Is there a comfort food that can top macaroni and cheese? If you ask my boyfriend, who hails from the dairy capital of America (aka Wisconsin), that answer is a firm no. The ooey-gooey dish is a beloved year-round pleasure, and not just in America’s Dairyland. Denver is filled with unique takes on the traditional noodle-and-cheese pairing. Here are local spots that are Wisconsinite-approved, plus some dairy-free options for the vegans (or if, like me, you’re woefully allergic to dairy).
Though the taproom and larger-than-average games (as in, cornhole played with giant bean bag chairs) might be what Bierstadt Lagerhaus is known for, this German-inspired bierhalle also has a small menu worth checking out. Some noshes of note: the Bavarian pretzel, the schnitzel, and, of course, the mac ’n’ cheese. The six-cheese house sauce has a very “blue cheese-y” taste, and you can customize your mac with a plethora of different flavors, toppings, and extras on the side. My boyfriend’s go-to order? Topping the penne noodles with beer cheese fondue and an entire bratwurst. 2875 Blake St.
The six-cheese béchamel mac and cheese from Steuben’s is sharp and rich, creamy without falling apart, and topped with crunchy panko breadcrumbs. Get it on the side of your cheesesteak or patty melt for $9, or chow down on the entrée for $12. With the option to add green chiles, it’s a can’t-miss Colorado mac. 523 E. 17th Ave.
The Mac Shack
You’ve probably spotted the family-owned and operated Mac Shack food truck around town, but you don’t have to track down its mobile cheese machine to enjoy the Shack’s tasty meals. The restaurant location in Edgewater is always serving up cheesy starters (like deep-fried mac and cheese bites) and pasta entrées. The macs are sautéed with garlic, shallots, and white wine, and the menu features everything from the simple—but delicious—Cheddar Mac to more elaborate recipes like the Short Rib Mac (topped with a sous-vide short rib) and the best-selling Lobster Mac (topped with fresh lobster and fresh tomato basil). 5505 W. 20th Ave. #114, Edgewater
Mac and Cheezary
Mac and Cheezary is dedicated to all-things mac and cheese. With a location in Wheat Ridge, plus a food truck that serves all over Denver, the spot offers nine different interpretations of the dish. There’s the classic mac and cheese and more involved bowls like the pulled-pork-and-green-chile-filled Colorado Favorite, winner of the 2019 Mac and Cheese Festival. Another standout is the Polish Cajun, a mac with kielbasa (authentic Polish sausage), Cajun spices, and chipotle aioli sauce. It’s just the spicy, hearty meal to satisfy your craving. 3895 Wadsworth Blvd., Wheat Ridge
City O’ City
City O’ City is a vegan go-to, whether you’re looking for a hearty brunch or late night nosh. Made with orecchiette noodles and a cheese sauce that’s more milky than gooey, the vegan mac and cheese is so good, even non-vegans will love it—just ask my cheesehead boyfriend. Get it on the side with your veggie burger for $5, or order a heaping bowl topped with broccoli for $11. For the ultra-hungry, grab a barbecue bowl of mac ($15) topped with barbecue tofu or seitan, mustard-glazed greens, coleslaw, and fried onions. 206 E. 13th Ave.
Sputnik has the vibe of a late-night 1960s diner where all the hippest artists hang out, and the joint’s vegetarian and vegan-friendly eats only enhance the cool factor. One such meal is the mac and cheese. The fat, swirly noodles are covered in a thick sauce, coated in Cheez-It crumbs, and topped with chunky slices of green onions. There’s also a non-vegan version for all the cheddar-lovers out there. 3 S. Broadway.
Of all the macs around town, Watercourse’s might have the most unique taste. With rich vegan cheese sauce, herbed breadcrumbs, crimini bacon, and fresh parsley, each bite is a flavor explosion in your mouth. Get a cup on the side for $6, or a bowl that’s big enough to share for $12. 837 E. 17th Ave.
Mac and Cheezary (Again!)
While most of the menu is smothered in pepper jack, cheddar, and mozzarella, Mac and Cheezary also boasts the Mac Vegan. The “cheese” is cashew-based and locally sourced from the Honest Stand in Louisville, and the noodles are jam-packed with all the best veggies—mushrooms, broccoli, red pepper, and diced red onions—so you can at least pretend you’re eating healthy. While it might not be as creamy as some mac-lovers crave, it’s so tasty that you won’t notice. 3895 Wadsworth Blvd., Wheat Ridge