The Gilroy Garlic Mac at Temescal's Homeroom.

The Gilroy Garlic Mac at Temescal's Homeroom. (Shelby Pope)

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For many people, mac and cheese equals comfort. It’s a childhood food, perfect for picky eaters: even if you hated spices or weird textures as a kid, you probably still loved mac and cheese, whether homemade or from the blue box. As an adult, eating the dish is an easy way to go back to a simpler, cheesier time.

In the Bay Area, there are are plenty of restaurants that recognize mac and cheese’s homey appeal. There are countless versions, some gussied up with stinky cheeses, others hewing to tradition with the classic bright orange cheddar. Here are five of our favorite versions in Berkeley and Oakland. Did we miss yours favorite Let us know in the comments.

The Gilroy Garlic Mac at Temescal's Homeroom.
The Gilroy Garlic Mac at Temescal’s Homeroom. (Shelby Pope)

You can’t mention mac and cheese in the Bay Area without mentioning Homeroom, the Temescal restaurant dedicated to the stuff, a place so popular they had to open a second location, offering only to-go orders, in 2014. They also have a cookbook–they know what they’re doing when it comes to mac and cheese. Their restaurant offers unique versions of the dish, with enough combinations of crunch, spice and proteins to please any group, and there’s even a tofu and nutritional yeast version for vegans. Their most popular, the Gilroy Garlic Mac, came out so hot it was bubbling, with an abundance of molten cheese and crispy lid of panko breadcrumbs topping a mix of al dente macaroni and a comforting sauce of gouda, pecorino and a date-threatening amount of garlic. It’s big enough to share, and if you don’t, you’re likely to fall asleep in the school-themed restaurant, their line of custom, mac and cheese-themed postcards (“Not to be be cheesy but I miss you”) the last thing you see before dreamland.

Homeroom
400 40th St. [Map]
Oakland, CA 94609
Ph: (510) 597-0400
Hours: Tue-Sun, 11am-10pm; closed Monday.
Facebook: Homeroom
Twitter: @homeroom510
Instagram: @homeroom510
Price range: $$ (Entrees $11-$17)

Bacon mac and cheese at Angeline's in downtown Berkeley.
Bacon mac and cheese at Angeline’s in downtown Berkeley. (Shelby Pope)

Angeline’s in Berkeley immediately advertises the fact that you’re in a New Orleans-style restaurant. There’s a brass brand soundtrack, Crystal on the table and walls covered with alligators and Mardi Gras signs. Their menu offers beignets, gumbo and muffalettas, and a side dish of mac and cheese. It’s a better version of the kind of classic, no-frills mac and cheese you get at Southern soul food restaurants across the country: it’s baked, so it’s less gooey than other versions and it features a classic cheddar and parmesan blend instead of something wacky like gouda or (god forbid!) goat cheese. Angeline’s version is topped with a delightfully crunchy layer of well-seasoned bread crumbs and the optional addition of bacon adds welcome bursts of texture and flavor.

Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen
2261 Shattuck Ave. [Map]
Berkeley, CA 94704
Ph: (510) 548-6900
Hours: Mon, 5:30-9pm; Tue-Thur, 11am-9pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-10pm; Sun, 11am-9pm.
Price range: $$$ (Entrees $18-$24)

Mac and cheese fritters at Luka's in Oakland.
Mac and cheese fritters at Luka’s in Oakland. (Shelby Pope)

Luka’s opened in Uptown Oakland in 2004, way before people started moving to Oakland in droves and Uptown became a hot restaurant destination. It’s the rare Bay Area restaurant success story, and it’s thrived because it has a combination that’s surprisingly hard to find in Oakland: a place where you can eat a lot, drink a lot, and dance a lot. It’s a dark, lounge-y space where you can get pink cocktails and dance to Cuban music then show up the next morning for brunch, or alternatively, get mussels while you drink one of the options from their impressive selection of Belgian beers before you play pool. They offer two types of mac and cheese, a main dish version with leeks and four cheeses, and an appetizer of mac and cheese “fritters” accompanied by a buttermilk dipping sauce. The fritters are an American arancini, with a light crispy crust surrounding two bite’s worth of incredibly creamy mac and cheese. The sauce has a piquant acidity that’s both spicy and vinegary, a welcome complement to the dish’s richness. Fried mac and cheese seems obscenely decadent, but if you share it with a friend, it’s a perfectly portioned bar snack.

Luka’s Taproom & Lounge
2221 Broadway [Map]
Oakland, CA 94612
Ph: (510) 451-4677
Hours: Sun-Wed, 11-12am; Thurs-Sat, 11-2am.
Facebook: Luka’s Taproom & Lounge
Twitter: @lukastaproom
Price range: $$$ (Entrees $18-$24)

The mac and cheese burger at Telegraph in Oakland.
The mac and cheese burger at Telegraph in Oakland. (Shelby Pope)

Oakland has a surplus of beer gardens (Drake’s, Lost and Found, The Trappist), but Telegraph is probably the funkiest. Every square inch is graffitied, decor includes old bike wheels and half of a GameStop electronic sign, there’s a wallet-friendly selection of sub-$5 beer cans, and the soundtrack jumps between Bad Brains and Herb Alpert. Despite their lack of pretension, they take their food seriously, with a thoughtful food menu including housemade sausages, a delicious porchetta sandwich and a handful of vegan options, including a hearty tofu hoagie. There are also burgers, one of which is a mac and cheese burger. The burger is large and medium rare, and topped with a layer of mac and cheese that’s been grilled until it achieves a lightly browned crust. Yes, it probably makes an ideal meal for soaking up 3-7 beers and one of the bar’s boozy slushies, but I can attest that it’s also deliciously satisfying stone cold sober. Like those annoying Vegas commercials declare, it’s just the right amount of wrong.

Telegraph
2318 Telegraph Ave. [Map]
Oakland, CA 94612
Ph: (510) 444-8353
Hours: Mon, 4pm-12am; Tue-Thur, 3pm-12am; Fri-Sat, 11am-2am; Sun, 11-12am.
Facebook: Telegraph
Twitter: @TelegraphOAK
Instagram: @telegraphoakland
Price range: $$ (Entrees $11-$17)

Orzo mac and cheese and Berkeley's FIVE.
Orzo mac and cheese and Berkeley’s FIVE. (Shelby Pope)

A good chunk of new restaurants in the Bay Area seem to subscribe to the same Pinterest interior design board. They emphasize subtlety, paint their walls white, get some vintage wood furniture from the Alameda Flea Market, and maybe accent with some mid-century modern pieces. Down with ostentatiousness, up with succulents. Berkeley’s FIVE, attached to the Hotel Shattuck Plaza ignores these unspoken rules. The space is unapologetically fancy, with high ceilings, intricate wallpaper, and elegant columns. Instead of Edison bulbs, there’s a chandelier. The bathroom smells strongly of vanilla frosting. FIVE is an ideal venue for a parent to get lunch with their hungover Cal student, quizzing them over a glass of wine about why they need to take an entire class on Radiohead.

Unlike every other mac and cheese I tried, FIVE’s version doesn’t use macaroni noodles. Instead, they use orzo, so when the dish comes out, piping hot in a mini cast iron pan, it’s creamier than a traditional version, where the pasta absorbs much of the cheese sauce. It’s similar to a savory rice pudding, and has the potential to be too much–too much cream, too much cheese–but thanks to touches like their choice of cheese (smoked gouda), a tart tomato jam, and a sprinkle of chives, it’s complex and tasty enough to make you want to keep eating.

FIVE
2086 Allston Way [Map]
Berkeley, CA 94704
Ph: (510) 225-6034
Hours: Mon-Tue, 6:30-10:30am, 11:30am-1:30pm, 5:30-9:00pm; Wed-Fri, 6:30-10:30am, 11:30am-1:30pm, 5:30-10:00pm; Sat, 7am-1pm, 5:30-10pm; Sun, 7am-1pm, 5:30-9pm.
Facebook: FIVE
Price range: $$$$ (Entrees more than $25)

  • Gibarian

    The Best Mac and Cheese is at Rick and Ann’s in Claremont.

    I sent the Mac The Goat back to Homeroom’s kitchen and left with an empty stomach but a heavily-credited Visa. The waiter seemed incensed and surprised a customer would find his unpalatable food unpalatable. Perhaps KQED’s news editors should get used to having their regurgitatedliberaldriveralpressreleasesorwhatevernonsensetheypostonthissite not taken seriously. Shelby, you look tired. Those Cheekbones. That skin. I hope your importance gained from having your opinion posted on here gives you some purpose in life, because I don’t really see it.

  • AnnaKorn

    For diabetics or other low carb eaters, it would be nice to note if instead of mac and cheese you could get cauliflower and cheese, (or some other veggie). Home room does offer cauliflower, but only in a spicy rendition I consider inedible.

  • Jaiko

    I wouldn’t call this one the best, but it won Travel Channel’s’ Chow Masters’ first place for the Bay Area’s “quirkiest mac’n’cheese” = the inimitable “Sleazy Mac” at Oakland’s Sacred Wheel in Temescal. Also, nice to hear that you saluted FIVE’s mac’n’cheese version with tomato jam–it was developed by then-chef Banks White way back in 2009, who sadly just left the SFBA to do full-time teaching in SE Asia. A loss to the SFBA dining scene; White is an amazing chef.

Author

Shelby Pope

Shelby Pope is a freelance writer living and eating her way through the East Bay. She’s written about food, art and science for publications including the Smithsonian, Lucky Peach, and the Washington Post's pet blog. When she’s not taste testing sourdough bread to find the Bay Area’s best loaf, you can find her on Twitter @shelbylpope or at shelbypope.com