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Taste Test Thursdays

Taste Test: Macaroni and Cheese

Which is the best?

The most painful-to-watch scene in Home Alone isn’t when Kevin McCallister’s smarmy uncle Frank calls him a “little jerk.” It’s also not when Kevin tosses his brother Buzz’s pet tarantula onto Marv the Wet Bandit’s face. The most cringeworthy scene in John Hughes’ perfect holiday movie (which should never, ever, ever be remade) is when Kevin sits down to bless his “highly nutritious microwavable macaroni and cheese dinner and the people who sold it on sale.”

But before he’s able to take a bite, the grandfather clock in the dining room strikes 9—this is when Harry Lime and Marv Merchants are scheduled to show up and burglarize the McCallister’s Georgian-style mansion. So Kevin abandons his plate, which is piled with cheese-coated noodles.

Ugh. Brutal.

Mac and cheese is awesome. It comes in shells and bowties and SpongeBob Squarepants shapes. It can be baked. It can be mixed with lobster, spinach, and hot dogs. 95 percent of the American population loves mac and cheese. (I made this statistic up. But I feel like it’s close to accurate.) Kraft sells one million boxes of mac and cheese a day. (I did not make this statistic up.) And, according to the esteemed mymacaroniandcheese.info, this dish is the number-one cheese recipe in the United States. Word.

But which restaurant has the best macaroni and cheese in Dallas? We ordered a selection to the office and ate them. Some were soupy. Some had breadcrumbs on top. One had bacon mixed in. My personal favorite was made with brie, but push come to shove, I’d eat any of these. I’m pretty sure Kevin McCallister would, too.

Here’s what happened.

iPhone photo by me. Hand modeling by Christiana Nielson.

The mac and cheese:
A. Ellen’s Southern Kitchen
B. Street’s Fine Chicken
C. Ferris Wheelers Backyard & BBQ
D. The Porch
E. Dallas Grilled Cheese Co.
F. Hattie’s
G. Saint Ann Restaurant and Bar

Tasting notes:

Ellen’s Southern Kitchen

These are some hefty elbows. The cheese tastes like Stouffer’s (not a bad thing), but mostly I’m getting butter. Lots of butter. It tastes like the butter noodles my sister used to order when she was a kid.

Salty and cheesy. Shrug.

I thought I’d hate this: floppy macaroni and a sauce that sploodges out like pale Cheez Whiz and tastes like butter. I still don’t like it. But there’s a fair amount of sharp chedderiness in the sauce. And that goes a long way to reclaiming my heart.

This mac is standard, with thick cheese and thick noodle. A quality mac. I would eat this mac alongside fried chicken while watching a mediocre but well-marketed offering on Netflix.

I have an expression I like to use. It goes like this: “Keep it simple, you unintelligent person.” This mac is the embodiment of my expression, to good effect.

Solid noodled, kind of plain but good.

Street’s Fine Chicken

Fancy shells and cheese. I was never much for the shells and cheese. But I guess they’re good vehicles for cheese transport, which is what this dish is all about. I’m typing this before I’ve eaten it. Hold on. OK, it’s fine. Is that gruyere? It’s bold. I don’t know, it’s fine. Congratulations, you put herbs in your mac and cheese.

Onions and pepper give this one a little kick. Love the shell noodles filled with creamy, cheesy goodness.

Shells! I love shells! The sauce is smooth and savory enough to feel like a garlicky cheddar-broccoli soup without the broccoli. The shells turn out to be soggy. Hmmm. I think my palate is confused. Is that sherry?

Slight crust and robust shell. I would eat this mac at a potluck but leave some of it on my plate.

There are really schools of thought when it comes to the pasta. You’ve got your shells people and your macaroni people. Technically, I think these are conchiglie. Are we testing conchiglie and cheese? I don’t think so.

The black pepper is good in this one. I could eat a lot of this.

Ferris Wheelers Backyard & BBQ

What are these Chef Boyardee-ass noodles? These noodles are shaped like a hedge maze. And they taste like nothing.

This takes me back to my childhood eating funky shapes of mac and cheese from Food Club. This one is slightly better than that but maybe it’s just the nostalgia.

What?! Did they open a box, make wheel-pasta-with-fake-powdered-cheese, and then, not knowing what to do with it, decided to dress it up with crushed barbecue potato chips? Because that’s my theory. Which, I suppose, would be ballsy.

If you’re using a wheel as your mac noodle, you’re overthinking it. That said, this mac is a decent mac. I would eat this mac while reading Wikipedia entries on my Mac.

You do NOT bring wagon wheel pasta up in my house! [makes Mutombo finger wag]

Fun pasta but not crazy about the flavor. Kind of smoky but I feel like it needs something else.

The Porch

So my wife makes this really good baked mac and cheese. Like, really good. Like, show-up-with-it-to-my-friends’-house-on-Thanksgiving-right-when-we-started-dating-and-now-they’re-practically-best-friends-good. There’s gruyere and heavy cream and bread crumbs and pancetta and noodles. This is like that, but not as good.

This one is trying to seduce me with its breadcrumbs. Definitely the best looking mac and cheese I’ve seen in a while.

More or less classic. Super-tangy cheese sauce, chunks of pink ham, a generous topping of toasted bread crumbs … kind of like a ham sandwich.

This mac is heavily crusted, lightly cheesed. Did I order mac and crust? No, I didn’t. I ordered mac and cheese. I would eat this mac angrily while cursing Lord Panko.

I see what you did there, with those bits of ham. And I appreciate the effort.

Flavor is good but there’s not enough cheese.

Dallas Grilled Cheese Co.

“Your mom went out of town, here’s some mac and cheese with bacon chunks in it.” That’s what this is.

This appears to be just bacon and butter. Might sound great but it’s not really my idea of mac and cheese. Last one on my list.

So dry!!! The cheddar is still holding its grated shape. The bacon bits are tough and chewy. The whole thing feels only slightly moistened. Yuck! Was this made in a dorm room? By undergrads who had two minutes to clean out the fridge as they crammed for an exam? Melt the cheese for Pete’s sake!

These mac noodles are the most like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, enhanced by bacon. I would eat this mac while pondering the fleeting nature of youth.

I know there are some people who think bacon makes everything better. I am not one of those people. Its saltiness tends to dominate all other flavors.

So much bacon. Again, not enough cheese.

Hattie’s

Oh hell yeah. Oniony, rich, with perfect noodles. The texture is a little grainy. This is it.

Mmm green onions and buttery crumble topping.

This one is ooey-gooey. I like the savory scallions as a touch. Yep, this one is satisfying. Like if you’ve just had a messy break-up and you need solace. It’ll do it.

Ding ding ding. This mac is the winner. I would eat this mac in a boat, by a goat, in the rain, or on a train.

I’ve never had green onion in mac and cheese. And I hope to never again.

Very cheesy. I like this one a lot. I want more.

Saint Ann Restaurant and Bar

Oh god. No. Is that truffle? I should’ve tossed this after F. Instead I ate it.

There it is! I KNEW one of these was going to have truffles in it. I don’t personally like the trendy truffle thing but it’s not bad.

Oh, I see you: trying to be all fancy, with your truffle oil I can smell from six feet away and your little dark haloes of brulée and your creamy-dreamy sauce. Your elegant corkscrew noodles don’t fool me. If I wanted what you’re offering, I’d just anoint myself with truffle oil and then drink it.

I would eat this mac inside a truffle.

The pasta in this dish really only serve as a condiment for the truffles and garlic. You could save some time (boiling the water, cooking the pasta, etc.) if you just spooned the garlic and truffles directly down your gullet.

Love the truffle and breadcrumbs.

Tall up: 

A. Ellen’s Southern Kitchen 1
B. Street’s Fine Chicken 2
C. Ferris Wheelers Backyard & BBQ 0
D. The Porch 0
E. Dallas Grilled Cheese Co. 0
F. Hattie’s 3
G. Saint Ann Restaurant and Bar 0

The winner is: Hattie’s mac and cheese takes this week’s taste test. Elbow pasta is smothered in pepper jack cheese, smoked cheddar, white cheddar, and sharp cheddar. There’s also green onion, béchamel sauce, and panko breadcrumbs. There you have it.

What’s your favorite mac and cheese in town? Let’s discuss.

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