If Memphis had an official side dish, it would be macaroni and cheese. It makes the veggie plate options roster at every meat-and-three in town, and when I asked who had the best, you guys had very strong opinions.
You can't go wrong with any of these 10 local restaurants' variations on the dish:
1. South of Beale (361 S. Main St.)
No matter what you order at South of Beale, you should add a side of their gouda mac'n'cheese ($5). It's a bigger-than-you'd-expect bowl of spiral noodles in creamy, sharp gouda cheese sauce sprinkled with a dusting of breadcrumbs that's so fine and light it reminds me of the streets after a typical Memphis snowstorm.
2. Patrick's (4972 Park Avenue)
The mac'n'cheese from Patrick's may look look like bit of a mess, but, just like mama said, apperances shouldn't matter. Their mac'n'cheese is so ridiculously thick that the shells seem to fall apart under the weight of the delicious cheese sauce (which definitely has some sour cream in it).
3. East Tapas (6069 Park Avenue)
I want to eat the baked mac'n'cheese from East whenever I'm having a bad day. It's based on a recipe that manager Lisa Ansley used to make in college with cheddar, cottage cheese and sour cream. It's the food equivalent of a hug.
4. Soul Fish (862 South Cooper Street)
Here's why Soul Fish's mac'n'cheese deserves a spot on your veggie plate (because this is Memphis and mac'n'cheese is a vegetable here): it's a little tangy, a little spicy, and so gooey that you'll have to put in some effort to detach the noodles on your fork from the rest of their baked brethren.
5. Elegant Farmer (262 South Highland)
The Elegant Farmer's version of mac'n'cheese is made with penne noodles tossed in a creamy (but not super thick) cheese sauce and topped with green onions, which add a little more flavor than the traditional breadcrumbs.
6. Center for Southern Folklore (119 S Main St #106)
The Southern Folklore Store (attached to the Center for Southern Folklore) has a full food menu, and like any good soul food diner, they've got mac'n'cheese. Theirs is a fairly straightforward take on the classic – peppery, cheesy, sour-creamy and delicious when eaten hot or cold.
7. Interim (5040 Sanderlin Ave.)
Eating Interim's mac'n'cheese is sort of like digging for burried treasure. Once you make it through the thick layer of breadcrumbs atop your cute little casserole dish, you're rewarded with a filling pile of baked noodles in sharp, white cheddar sauce.
8. Bleu (221 South 3rd St.)
There's no actual bacon in Bleu's mac'n'cheese, but the sauce has a definite smoky, bacony flavor. It's the kind of mac'n'cheese that – if you were so inclined – you could eat for breakfast. The portion is huge enough to use as a full meal.
9. Mollie Fontaine Lounge (679 Adams Ave.)
I couldn't get a good picture of the bowl of mac'n'cheese that I ate at Mollie Fontaine's last night (it was kind of dark) but I can tell you that the little baking dish came to me with a piece of bacon sticking out of it like a flag. The noodles lived up to the hype – they were baked perfectly (they had the exact right crispiness-to-noodley-goodness ratio) and the sauce had a little spice to it.
10. Lunchbox Eats (288 South 4th St.)
I ate a lot of mac'n'cheese for this story, and I can now say with confidnece that if there is a Lord God King of Memphis mac'n'cheese, it's Lunchbox Eats'. Kaia Brewer's mac'n'cheese is made with four kinds of cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan and cottage), seasoned (with Worcestershire sauce and baked until the top is brown and just a little crunchy. It's straight up cheesy magic.