Special thanks to Fatty FatBastard for putting this amazing list together! The amount of time and effort that went into this is extraordinary.
The end-all, no questions, exhaustive, unquestionable, bar-none, ultimate Houston mac & cheese review.
A few months ago, I was asked to do a monthly “Top 8” review on different food items. Naturally, I said I was up for the challenge. I slowly learned that I really wasn’t.
A quick preface: when someone asks me what “the best” thing is, I really like to be right. Problem was, I kept getting thoughts as to what “the best” mac & cheese was; from other reviews, from friends, from mac & cheese variations that I thought were things I had to include. In the end, I went to 18 different places, much to the chagrin of the friend I dragged along to each and every place, sometimes kicking and screaming.
You see, mac & cheese is something I’m not a huge fan of. It’s never a side item I choose with a meal unless I have to. I don’t hate it by any means; I just like other side dishes better. My friend Steve, who suggested the mac & cheese battle in the first place, absolutely loves the stuff. He admitted it is one of his favorite things to eat (I think I may have changed that). That said, it has definitely developed a cult following, so I figured it would be interesting to see what both of us would think as we went to each of these places. The weird part? We were in consensus with all of these, with only the slightest changes in our lists. But I get to write this, so I overruled every one he disagreed with. Suck it, Steve.
So I’ve decided to rank ALL 18 in order of preference. None of these were gawd-awful, but some were not worth the purchase. Here we go:
18. Kata Robata
Their presentation is absolutely amazing: They place a rather large lobster shell on top of the mac. And then you realize that it is only the shell. A pitiful amount of lobster goes into this, which is doused in butter. At $17, please order something else at this otherwise fantastic restaurant. I suggest the foie gras and scallops.
I noticed on their Facebook page that they were doing a “Lambburger Helper” which was obviously a gourmet version of the box classic. Intrigued, we headed over to try it. All agreed it tasted incredibly similar to Hamburger Helper. At $15, that isn’t a good thing. Steer clear of this one.
16. BB’s Cafe
I am a HUGE fan of this Cajun restaurant’s roast beef, and I beg anyone to try it, so when I saw they had included it in their mac & cheese, I figured it was a slam dunk. It wasn’t. It tasted nearly exactly like Velveeta shells and cheese with a pittance of roast beef added. If/when you go here, get the roast beef over their fries (Tex-Cajun Virgin). It is a near orgasmic experience.
15. Ouisie’s Table
Although the menu states there are three cheeses, there is simply no “wow” factor. Aged white cheddar, Monterey jack and Parmesan have never tasted so bland. I really hate saying this, as this is really a fantastic restaurant with a truly romantic decor. Get the shrimp & cheese grits instead (or anything, really).
14. Eddie V’s
The service was impeccable. I had ordered this to go, and when I arrived, the order hadn’t made it to the kitchen. He apologized, and five minutes later it came out of the kitchen, on the house. Sadly, the mac needs work as it was simply average. I wanted to like this one far more than I did.
13. Max’s Wine Dive
Alright, I’m just going to say it: Truffle oil tastes like a fart. It is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever had the displeasure of putting in my mouth. If this is what actual truffles taste like, then aristocrats are imbeciles. It simply ruins an otherwise great mac & cheese dish.
Again with the truffle oil… How people keep wanting to eat stuff with this still boggles my mind. This one comes with Gruyere. Yay?
The mac & cheese here describes that their’s is a chipotle version. Damned if we could taste it. This was bland, boring, and simply unworthy of the price tag.
10. Smith & Wollensky
This one wasn’t bad at all, it just wasn’t memorable. While it blends four cheeses, they all tend to cancel each other out, and again that damned truffle oil. Only for the most devoted fans.
9. Luby’s Cafeteria
Elbow macaroni, milk and American cheese. Amazingly simple, and it tastes like it. Only mac & cheese enthusiasts, primarily the ones who prefer to eat their dinner prior to 4:00, can really enjoy this.
8. Yard House
This is where they start getting pretty good. Steve had this in Los Angeles and said it was the best he’d ever had. This place was the reason we decided to start this journey in the first place. And yet, while good, it didn’t hang in the same realm with some of the others. And once again, the damned truffle oil! Why?
This place pretty much has a different variety of mac & cheese daily, so it’s worth trying out for that reason alone. It is always served in a ramekin, with crisp bread crumbs over the top. A great spot for any mac lover.
6. The Capital Grille
Their lobster mac & cheese is damn good. Campanelle pasta with white cheddar, Havarti and marscapone? Now THAT’S a good blend of cheeses. Finished off with panko bread crumbs. Easily worth the price tag. Ambiance is nice, as well.
5. Jus’ Mac
Based on the Houston Press’ Katharine Shilcutt’s rave review on their Frito Pie version of mac, I had to try it. So I brought along two people on this one and we tried it. I ordered the Frito pie (or chili cheese, but I refuse to call it that), Steve got the Taco Mexi and my other guest chose the Quattro (I think both of those names are self-explanatory). At first, I thought the Frito pie mac & cheese was pretty good. And then I noticed the beans. Naturally, I threw it on the ground. Honestly, why do Texas places keep throwing these damn beans in perfectly good chili? STOP IT! As to why then, this place ranks this high? Not only were my two companions choices vastly superior, but I also love the dim sum way you can go about this. Even with personal sizes, one mac & cheese can be overwhelming. The best way to go here is to bring friends and share several options.
4. Vic & Anthony’s
This is my favorite current restaurant in Houston, and the mac & cheese is fantastic. It uses cavatappi pasta, along with American, white cheddar and Romano cheese. Croutons are crumbled over the top as an added bonus. Enjoy this with the best crab cake in town along with the steak of your choice. A winner is you!
The Top 3:
Both of us were in mutual agreement that these were the top 3 places in town. All of these can be placed over another, depending on your palate, but you are going to walk away a happy camper with any of these.
3. Post Oak Grill
I only place this one at 3 because it is so decadent. Visually stunning, it comes with three cheeses (white cheddar, Parmesan and sharp cheddar), along with pepper flakes, lump crab meat, two large prawns, and asparagus. It is simply amazing, and the only mac on this list that justified the $17 price tag. One of the few bistros one can order mac and cheese as their meal, and be happy to do so.
This mac and cheese had such a unique flavor profile. I had this during a burger contest a few months ago, and honestly it was the one that had me intrigued about doing this when my friend initially suggested this challenge. Unfortunately, for the readers, all they are willing to share is that it is three “addictive” cheeses served with corkscrew pasta. The cheeses remain secretive because they like to compete with this recipe. That should speak volumes as to why a mac and cheese fan should try this out. Get the greens while you’re there, but only if they’re willing to serve them “non-vegan” style. You’ll be glad you did.
1. Hay Merchant
We initially ordered this with the their fried chicken, and the combination was so stellar, it blew our minds. They’re willing to admit it is made with a white cheddar sauce with a little bit of spice. As they like to say “It’s Southern and tastes like something Mom would make.” I can’t disagree. The cheese attached itself wonderfully to the pasta and the result of it all was a pure umami experience. Unfortunately, they switched the pairing with this to BBQ chicken, and the pairing isn’t near what it was when it was served with the fried variation. But that might come with the best news of all: You can get a side of the best mac & cheese in Houston (off menu, of course) for only $4 at a place that also has one of the best beer menus currently in town.
In noticing our top three, I did notice that all did have some spice to them. Both of us being native Houstonians, perhaps we shared that bias over what other reviewers have claimed to be the top places in town.
Therefore, I will declare that this is THE mac and cheese list for Texan food lovers. For 2012. As of August…
*Photos courtesy of Beaver’s, Hay Merchant, and Post Oak Grill.