This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape. It's a list to drool over.
I didn't even realize until I started writing this that the Chili Cheese mac and cheese from Jus' Mac was on former Houston Press restaurant critic Katharine Shilcutt's list of 100 favorite dishes for 2012. I know I've read through all of last year's 100 favorite posts before, so maybe I had this dish in the back of my mind when I walked up to the counter at Jus' Mac to order. Perhaps it's because the server said it was the best thing on the menu. Maybe I was really craving the comforting combo or Frito pie and macaroni and cheese. It's hard to say.
Whatever the reason, this is the first (and for the sake of diversity, hopefully only) overlap between Ms. Shilcutt's excellent list and my own. Congrats, Jus' Mac. That baked bowl of fatty noodles and chili has won us both over.
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What makes this dish so great is its simplicity. It's not an exotic or over-the-top combination. There are no unusual or difficult-to-find ingredients here. In fact, I could probably make this in my own kitchen without much effort. It wouldn't taste nearly as good, but it would be doable.
Macaroni and cheese and Frito pie are such classic (Southern) comfort foods that it's only natural for them to work together so harmoniously. The chewy macaroni is doused in a cheese sauce that comes from an 80-year-old family recipe, then this creamy combo is topped with a layer of homemade chili that's rich and hearty enough to stand on its own without the added mac and cheese. Fritos scattered on top provide a nice textural contrast with the gooey pasta and chili, while also bringing some needed salt to the dish.
How no one (to my knowledge) has ever concocted something like this before is a mystery to me. What's not a mystery, though, is how this ended up on both Shilcutt's list and my own: It's simple, comforting and downright delicious.
The list so far: No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 75: 'Date With a Pig' at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop No. 74: Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto