Today my eating partner and I set forth to determine the impossible; we ventured through the city to find Chicago’s best macaroni and cheese. As my arteries are only so wide, we tested just three locations. I acknowledge that there are more locations to add into the mix, but I really believe that the restaurants below should be included when grouping the best mac in the city.
Contenders: Cafe Selmarie, Stanley’s and Handlebar
Winner of GB Mac and Cheese Crawl: Handlebar
(Smoked Gouda Mac ‘n Cheese)
Location: 2311 W. North Avenue (North and Western)
Cost: $3.50 (side dish price)
– Simplicity: In this case, less is most definitely more. Just macaroni covered with a gouda cream sauce. No breadcrumbs, no baked cheese, just the basics. This dish tasted truly homemade, helping to reiterate the fact that mac and cheese is the epitome of comfort food.
– Cheese: Smoked gouda’s taste is distinct without being overpowering. Handlebar’s gouda sauce resembles an alfredo sauce. Believe it or not, going this route makes the dish feel lighter and fresher than baking the macaroni with cheese.
– Size: It’s a side dish, not a main. I wanted more. It gave me so much love.
Second Place: Cafe Selmarie
4729 N. Lincoln (Lincoln and Lawrence)
(Macaroni and Cheese)
Cost: $9.25 (entree size)
– Complexity of Taste: So this dish uses six cheeses (gruyere, swiss, white cheddar, queso rico, pecorino romano and bleu). You can detect each of those cheese while you’re working your way through the dish. Additionally, they put leeks in. It’s more subtle than an onion, but still provides added flavor.
– Texture: Selmarie bakes bread crumbs on top of each serving, which provides the right amount of crunch. The cheese does that thing where because the cheese is warm, it’s stringy between your mouth and the plate (this is a good thing, think “Cheese-y, Cheese-y from those old Little Caeser ads).
– Bottom of the Dish: The big issue was that there was a milky oil liquid at the bottom of the dish. I understand that’s a by-product of the cheese, but it was kind of gross.
Loser: Stanley’s Kitchen and Tap
(Toasted Macaroni & Cheese)
1970 N. Lincoln (Lincoln and Armitage)
Cost: $8.95 (entree size includes 1 side)
– Portion: It’s big. Like really big.
– Side Dish: The entree comes with a side. As we were at Stanley’s, we chose their famous tater tots and were not disappointed.
– Oil: There’s a whole lot of oil in this dish. When you have macaroni and cheese, you expect your cholesterol to rise a bit, but Stanley’s take on mac and cheese could send you to the ER. The level of oil and grease made the dish almost unappetizing to me. I bet this dish could cure a hangover in seconds.
– Bland: They use just one cheese, cheddar (granted there’s a whole lot of cheddar in the dish). Compared to the cheese profile at Selmarie and Handlebar, the taste was a bit pedestrian.
Location – 2308 W. Leland Ave (Leland and Lincoln)
In one word – Bargain
Food – Roseded has the best low-budget Thai food I’ve had in a long time. My favorite of the night was the Rama Noodles, peanut curry sauce over noodles. I may have been licking the bowl clean. We also had the ginger tofu and pad thai. Here’s what my eating partners and I decided we liked most about Roseded – The food seemed fresh and authentic (though I’m sure someone of Thai descent might disagree about the authenticity, but whatever). For example, the pad thai was not overly fried and didn’t have that processed orange color and unnatural sweet taste. I would definitely come back.
Drink – It’s BYOB. This totally helps you save on cost.
Service – The place is a neighborhood hole in the wall. You get good service, but nothing to remember.
Occasion – Everyone in the restaurant was having dinner with friends. The feel of the place is uber-casual. It lends itself to occasions where you want to sit for a while and catch up over a good meal.
Dress – I saw sweatshirts and jeans. Save your evening wear for somewhere else.
Cost – Yeah, I paid $8 for my portion of 3 shared entrees. This included tip. And I was full. Best deal ever!
If you like, try…Panang, Garlic and Chili Healthy Thai
Location – 1769 W Sunnyside
In one word – Amazing
Food – **Preface: This is my favorite place in the city, so anything I’m going to write is going to be raving** I know this is Chicago, but can I say that Neopolitan pizza really gets my mojo going. The Bianca pizza is amazing. Truly amazing. That is the pizza that I had been looking for all my life. All the other pizzas are good too. But that Bianca…
Drink – We got the cheapest wine and loved it.
Occasion – Friends, family – Yah! It’s Italiano! (makes more of an effect if you say that in your fake Italian accent).
Service – The last time I was there, we had a very coy waiter who won all of our hearts.
Scene – You feel like it’s a perfect mix between a local Chicago restaurant and a European café. And the atmosphere is so friendly! The owner of the restaurant gave me a hug when I got there. I don’t know him, but he gave me a hug anyways. That’s how friendly they are.
Dress – There’s a mix of looks, dress for any occasion at this place.
Cost – My group shared a bottle of wine, two pizzas and two dessert. Split 4 ways, I think I paid about $30 with tip. Good food at a reasonable price? Obvi it’s my fave. Oh, and I was full when I was done. I had the unbuttoned pants to prove it.
If you like…, try – Honestly, I feel guilty comparing this place to another establishment in the city. It would be doing it a disservice.