makes his version by drenching sweet, poached lobster meat in mascarpone cheese and heavy cream—along with good old-fashioned macaroni noodles. Bonanno’s saucy take strikes the perfect balance between refined flavor and careless indulgence. It’s best savored after a day spent exploring Denver’s many outdoor attractions. <em><a href="http://mizunadenver.com" target="_hplink">mizunadenver.com</a></em> <br><br><em>Photo: Courtesy of Mizuna</em>

  • Crave Kitchen & Cocktails, Mount Pleasant, SC

    <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/americas-best-mac-and-cheese/9" title="America's Best Mac and Cheese" target="_hplink">See More of America's Best Mac and Cheese</a><br><br> Some restaurant menus make vague claims of “award-winning” recipes, but Crave’s mac and cheese is the real deal. Voted the <a href="http://www.esquire.com/blogs/food-for-men/crave-best-mac-winner" target="_hplink">“most life-changing mac ‘n’ cheese in America”</a> by <em>Esquire</em>’s readers, the dish also dominated the People’s Choice Award at Charleston’s annual Mac Off competition—three times in a row. Credit goes to the corkscrew-shaped cavatappi noodles, which give the dish an ultra-chewy texture, plus a few top-secret ingredients suggested by the chef’s daughter. <em><a href="http://cravemtp.com" target="_hplink">cravemtp.com</a></em> <br><br><em>Photo: Sharen Mitchell</em>

  • Little Bird, Portland, OR

    <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/americas-best-mac-and-cheese/9" title="America's Best Mac and Cheese" target="_hplink">See More of America's Best Mac and Cheese</a><br><br> Known for its local produce and artisanal foods, Portland’s foodie scene doesn’t mess around (just check out these <a href="http://www.portlandmonthlymag.com/eat-and-drink/eat-beat/articles/our-favorite-portlandia-foodie-moments-march-2012" target="_hplink">hilarious <em>Portlandia</em> clips</a>). And neither does Little Bird’s mac and cheese. Gabriel Rucker, a 2011 James Beard Rising Star Chef, combines Tillamook cheddar and Emmi Gruyère with one rotating cheese to make the restaurant’s “macaroni gratin” worth coming back for repeatedly. Chives add a note of freshness. <em><a href="http://littlebirdbistro.com" target="_hplink">littlebirdbistro.com</a></em> <br><br><em>Photo: Courtesy of Little Bird/ Chef Peter</em>

  • Queens Kickshaw, Queens, NY

    <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/americas-best-mac-and-cheese/9" title="America's Best Mac and Cheese" target="_hplink">See More of America's Best Mac and Cheese</a><br><br> The mac at Queens Kickshaw contains the typical ingredients you’d expect in a fancy mac and cheese: smoked mozzarella, Gruyère, and…green beans? The popular Astoria restaurant sells an incarnation of the dish many mac purists would consider blasphemous. But chef Youngsun Lee knows what he’s doing, having worked at some of New York’s best restaurants—like <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/travel-guide/new-york-city/restaurants/annisa" target="_hplink">Annisa</a> and <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/travel-guide/east-village/restaurants/momofuku-noodle-bar-new-york-city" target="_hplink">Momofuku Noodle Bar</a>. Still unsure? It’s worth the trek to Queens to decide for yourself. <em><a href="http://thequeenskickshaw.com" target="_hplink">thequeenskickshaw.com</a></em> <br><br><em>Photo: Courtesy of Queen's Kickshaw</em>

  • Community Q BBQ, Atlanta

    <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/americas-best-mac-and-cheese/9" title="America's Best Mac and Cheese" target="_hplink">See More of America's Best Mac and Cheese</a><br><br> Look up Atlanta barbecue joint Community Q online, and you’ll quickly notice a pattern: almost every review of the down-home restaurant near Emory University contains fervent declarations like “Unbelievably delicious!” and even “Inspiring!” Owner David Roberts makes his signature baked mac with rigatoni pasta and a medley of cheeses including sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack, and Parmesan. It’s the perfect accompaniment to classic southern barbecue favorites like pulled pork and sliced beef brisket. <em><a href="http://communityqbbq.com" target="_hplink">communityqbbq.com</a></em> <br><br><em>Photo: Courtesy of Community Q</em>

 

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