The first macaroni and cheese recipe dates back to the 14th century, when fresh pasta was mixed with parmesan and butter. Ever since that moment macaroni met cheese, it’s been a nonstop source of comfort food for people all over the place. And Seattle is no exception. From pub-style rigatoni topped with breadcrumbs and truffle oil to elbow noodles infused with smoked jalapeños, these are the 12 greatest bowls of mac and cheese in the city.
While every mac and cheese on this guide is a winner, our favorite would be Wood Shop’s smoked jalapeno elbows without question. Whether ordered on its own or breaded and fried in a ball to be dunked in spiced mayo, the slightly-spicy, effortlessly-velvety mac and cheese at this Central District BBQ spot is just delicious. So delicious, in fact, that we get more upset when they sell out of mac than when they sell out of brisket.
Lil Red serves our second favorite mac and cheese in the city, and it’s no coincidence that both our top two spots use wide, ridged noodles, which are ideal for catching the maximum amount of sauce in every bite. This Columbia City Jamaican soul food spot’s version is stupendously creamy, with tons of herbs and spices to keep things flavorful. The only way to enhance this already-incredible mac and cheese is to pour some spicy jerk sauce on top.
This is one of Oprah’s favorite things for a reason. And that reason is, when you swirl the greatest cheddar and jack in the history of existence with a kick of cayenne into cream sauce and toss some pasta in there, it’s almost impossible not to love. Yes, the recipe is available online. And yes, you could also easily buy a frozen tray of the stuff at Costco to pop in your oven. But the purest (and best) way to experience this iconic penne is by grabbing it fresh from the source at their Pike Place shop for takeout.
Mac and cheese is one of the few foods that uses the number of cheeses present as bragging rights. You hear “three-cheese” and things get serious. “Four-cheese?” Simply impressive. In that case, consider Perihelion’s rigatoni the Tesla of mac and cheese, and we’re not just saying that because it’s drizzled with truffle oil. Their excellent cream sauce has five, count them, five cheeses - cheddar, gruyère, parmesan, creamy mascarpone, and blue. Then they go and add caramelized onion, mushrooms, and a breadcrumb topping. The result is a decadently rich bowl of pasta with texture, a little funk, and a lot of flavor that pairs great with some of their excellent beer.
OK, so this classic West Seattle diner’s mac also features five cheeses, but in their own unique combination: cheddar, swiss, salty cotija, parmesan, and cream cheese, which adds some nice thickness and tang. The whole thing is baked, leaving a thin blanket of crust on top and molten cheese lava simmering on the bottom. And because the pasta shape makes all the difference in the world, West 5 uses radiatori, which is perfect for soaking up the sauce and/or entertaining children.
Tippe And Drague’s fantastic penne is deglazed with beer straight from the tap and cooked in a combination of cream and four cheeses. The whole thing is rich and comforting with the reduced ale, garlic, bacon, spinach, caramelized peppers/onions, and hot sauce. Forget pretzels - beer cheese on macaroni is better.
Some of the best mac and cheese in Seattle doesn’t even have cheese at all. Plum Bistro’s cajun mac and “yease” is an incredible vegan dish that puts a lot of dairy-based macaroni in this town to shame. It has some nutty flavors from nutritional yeast, earthiness from dried herbs, and plenty of spice from red pepper flakes. And bites involving crispy bits from the bottom and edge of the pan are the best part.
Ma’ono Fried Chicken & Whisky
Ma’Ono serves some terrific kimchi mac and cheese. It has a great tanginess from just the right amount of kimchi, the sauce is always really silky and smooth, and the cold slivers of scallions on top add some great onion-y brightness. Grab a side with one of their spicy chicken sandwiches or strips.
Speaking of kimchi-spiked mac and cheese, Bok A Bok’s is also a must whenever you’re placing an order for their tasty Korean fried chicken. Theirs uses shells, which are objectively more fun than elbows, has an extra kick of heat from some gochujang, and comes topped with delicious crispy garlic. If you need us, we’ll be off petitioning to top all mac and cheeses with fried garlic instead of breadcrumbs from now on.
Frank’s Oyster House is the sister restaurant to Pair, and while Frank’s usually serves mac and cheese, Pair’s version with buttery fontina and crunchy panko breadcrumbs is way better. Pair is temporarily closed right now, but the good news is that Frank’s is serving Pair’s mac and cheese for takeout. If that just sounded like high school locker gossip to you, all you need to know is that this Ravenna Champagne bar is serving outrageously good mac and cheese to go right now.
If we ever held a virtual seminar entitled “Mac & Cheese In Seattle (And You!),” we would start our presentation by identifying two problems we’ve noticed upon years of observation: portions tend to be a bit small here, and you don’t see too many restaurants that offer customization. But Bitterroot BBQ solves both of these issues with their glorious cheesy elbow macaroni. Their version is a tremendous helping that looks more like a family-style Thanksgiving side dish than dinner for one. Plus, you have the option to add a bunch of toppings, like bacon, pulled pork, caramelized onion, smoked jalapeños, peas, BBQ sauce, and roasted red peppers. Oh also, it’s just an excellent bowl of cheesy noodles. Thanks for coming to our seminar.