bubby’s, tribeca & highline

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Do you like comfort food? Do you live in New York? Then you’re probably familiar with Bubby’s , which serves up pie, milkshakes and other fantastic rib-sticking fare. The mac and cheese here is a bit of an off-menu order, though. While the bacon mac is listed as a side, a regular, plain mac has to be ordered off of the kid’s menu. Again, thank god for my toddler.

But unlike some other kid versions, which are dumbed down to appeal to tiny palates, Bubby’s does not hold back. This bubbling monster is topped with a heavy cheese crown, plus a creamy, nutmeg-heavy bechamel underneath. I also love the use of shells here, since it’s such a great shape for holding in sauce (and this is a Sauce with a capital S). This is a mac that definitely improves with a hearty stir, however. The majority of the cheese is on top, so it’s best to incorporate it throughout the entire dish before chowing down. The added bonus? It cools the whole dish down faster too! There’s nothing sadder than burning your tongue on your first bite of mac, amirite?

Don’t be afraid to ask for the kiddie menu; this is worth it.

Bubby’s, 120 Hudson St., 212-219-0666 or 73 Gansevoort St., 212-206-6200

baker & co, west village

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This cozy spot on Bleecker is somewhat of a sleeper hit, as far as West Village Italian restaurants go. Unlike I Sodi, for example, you don’t have to reserve months in advance to eat at a normal dinner hour. But that being said, it’s generally always full and smells delicious.

While I enjoy all of their pasta, I only tried their macaroni and cheese recently. As you can see from the photo, it’s a beauty. The menu actually calls it Baker’s Mac and Cheese “Cacio e Pepe,” which is a bit misleading because it tastes like a (very good) regular mac and not overly peppery.

Let’s break it down: I always enjoy a cast iron skillet presentation, especially one that’s topped with breadcrumbs. They also get bonus points for using the rare pipette shape pasta, which is a truly excellent vehicle holding a thick cheese sauce. As for the mac sauce: it was a good balance of creamy and cheesy. There’s enough sharp cheese in there to please those who love a rich flavor, but it’s not overwhelming for those that like a milder sauce (like my toddler!).

Definitely worth a drop by if you’re wandering around the Village.

259 Bleecker St., 212-255-1234

blossom du jour, locations vary

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photo via Instagram

Blossom du Jour is a vegan restaurant that’s not obnoxious about being vegan (rare!). When I need a detox from mac and cheese (also rare!), I love picking up their salad bowls filled with marinated kale, sweet potatoes, and avocado.

The last time I popped in, however, I noticed that they too carry a macaroni and cheese. Obviously, it being a vegan spot, the cheese is made out of cashew and the “bacon” is mushroom-based. If you’ve never had it, it sounds terrible, I know. But, having had previous good luck with vegan mac at By Chloe, I was willing to give it a shot.

Does it taste like regular mac? No. But it’s really tasty, I promise! Mushroom has so much natural umami flavor that when it’s smoked and crisped, it’s delightful. And much in the same way homemade almond milk is truly creamy, a well-executed nut-based cheese is very satisfying. At Blossom, they make theirs in house, which is evident in its quality and freshness. I also appreciate the use of elbow pasta, which is a perennial favorite shape of mine. The dish is finished off with a dusting of breadcrumbs, which doesn’t add much, but it is nice for adding crunch to a stovetop mac.

If you’re interested in exploring cheese alternatives or you have vegan friends, Blossom is definitely worth a stop.

Locations vary, website here

dos caminos, locations vary

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Mexican macaroni and cheese is a thing, guys. One of the most colorful versions can be found at Dos Caminos  (locations vary, but we went to the one in Soho). Listed on the menu as “mac ‘n chorizo,” it features wheel-shaped pasta (I don’t think this one has an Italian name), a very mild cheese sauce, crumbled bits of chorizo and sliced peppers.

I was rather underwhelmed, unfortunately. I’m not a big fan of peppers anyway, so I’m sure that colored my opinion, but the sauce lacked depth — it was creamy without being cheesy. I do love a good chorizo and the version here is very tasty, but you’re better off ordering it in a different dish.

475 W. Broadway, 212-277-4300

rainbow room, rockefeller center

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The Rainbow Room is one of the more iconic venues in New York and I’m delighted that they’ve reopened after a brief hiatus. A few weeks ago, Mike, Aveline, and I put on our Sunday finest and headed uptown to sample what I now think is the most exquisite brunch in the city.

Aside from the plethora of stations (crepes, bacon bar (!), dessert), you also order one entree from their menu. While I wasn’t planning on getting the mac and cheese (those truffle omelets were calling my name), our waiter was awesome and brought us one to try anyway. And I’m forever grateful that he did.

As you can see from the photo, this is no typical macaroni and cheese. Similar to The Clocktower’s, it’s more of a pasta dish that happens to have a cheese sauce. Here, it’s made up of braised beef short rib, mushroom ragu, and and big, fat pasta (I think it’s a paccheri), and topped with a shower of greens, shredded cheese, and onion parmesan crumble. The cheese sauce itself also has black truffle incorporated into it, so it’s pretty much decadent in every department.

While certainly not for the faint of heart (or anyone looking for a traditional mac and cheese), it’s delightful. The mushroom ragu, in particular, pairs very well with the mild cheese sauce. Even though we’d already barreled through monkey bread, biscuits, and about five pounds of smoked salmon (not to mention the other two entrees we ordered), we couldn’t resist polishing this off as well.

30 Rockefeller Plaza, 65th Floor, 212-632-5000

maison hugo, upper east side

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I think French-style macaroni and cheese is definitely a category all its own. The sauce is usually thinner than American versions and it almost always is finished with a few seconds under the broiler. “Le Mac & Cheese” at new spot Maison Hugo is no exception and might even be the textbook version of this variation.

Here, the mac is doused in Mornay sauce (like a Bechamel but with shredded Gruyere and egg yolk added), mixed with Emmenthal and Parmesan cheeses, and studded with French ham. Even with the Mornay, this is on the lighter end of the mac and cheese continuum. The pasta and ham are only lightly coated with sauce and cheese, so this isn’t a gut-bomb of a dish. Plus, the portion is fairly small (but not too small), so you can polish it off and feel satisfied without getting rolled out of there.

My personal preference is for a slightly gooier mac, but the blend of ingredients in Maison Hugo’s version make it a very solid dish. The saltiness of the ham mixed with the light Mornay is a very French and very tasty combination.

Maison Hugo, 132 E. 61st St, 212.832.0500

two tablespoons, union square

IMG_9572Most people have a love/hate relationship with the Union Square Holiday Market, but there is no denying that they have upped their food game in recent years. You can nibble on everything from Momofuku Milk Bar cookies to Sigmund’s Pretzels as you peruse dozens of booths of ornaments, artisanal salts and vintage posters.

This year I discovered the two tablespoons booth, which is located in what might be called the food court area of the market (near the George Washington statue). I saw someone carrying one of the cardboard bowls of mac a few booths away and followed the smell of cheese until I found it. While the owners don’t have a brick and mortar in New York, they sell at various markets around the city and will even cater events.

The booth seems to be selling at least two types every day: smoked Gouda and paprika, and goat cheese and rosemary. Since smoked Gouda might be my absolute favorite mac cheese, I obviously went for that. They top it with a sprinkling of panko right before serving, but otherwise this is a stovetop mac recipe (no baking, no crust).

While the paprika had a nice spice kick, I wanted more smoky flavor from the Gouda. But, I enjoyed how creamy the sauce was and I polished it off in minutes. I’d request it without the panko though; I think a breadcrumb topping is really only necessary when it’s a baked mac, otherwise it’s just kind of flavorless crunch. That being said, this is a pretty perfect snack while you’re making your way through the market and, as I’ve mentioned before, there are hardly any places that make tasty grab-and-go mac. Plus, it’s only available until the market closes up shop around Christmas, so try it soon!

Two Tablespoons, Union Square Holiday Market, Union Square