There are few foods that beat the carb-y, cold-weather comfort of macaroni and cheese. But how do you know when it's worth the indulgence? We used our noodle to sleuth out some of the best versions around Greater Boston. Whether you like yours topped with buttery cracker crumbs or under a bubbling blanket of Fontina, we've got your craving covered.
The appetizer of baked macaroni and cheese ($6) arrives looking like a crock of French onion soup — with a sauce of Fontina, cheddar, and jack — bubbling up through a caramelized blanket of even more cheese. We order the starter for the table and it becomes a duel of forks, even chipping at the delightfully crunchy overflow from the sides of the cruet. All elbows and cheese, this is the purist's baked mac.
555 Talbot Ave., Dorchester, 617-825-4300, www.ashmontgrill.com
Daddy Jones Bar
When I first tried the Mac Daddy ($13) at this cute cocktail bar in burgeoning Magoun Square back in 2012, I declared it my new favorite mac and cheese. A blend of sharp cheddar and tangy Greek sheep's milk kasseri cheese is poured over elbow macaroni, which is studded with sweet cherry tomatoes and salty bits of bacon. A server tells me the dish hasn't changed since the day they opened. Neither has my high opinion of it.
525 Medford St., Magoun Square, Somerville, 617-690-9095, www.dad
The mac and cheese side ($9), which is big enough to share, arrives in a bubbling cast-iron skillet, a rich blend of four cheeses: funky Taleggio, creamy Fontina, sharp cheddar, and incomparably meltable American. The cheese seeps into shells that are topped with toasted, buttery breadcrumbs. Pair with the field greens salad and a craft cocktail, and you've got a dinner that's the perfect antidote to winter blues.
528 Commonwealth Ave., Kenmore Square, Boston, 617-532-9100, www.easternstandardbos
The macaroni and cheese ($10.95) at this 36-year-old family restaurant is surrounded by secrecy. We're sure we taste cheddar and Velveeta, but owner Bob White won't tell. He says he just can't risk us "running out and opening up a macaroni and cheese joint." The orange elbows are what every box of Kraft wishes it could be: creamy, just shy of oversalted, and perfectly al dente. White says the trick is chilling the noodles in a strainer overnight to get out any liquid, and a labor-intensive sauce that's all cheese and seasoning. The owner emphasizes there's no flour-based roux to dilute the flavor, saying, "It's all good stuff."
211 Sea St., Quincy, 617-770-2835, www.grumpywhites.com
The Publick House
The Publick House takes its mac and cheese ($13) seriously, and it shows — ending up on best-of lists from all over Boston and farther afield, including a national roundup in Food & Wine magazine. Orecchiette pasta creates pockets for the gooey cheese blend (cheddar, Fontina, provolone, blue, and asiago) and any mix-ins ($1-$6 each) you should want to add — everything from caramelized onions to pesto to lobster to short ribs. Accompany with a cold brew from their extensive list.
1648 Beacon St., Washington Square, Brookline, 617-277-2880, www.thepublickhousebeerbar.com
Trina’s Starlite Lounge
The best part of Trina's mac and cheese ($9) might be the buttery Ritz cracker topping. Or is it the dreamy orange cheddar-jack sauce that's made outrageously smooth with the addition of cream cheese and Velveeta? Either way, these shells and cheese satisfy. You can also add in broccoli (how healthy!) or a cut-up hot dog, bacon, or chorizo ($2-$3) if you want to really up the ante.
3 Beacon St., Inman Square, Somerville, 617-576-0006, www.trinastarlitelounge.com
The jalapeño mac and cheese ($6) is billed as a side but could be the better part of a meal. Briny pickled jalapeños (which really add just a whiff of heat) and sliced scallions cut through the richness. Our only complaint is the pale panko topping that should be better browned but still adds nice crunch.
1193 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge, 617-868-0004, www.tupelo02139.com
Catherine Smart can be reached at email@example.com.