Five Stellar (Plain) Mac and Cheeses

Macaroni and Cheese, Mac 'n' Cheese, M&C: The many monikers of this comfort food reflect its diverse forms. These days, macaroni and cheese is dressed up with everything from chili to asparagus to lobster. Although I love some of these "mixed" versions, sometimes all I want is noodles, cheese and maybe a bit of cream or breadcrumbs. And I want someone else to make it. Here are my five favorite "plain" restaurant macaroni and cheeses in Houston.

5. Catalan's Redneck Mac & Cheese. This appropriately named macaroni and cheese is plain, understated, and not very rich. Its simplicity also makes the Redneck Mac & Cheese a bit of an odd duck among Catalan's other more complex dishes. But I nevertheless love its straightforward flavor and slightly drippy consistency: It's the perfect unpretentious contrast to a cosmopolitan entree.

4. Max's Wine Dive's MAX 'n Cheese. Max's serves its macaroni and cheese in a deep white cereal bowl that might just as well be used for a double portion of Wheaties. Indeed, I do like to think of the MAX 'n Cheese as the Side Dish of Champions. Only the likes of Michael Phelps could consume an entire entree and the hefty serving of cavatappi pasta covered in truffle cream sauce, which comes with parmigiano reggiano, gruyere, and provolone cheeses, crowned with a generous scoop of breadcrumbs.

3. This Is It Soul Food's Macaroni & Cheese. Hardly gourmet, but who the hell cares? Although This Is It doesn't skimp on the sodium and uses a disturbingly bright orange variety of cheddar, I still savor its macaroni and cheese for its home-style texture (slightly sticky and gummy) and simple taste.

2. REEF's Fried Mac & Cheese. Reef's macaroni and cheese is literally a building block of gustatory happiness. Comprised of white corkscrew pasta and cheddar cheese, the dense cube o' mac & cheese is deep-fried and coated with crunchy, buttery breadcrumbs. I am often tempted to hold the entire delicious mass in one hand and take bites as if I were eating an apple. But that probably would be weird.

1. Beaver's Mac & Cheese. I've already sung the praises of the mac & cheese here. Beaver's Mac & Cheese is the epitome of the "wet" variety, a favorite of mine. Perfectly cooked thick, curly noodles are drenched in a liquid cheese cream sauce whose snow-white hue belies an amazing blend of three pungent cheeses.

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Joanna O'Leary