For a dish as seemingly simple as macaroni and cheese, there are definitely ones superior to others.
As a mac and cheese enthusiast, I decided to test five different restaurants around the campus area to determine which one has the best pasta and cheese combo: Noodles & Company, Panera Bread, Melt Bar and Grilled, Sweet Carrot and Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern. And to determine which is the best, I not only judged by taste, but also price, serving size and proximity to campus.
Many of the restaurants I went to had the option to add toppings such as bacon or pulled pork, but I decided to stick to the basics and focus on the noodles and cheese. Here are the rankings for the top spots to find your mac and cheese fix.
No. 5 — Panera Bread
Panera’s mac and cheese is the most diverse when it comes to its choice of noodles and cheese, using only white cheeses coated over pasta shells, so going to Panera for the cheesy pasta might be a nice deviation from the traditional cheddar flavor.
With two convenient campus locations on Lane Avenue and the corner of North High Street and 11th Avenue, its convenience factor is hard to beat. And with Panera delivery, you can have it brought right to you.
However, it’s pricey for what you get. The large size mac and cheese is just under $10 and a baguette is included, but this surely is not worth $9.29. The flavor is a nice mix-up, but it is not anything special. With other restaurants having better-tasting choices, you’re better off going somewhere else for your mac and cheese cravings.
No. 4 — Melt Bar & Grilled
This mac and cheese comes in typical Melt fashion: in a grilled cheese sandwich.
The “Mighty Mac” with creamy noodles grilled between two toasted pieces of bread will definitely fill you up. The mac is extra cheesy and uses traditional yellow cheeses, with American cheese making it even more comparable to a typical grilled cheese.
Melt is located in the Short North, but with UberEats as a delivery option, you don’t even have to travel to get it, but there is a $3.49 delivery fee.
The full-size sandwich costs $13 and comes with fries, but if you are looking for the cheaper option, the half size costs $9.75.
So, Melt is a great alternative to just getting a bowl of the pasta, but it’ll hurt your bank account a bit more than the other five if you choose the whole size and get it delivered. But you can’t really go wrong with choosing Melt, right?
No. 3 — Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern
This mac is the fanciest of them all.
Rusty Bucket’s “Macaroni ‘n Cheese” is Swiss and American cheese melted with Blue Moon white ale over elbow macaroni. If that didn’t make your mouth water, it is also topped with bread crumbs and oven-baked until golden brown. The taste surely competes with the No. 2 spot. but I can’t help but prefer standard yellow cheeses in my mac and cheese.
Though the closest Rusty Bucket is located in Clintonville, DoorDash will deliver for free, so you don’t have to drive or ride the COTA.
The meal costs $12.29 for the pasta and a slice of garlic bread. Even though the plate is more than enough to satisfy your mac and cheese craving, it is a bit on the pricier side, but in this case you are surely getting what you pay for.
No. 2 — Sweet Carrot
Sweet Carrot’s macaroni and cheese tops the list for the best-tasting pasta.
The pasta is typical elbow macaroni with a mixture of yellow cheeses covering each noodle. The cheese is extra creamy and oven-baked.
The serving size might be small for some, so big eaters might need to get something else to go along with it, but the $6 is definitely worth it.
The restaurant is located on West Fifth Avenue, so it’s not as convenient to get to without driving or taking the COTA, but it’s definitely worth the trip. DoorDash delivers for free, so the farther location doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying this oven-baked mac.
No. 1 — Noodles & Company
Noodles’ “Wisconsin Mac & Cheese” is a blend of cheddar and jack cheeses and cream over elbow macaroni noodles. This dish is a simple classic that is hard to beat, and the diversity of cheeses makes the dish better than your typical at-home box option.
While this one was not necessarily the best-tasting of the five, this option has many more perks. The location is hard to beat, sitting at the corner of High Street and Lane Avenue. And for under $6, you have a meal that fills you up and might even allow for leftovers.
Between its classic taste, cheap pricing and on-campus location, Noodles clearly topped the list.