9 Mac and Cheeses in the Bay Area That Will Make Your Mouth Drool
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Some foods you eat because they’re trendy and some foods you eat because they’re too bizarre not to. But when you’re homesick, or tired, or cozy and happy, you don’t crave fancy foie gras or squid tentacles. You want something simple and familiar, a dish that is basically a creamy, carby hug that reminds you that you’re gonna make it after all. I’m referring, of course, to macaroni and cheese.
From the blue box of Kraft to your grandma’s secret recipe there are few meals that make you feel so good so fast. And it’s no surprise that in the land of adult children, this is one dish many restaurants throw on the menu. Here are some of the best macs in the Bay (please resist the urge to lick your computer screen).
In Cheesus name we pray.
Mission Cheese (736 Valencia St., San Francisco)
If you ever wondered what it would be like to melt a bougie cheese plate over some macaroni, you need to try the heaven that is Mission Cheese’s mac and cheese. The portion size is perfect for one person and incorporates several of its more upscale offerings. The dish is made with clothbound cheddar and has a creamy start that finishes super sharp. The bread crumbs on top are insanely crispy and they stay crunchy through the last bite. Price: $10.
Social Kitchen and Brewery (1326 9th Ave., San Francisco)
When you die, you should be buried in truffle oil. That’s the ingredient that makes Social Kitchen’s mac outstanding. The mix of the fancy-pants oil with comfort food mac and cheese is flawless. The English peas also help cut the creaminess of this dish. The bread crumbs are lightly dusted so they’re not super crunchy but they do add texture. You can also add Applewood smoked bacon if you want to really treat yourself. Price: $10.
Bender's (806 South Van Ness Ave., San Francisco)
This is the perfect, non-pretentious mac for when you’re craving all the Kraft you used to eat. It’s definitely a step up from our favorite blue box. Bender’s version is gooey and thick and pairs well with the tartness of side dishes like fried pickles or tater tots. Plus, this hearty mac can serve as the perfect foundation for a night of serious drinking or an “it’s getting late and I’m suddenly starving” option. If you’re adventurous, Bender’s also makes grilled mac and cheese sandwiches that are to die for. Price: $5.
Fat Angel (1740 O'Farrell St., San Francisco)
The mac at Fat Angel comes with a kick. Cayenne pepper is mixed in with Gruyère, cheddar and extra sharp Parmigiano-Reggiano to give this dish a slow-burning spiciness that increases as you eat. The creamy sauce oozes out of each tiny fold of the radiatore pasta. As far as we’re concerned, radiatore is the best vessel for cheese (after thick elbow pasta) so this mac really nails it on the noodle front. Fat Angel is a little miserly with the bread crumbs, which cover only the top center of the dish, but the tanginess of the dish makes up for that. Price: $12.
Straw (203 Octavia Blvd., San Francisco)
At $7 Straw has one of the cheapest macs on the list but also the most unique. It’s topped with thick-cut smoked bacon and red apples. The apples are uncooked and perfectly crisp; their tartness cuts deftly through the thickness of the melted cheese. The smoky flavor of the bacon pervades every bite and the forkful that includes the cheese, the bacon and an apple slice is truly the holy grail. Plus, this place has great atmosphere. We’d recommend pairing this mac with the Big Dipper, which is a lemonade-based cocktail that comes rimmed with Fun Dip, and a bowl of the spicy, candied popcorn. Price: $7.
Wayfare Tavern (558 Sacramento St., San Francisco)
This is a surprisingly simple dish for such an upscale establishment. Wayfare Tavern’s mac is luscious, made with Vella dry Jack cheese and a panko crumb crust that stays crunchy. The white sauce tastes like the delicious love child of traditional mac and cheese sauce and Alfredo sauce. It’s baked with floppy noodles that are more conducive to a good slurp than most macaroni noodles. The sauce is so good you’ll want to lick the bowl clean, but don’t — the fancy waitstaff will judge you hard core. Price: $9.
Souley Vegan (301 Broadway, Oakland)
It’s ok to be skeptical about fake cheese. But the mac and cheese at Souley Vegan will lead you to the vegan promised land. With thick, deliciously sloppy noodles, and oozing “cheese” sauce, this mac tastes anything but artificial. You don’t have to know what kind of cashew or vegetable had to die to make the creamy sauce here, but whatever it is, it’s a worthy sacrifice. This mac also has a strong, lovely cayenne bite that makes this dish the spiciest on the list. Pair it with crispy fried tofu and you’re in for a good time. Price: $7.
Homeroom (400 40th St., Oakland)
If you had only one day left on this earth you should go to Homeroom, sit down, and eat every one of its 12 mac and cheeses. The Mexican Mac is a fiesta of fresh chorizo, chipotle peppers, and Jack cheese, and the lime you get on the side makes all the difference. One squirt of citrus and the mac gets a refreshing twist. The chorizo is spicy but not overpoweringly so. The Gilroy Mac makes your taste buds feel like they are sinking slowly into a cheesy garlic bath. Splurge and add bread crumbs to the top of any mac for just 99 cents. You are so worth it. Price: $10.25.
Pig and Pie (2962 24th St., San Francisco)
The mac and cheese at Pig and Pie is by far the richest entry on this list. Each bite is smothered in Petaluma cheddar. Adding spicy Italian sausage may cost you four bucks extra but it pays off by making this small bowl of pasta into a hearty, scrumptious meal. The cheese is thick and offset nicely by the Parmesan seasoned bread crumbs that dust the top of the dish. The remnants of this mac are almost as good as the main attraction — scrape around your empty bowl for a perfect good-bye bite of sausage spice, slightly crunchy cheese goo and bread crumbs. Honorable mention for the smell of fried chicken that pervades this place. Price: $11.