Picking the city's top bowls of mac and cheese is no easy task, mostly because just about every restaurant has a variation on the dish


Seattle's Top 5 Places for Mac and Cheese

Picking the city's top bowls of mac and cheese is no easy task, mostly because just about every restaurant has a variation on the dish on its menu these days. This is where Facebook and Twitter prove their worth. An informal poll of Seattle's best mac and cheese spots yielded answers ranging from "Beecher's, hands down" to "That restaurant in Hotel 1000" [aka BOKA]. There were also recommendations for Geraldine's Counter, Norm's, Six Seven, and Purple. After visiting 12 of the nominees, here are our top 5 places for mac and cheese in Seattle:

5. Lunchbox Laboratory (left), 7302 15th Ave. N.W., 706-3092.

Rumor has it Scott Simpson and co. switch up the cheeses they use in their mac and cheese, but a recent visit showcased a simple smoked mozzarella and penne combo that was pleasantly rich and flavorful. Lunchbox gets extra points for a normal-sized, one-and-a-half cup serving instead of four tons of carbs. And at $5.50, this mac and cheese is a basement bargain compared to the rest.

4. Buckley's, 232 First Ave. W., 691-0232.

It's kind of cheating, but Buckley's uses bacon. Other restaurants (like the Deluxe in Capitol Hill) will add bacon, pancetta, or ham to their mac and cheese for an extra charge, but Buckley's plays dirty by making the meat mandatory. Perhaps that's how it gets away with charging $12.95? Regardless, the bacon in this dish is a supporting player to the creamy mascarpone cheese sauce and seasoned breadcrumbs on top.

3. Icon Grill, 1933 Fifth Ave., 441-6330.

There seem to be two main camps when it comes to this iconic Icon dish -- haters (for the pure ridiculousness of the presentation, which involves drizzling Velveeta cheese on top at the table) and lovers (for the dish's classic, homey taste). In addition to the Velveeta, there's a tangy mix of white and yellow cheddar and gruyère. It's topped with something called tomato "snow," which is basically a mixture of diced tomatoes, basil, and shallots, a nice contrast to the crunchy breadcrumb topping. The flavors are balanced and the execution is thoughtful. At $12, "The Ultimate Mac & Cheese" is a little gimmicky, but who cares when it works?

2. West 5, 4539 California Ave. S.W., 935-1966.

The "astral" mac and cheese at this neighborhood joint stands out for several reasons: it's addictive, it's affordable, and it's reminiscent of the Kraft out-of-the-box most of us grew up on. But the biggest advantage this dish has is that, buried under the bubbly five-cheese potpourri, awaits radiatore. Genius! A perfect pasta choice, as the whimsical shape easily traps the cheeses, creating a creamy, tangy bite each time. And those cheeses? Pecorino, cheddar, Swiss, American, and cream cheese come together to create a wonderfully balanced flavor. Totally worth the $8.95 price tag.

And the number one mac and cheese...

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1. Poco Wine Room, 1408 E. Pine St., 322-9463.

This was a last-minute addition after reading the Surly Gourmand's recent review of Poco. How could anyone turn down a mac and cheese dish described as "a breath of fresh air after going down on your..." well, yeah. Just like our friend Surly describes, the smell of the truffle oil on this mac and cheese is intoxicating. And yes, you can smell it before it even reaches your table. Poco's mac and cheese is a mix of penne and fusilli pasta tossed with Cougar Gold cheddar, muenster, and gruyère and drizzled with truffle oil.This mac and cheese was rich enough to satisfy more than one person, but when you can grab it for $5 during all-day happy hour on Sunday, do yourself a favor and order two. Even if you're dining solo.

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