For kids, there’s no cooler power duo than mac ‘n’ cheese. (Well, maybe Batman and Robin, but that’s another story.) Skip the boxes of neon-orange noodles and take your hungry hippos to a local restaurant where the ingredients are wholesome and the flavors are rich. Here are our favorite spots for mac ‘n’ cheese.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken
New counter-service spot Honey Butter Fried Chicken is a comfort food heaven for young and old alike. In addition to the specialty — locally sourced, double-battered Amish chicken — it offers an amazing pimento mac ‘n’ cheese. The creamy macaroni is infused with piquant pimentos and all the Southern comfort a tyke could ask for. It’s served as part of the Honey Buds Kids Meal, which features a fried chicken drumstick and a sticker. Happy Meal what?
3361 N. Elston Ave.
Eleven Lincoln Park
Fans of the South Loop’s Eleven City Diner will especially love its Lincoln Park location. It’s a vintage-inspired diner, glistening with squeaky booths, sleek soda-shoppe wares, and a wall of candy. Gather at one of the large booths and dive into cheddar-Parmesan-Swiss mac, or a version laden with baked ham, bacon or pastrami. You can always add broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini and spinach — because we all know the best way to get your kids to eat their greens is by burying it in cheesy pasta.
2301 N. Clark St.
For a beach vacation without leaving Chicago, head to this sunny Gold Coast restaurant It’s decorated with more beach-y paraphernalia than an episode of Spongebob Squarepants. The nautical menu pays homage to lobster via a slew of unique lobster rolls and fixins, but one item sure to transcend ages is the lobster mac ‘n’ cheese. Buttery morsels of lobster can be found in nearly every bite, along with silky-smooth cheese (made with a Jarlsberg-based cheese blend) and cavatappi noodles. It’s all topped with buttery breadcrumbs made from the New England-style buns used for lobster rolls.
12 E. Cedar St.
For mac ‘n’ cheese with Southern twang, go to Wishbone. The soulful restaurant has the feel of a jovial dining hall, albeit with much more adept lunch ladies and nary a hair net in sight. While adults dig into fried catfish, grits and corn cakes, kids have a lengthy children’s menu all their own. Along with mini burritos, chicken strips and corn flake-crusted French toast, one of the menu stars is the mac ‘n’ cheese. The menu heralds it as a “big bowl of yummy,” which you’ll be hard-pressed to deny. Upgrade your mac with chopped bits of ham.
1001 W. Washington Blvd.
The closest you can get to mom-made mac ‘n’ cheese at a Chicago restaurant is Nana’s robust take. The Bridgeport spot is named after the matriarchal proprietor who, along with her own kids, oversees a menu of Latin-infused locally sourced brunch, lunch and dinner fare. The Sunday supper is a spread of picnic-like comfort foods served family-style, including mac ‘n’ cheese made with béchamel, and Gruyère and Jack cheeses, baked with biscuit crumbs on top. Between bites, you may even notice that there is fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits and cole slaw on the table. The restaurant also just rolled out a newly expanded kids’ menu.
3267 S. Halsted St.
Prairie Grass Cafe
A mother herself, Prairie Grass Cafe’s co-chef Sarah Stegner has worked to incorporate reputable kids’ fare into her menus at her Northbrook restaurant. The restaurant itself is sprawling and comfy — the perfect spot to bring the brood and relax with wholesome Midwestern dishes. The restaurant manages to take familiar fare — mac ‘n’ cheese, burgers, cheese pizza — and upgrade them without sacrificing their kid-friendly integrity. For instance the mac ‘n’ cheese is made by cooking cheese into a velvety béchamel sauce to give the pasta a smooth texture eons ahead of any grocery store mac.
601 Skokie Blvd.
This pizzeria is known for adventuresome pizza making, and the most popular variety is The Mac pizza. It’s a pie strewn with macaroni and cheddar cheese on a house-made crème fraîche base. In case your kids can’t decide which of their favorite foods they’d like for dinner, go here and kill two birds with one stone. And in case you’re feeling guilty about indulging to such extremes, rest easy knowing that Dimo’s sources ingredients from its own urban garden and implants itself in the Chicago community by aligning with local farmers, businesses and burgeoning entrepreneurs.
3463 N. Clark St.
1615 N. Damen Ave.
Glen Prairie Local Flavor
The west suburban favorite specializes in local, organic foods in a comfy family setting. While you savor your “green”-farmed wine and duck tacos, your little ones will swoon for the good old-fashioned mac ‘n’ cheese off the Prairie Kids menu. It comes with milk, juice or soda, and choice of gelato or sorbet. In other words, take your little sprouts here when you want to reward them for something.
1250 Roosevelt Rd.
What is your favorite mac ‘n’ cheese in Chicago? Let us know in the Comments section below.
— Matt Kirouac
Photos: An P via Yelp, Da Lobsta, Nana, Dimo’s Pizza