NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Talk Show

Food Critics: The Best Mac And Cheese In Kansas City In 2019

121219_MM_PoblanoMac_ExtraVirginFB.jpg
J.I. Downum/Extra Virgin/Facebook
Poblano mac and cheese at Extra Virgin.

  

Macaroni and cheese is universally beloved. That's not just due to its winning combination of creamy cheese and noodles, though. It's comforting in a nostalgic kind of way.

"Fifteen years ago, you would have to really hunt to find mac and cheese — even as a side — in a restaurant. It was something people made at home," said chef and author Lou Jane Temple. "It's one of those things that is just so comforting that everyone responds to it. ... And finally restaurants got hip to it."

When KCUR's food critics recently shared their recommendations for the best mac and cheese dishes in Kansas City, there were some controversial opinions.

"My hot take is mac and cheese is and should be a side dish," said Jenny Vergara. "It should never be an entrée in my world unless you're 12 years old."

Another sticking point? Whether it's best plain or dressed up.

Regardless of which camp you're in, these are the places to go when you're craving mac and cheese in Kansas City:

Carlton Logan, KCFoodGuys.com:

  • Niecie’s Restaurant and Peachtree Restaurant both present a classic soul food, southern recipe of mac and cheese. Macaroni noodles and cheese sauce are covered in a layer of melted cheddar. Both restaurants' dishes have a great cheese flavor, but Peachtree’s version is a bit more seasoned.
  • Best Regards Bakery & Cafe — mac n cheese side. This dish features shell shaped noodles in a creamy sauce of Tillamook cheddar, parmesan and a mystery cheese, but it's the flavor of smoked Gouda that especially comes through.
  • O'Neill’s Restaurant & Bar — macaroni & cheese side. O'Neill's takes me down memory lane. This classic version has macaroni noodles, creamy cheese — including a bit of cottage cheese — and some seasoning on top.
  • Strip’s Chicken — macaroni and cheese bowl. This version features shells and a six-cheese sauce of cheddar, Colby, parmesan, Romano, mozzarella and cream cheeses. It's gluten free even though it's topped with chunks of breaded chicken and bacon.
  • The Well — Smac 'n' Cheese. Penne noodles are tossed in a creamy sauce of smoked Gouda, pepper jack, cheddar and Jack cheeses, topped with bacon and a parmesan “streusel.” You can add chicken, sautéed shrimp and even buffalo cauliflower. Personally, I like it plain.
  • Beignet — seven-cheese macaroni. This dish won 1st place at the Kansas City Mac & Cheese Festival recently. The cheese sauce is ooey and gooey and the noodles are those wonderful, corkscrew cavatappi. I prefer it plain or with a little bacon on top, but it can also be ordered with Cajun toppings.

Jenny Vergara, Feast Magazine:

  • Brown Sugar Chicken & Donuts — three-cheese macaroni and cheese. This fried chicken and donut shop recently opened on State Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. It serves an excellent three-cheese sauce that blends golden cheddar, pepper jack and American cheese with a classic elbow macaroni. It's topped with a sprinkle of parmesan and garlic butter bread crumbs and served as a simple side to fried chicken.
  • Q39 — macaroni and cheese appetizer. This version sits at the top of my list. It's made with curly cavatappi noodles tossed in a creamy five-cheese sauce and topped with herbed bread crumbs. Served in a cast iron serving dish, it's the perfect portion size.
  • Extra Virgin — poblano mac & cheese. There's a good reason this dish remains on the menu after all of these years. Penne pasta is smothered in a white cheese sauce spiked with smoky roasted green poblano peppers for heat and flavor, then hit with more cheese. It's baked, then covered with finely chopped chives.
  • Gordon Ramsay Steak inside Harrah’s — mac & cheese side. Elbow macaroni is mixed with smoked Gouda, Emmental, Parmigiano-Reggiano and manchego, baked until the center is bubbling and a golden brown crust has formed, then garnished with toasted bread crumbs and minced chives. It's creamy and classic.
  • Sierra Grill — mac & cheese side. The Sierra Grill is a hidden gem in Lenexa that serves a combination of French, American and Argentinian dishes. While you're finding your way to the end of a street lined by industrial parks, you can look forward to delicious proteins cooked to order over an open flame grill — and this side dish, which gets much of its flavor from the addition of smoked pork belly.
  • Anton’s — smoked Gouda bacon mac n cheese side. This restaurant is known for its selection of “choose your own adventure” steaks, but you have to have something to go with all that meat. This mac and cheese is made with penne pasta and smoked Gouda and topped with crispy bacon.
  • Eddie V’s — truffled macaroni and cheese side. Seafood and steaks may dominate the menu at this stylish chain location on the Country Club Plaza, but sides like this are what make them a meal. Eddie V's mac and cheese features gemelli pasta covered in a béchamel sauce with parmesan cheese. The whole thing is baked until it bubbles, covered with panko bread crumbs, crisped in the oven again and topped with shaved truffles.

Lou Jane Temple, chef and author:

  • Extra Virgin — poblano mac & cheese. This has a mild heat from the chili and a smooth texture.
  • Summit Grill — mac 'n' cheese side and seafood mac 'n' cheese. This Waldo restaurant has a good menu of American-style food, so it’s only natural it does mac and cheese well.
  • Mickey’s Hideaway — Cadillac Mac. This has pork rinds and burnt ends from the nearby Char Bar. It's one of four different versions of mac and cheese on the menu at the former location of McCoy’s Public House in Westport.
  • Niece’s Restaurant — mac & cheese specialty side. At this well-known soul food place on Troost, I recommend it with the neck bones and greens.
  • The Capital Grille — lobster mac 'n' cheese. This is the crème de la crème.

Listener recommendations:

Carlton Logan, Jenny Vergara, and Lou Jane Temple spoke with Gina Kaufmann on a recent episode of KCUR's Central Standard. Listen to their entire conversation here.

Mackenzie Martin is an associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at mackenzie@kcur.org or on Twitter @_macmartin.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with essential news and information.
Your donation today keeps local journalism strong.