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The irresistible combination of tender pasta and decadent cheese sauce feels simultaneously comforting and luxurious, but it can only refer to one thing: mac and cheese. Often served with toasted bread crumbs, fresh herbs, and California’s best artisanal cheeses grated on top, this sumptuous dish is so iconic and beloved that there’s a day-long celebration in its honor. Enter National Mac and Cheese Day. Though this magical day only comes around once per year (on July 14), it’s never too early (or too late) to properly celebrate the glory that is macaroni and cheese.
We love a good mac n’ cheese any day of the year, but sometimes homemade mac and cheese sounds like too much work, so we’ve assembled a list of the Golden State’s most luscious dishes—and where to get them—so all you have to worry about is finding your stretchy pants.
The Best Mac and Cheese in the San Francisco Bay Area
Fully committed to the art of mac and cheese, Homeroom steps up to the plate with nearly a dozen cheesy creations. With a desire to open a comfort-food eatery specializing in macaroni and cheese that tasted as good as the one she grew up eating, owner Erin Wade gave up her career as a lawyer to achieve her dream and now crafts delicious eats for the Oakland community—and beyond.
The passion behind every dish can be tasted in each bite, whether you order the Gilroy garlic, buffalo chicken, jalapeño popper, or smoky bacon mac. You can also customize the classic mac and cheese version with chorizo, caramelized onions, garlic butter, Hot Cheetos, and many other add-ins. Even vegans will find something to love, given the number of animal product–free offerings such as the vegan mac, which can be topped with vegan sausage. Serving up some of the best mac and cheese in California, Homeroom is one eatery you definitely won’t want to miss.
If you feel like enjoying a night in instead, stop by Homeroom To Go and pick up half-baked mac and cheese dishes. Throw them in the oven at home, and you’ll be savoring your favorite flavors before you know it.
Head to Mac Daddy in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood for some truly incredible build-your-own macaroni and cheese. Go traditional with the Mac Daddy Classic to try the savory flavors of Pecorino Romano and aged, extra-sharp cheddar cheeses. Or, eat outside the box with the goat mac, featuring scallions, olive oil, fresh goat cheese, Jack cheese, and bread crumbs.
Craving something more Italian? Opt for the pizza mac (complete with tomato sauce, pepperoni, fresh basil, and mozzarella) or the carbonara mac (loaded with bacon, quail egg, asiago cheese, peas, and shallots). If you want to go all out, choose from the dozens of proteins, vegetables, and cheeses available to add in whatever your heart desires.
What can make creamy mac and cheese even better? Getting to mix in whatever you want for a fully customized creation, of course. So if you want to craft the mac and cheese of your dreams, look no further than MAC’D in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood.
Start by selecting one of the six cheese sauces available, including vegan cheese, honey-jalapeño cheese, and garlic Jack cheese. After this major decision has been made, move on to choosing the base. Shell and elbow pasta are the traditional choices, but cauliflower rounds out the options for a healthy flair. Throw in some bacon, chorizo, roasted mushrooms, or green chiles to complement your cheese sauce, and top it all off with breadcrumbs or Hot Cheetos for a meal you aren’t likely to forget.
Best known for its array of American artisanal cheeses, Mission Cheese in San Francisco dishes out an impressive take on classic mac and cheese. Combining clothbound cheddar and washed-rind cow’s milk cheeses with the crispy texture of breadcrumbs, the bistro highlights the bold flavors of California in one dish.
Mission Cheese is also dedicated to supporting small producers throughout the state and to protecting the environment, making it a guilt-free choice for our favorite national food day—or any other day of the year.
The Best Mac and Cheese Near L.A.
For the opportunity to mix and match your favorite ingredients into the macaroni and cheese of your dreams, hop over to the Stacked closest to you. With Stacked locations in Huntington Beach, Cerritos, Torrance, San Diego, and Thousand Oaks, there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate this iconic dish properly.
Get one of the signature Stacked flavors—such as the seafood and lobster mac and cheese, chicken pesto, bacon cheeseburger, or Cajun shrimp—or go your own way by choosing your pasta, proteins, veggies, and toppings.
Elbows Mac N’ Cheese
With locations in Brea and Cerritos, Elbows Mac N’ Cheese specializes in crave-worthy concoctions—such as the Ragin’ Cajun mac and cheese laced with andouille sausage, green onions, ghost pepper–habañero Jack cheese, peppers, onions, and spicy Sriracha. Though the gourmet macaroni here is serious business, it’s hard not to get a kick out of the creative names that go along with the unique dishes; names like “I Like You Elote,” “So Shellfish,” and “Mission Shrimpossible” are among the usual suspects at this eatery.
Mac and cheese can be enjoyed in various ways here, too. Add a layer of fried mac and cheese to your grilled cheese sandwich, or bite into a slice of mac and cheese pizza.
Visit Moby’s Los Angeles joint to get a taste of California’s culinary trends, which are encapsulated in the eatery’s fully plant-based vegan creations, with gluten-free, soy-free, and nut-free options. The Little Pine macaroni and cheese is particularly noteworthy, providing the satisfaction of a guilty-pleasure food with less of the guilt: Gluten-free pasta is tossed with house-made vegan cheese sauce and topped with gluten-free bread crumbs to balance out the rich, creamy textures.
Need more inspiration to check out Little Pine? The vegan eatery donates 100 percent of its profits to animal-rights organizations, which take direct action to protect farm animals and pass legislation for the humane treatment of animals. The restaurant also offers mac and cheese burgers and mac and cheese pizza, so the whole family can get cheesy in any way they’d like.
Nestled in Long Beach and open for both brunch and dinner, The Attic makes macaroni and cheese on its own terms: with Hot Cheetos on top. Each mac starts with a base of pasta mixed with mozzarella, Jack, and cheddar cheeses and is finished off with Hot Cheeto crumbles and a sprinkle of green onions. Get yours interlaced with fried chicken, fried eggs, or bacon—and you may never think of mac and cheese the same way again.
The Best Macaroni and Cheese in San Diego
Grater Grilled Cheese
In addition to offering some of the best grilled cheeses in Southern California, Grater Grilled Cheese serves up mouthwatering macaroni and cheese. Though the eatery has locations in Irvine and Huntington Beach, the San Diego spot is a diamond in the rough when it comes to the local cheese scene. Go for the elegant lobster mac n’ cheese, featuring cavatappi pasta, luscious béchamel sauce, fresh lobster, and an indulgent five-cheese blend. Or, choose your own adventure by adding mac and cheese to your grilled cheese sandwich for an unforgettable dining experience.
Are you a mac and cheese aficionado? Share your favorite recipes and eateries in the comments below.
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