There’s nothing quite like comfort food; it’s nourishment for the soul. And macaroni and cheese, its most representative dish is a universal childhood favorite that’s getting a culinary makeover. In recent years, it’s become a popular side dish at many upscale restaurants that add truffle, mushrooms or lobster for a more sophisticated grown-up twist. Having spent my formative years growing up in the South, I’ve taste-tested several variations of this crusty, gooey, cheesy side dish. As a self-proclaimed mac and cheese aficionado, trust me. I know good mac when I taste it. Now peruse my picks in Childs Play: The Top 5 Mac and Cheese Dishes in Hawaii.
1 12th Ave. Grill
This casual gem located in the heart of Kaimuki is all about delectable down home classics full of clever twists. The Contemporary American kitchen serves up house-made soups, flavorful salads made from fresh local produce, fish dishes featuring trout and skate verus the typical Hawaii mahi and ono. And, of course, their famous Kimchee Steak and Grilled Porkchop topped with a crispy potato pancake are always mouthwatering options. No matter whether you’re craving the ribeye or a small plate of calamari fritti you’re bound to make room for a side of 12th Ave's Baked Macaroni and Cheese. The creamy pasta is made with house-smoked parmesean cheese topped with breadcrumbs and sautéed Ali’i mushrooms or black forest ham as add-ins.
2 Formaggio Grill
Award-winning Formaggio Grill offers up an upscale yet warm, comfortable ambiance in Kailua, Oahu. Aside from an extensive wine list (the grill's little sis is Formaggio Wine Bar in Honolulu), the grill’s menu is chock-full of succulent small plates as well as sweet fare. Enjoy thin crust pizzas, savory panini, hot pot classics, lobster bisque “to die for” and tplates, entrées as welhe sinful Lobster Mac and Cheese of bowtie pasta, pancetta, and peas tossed in lobster cream sauce. Delish!
3 Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar
Aside from being named one of “America’s 50 Most Amazing Wine Experiences”, Vino’s menu is also filled with authentic, quality cuisine. The rustic and warm Italian enoteca is the ideal setting for friends to share small plates over a glass of Falanghina or Amarone. Sit back and relax on one of the comfy couches while digging into Fresh House-made Tagliatelle, Kabocha Pumpkin and Molokai Sweet Potato Ravioli, Marinated Hau’ula Tomato Caprese Salad, house-made seafood sausage and Truffled Mac & Cheese that’s made with aged black diamond white cheddar, double-cream Gouda and garlic cream, mushrooms and prosciutto.
4 Mac 24-7
Mac 24-7 is Waikiki’s only 24-hour full-service restaurant. Find Modern American cooking featuring familiar local and mainland favorites for breakfast, brunch/lunch, snack time, dinner and dessert. No matter what you’re craving, you’re bound to find it on Mac 24-7’s all-day menu. Locals and visitors alike can select from uber-large portions of the Mac Daddy Pancakes, Grilled White Cheddar Cheese sandwich and Roasted Vine Tomato Soup, Sweet and Smoky Pulled Kalua Pork Sandwich and the decadent White Cheddar Mac and Cheese with green peas.
5 Yardhouse Waikiki
The premium boozy chain has earned a great reputation for its extensive menu of American fusion cuisine featuring over 100 edible items including appetizers, salads, pastas, burgers, pizzas, steaks and ribs. This fact, plus the lively environment and classic rock music infamous to every location, makes Yard House a perfect place to unwind with a cold one and quality bar-friendly bites. In addition to the Spinach Cheese Dip, Lettuce Wraps and Hawaiian Poke Stack, try an order of the house favorite Mac + Cheese 2 that combines chicken breast, apple wood smoked bacon, wild mushrooms, cheddar and parmesean with campanelle pasta and white truffle oil.