Mac & Cheese Isn't All It's Cracked Up To Be. Here's Why

If there's one type of food whose moment has lasted way too long, that would have to be mac and cheese. Sure, it's comfort food. Soft and creamy and, well, kind of bland. But then, comfort isn't supposed to be challenging. Mac and cheese is the kind of food that should be eaten when you're home alone, collapsed on the couch, wearing something stretchy and binge-watching something trashy. Comfort food should be unpretentious, unfussy, and uncomplicated – although, to be honest, that whole pasta boiling/draining/sauce-mixing routine kind of makes even boxed mac and cheese a little less convenient than would be ideal for true comfort without effort. (Also, if you're really willing to put in that much work, why not just boil up some tiny pasta like acini di pepe, then toss it with melted butter and parmesan? Just as easy and much, much tastier.)

What's really unfathomable, though, is the continuing popularity of "gourmet" mac and cheese, not to mention the ubiquity of this one-dimensional foodstuff popping up in places where it really has no business being (like on top of pizza). What's up with that, anyway? And isn't it way past time for this trend to be over?

Mac and cheese restaurants are a weird concept

If eaten outside the home, macaroni and cheese should be strictly a side dish (Chick-Fil-A gets it, at least), or else perhaps an offering on the kids' menu for picky eaters or the offspring of vegetarians. By the early 2010s, however, restaurants had started adding "gourmet" versions of mac and cheese to their menus and charging big bucks for this one-time staple of poverty cuisine. A 2011 article from Smithsonian Magazine mentions an NYC eatery called S'Mac that specialized in fancy noodles 'n' cheese with upscale ingredients such as brie and figs. ("Wow, you could really level up this bowl of bland mush by sprinkling in a few figs!" is a thought that no actual person would ever have.)

By now, we have quite a few mac and cheese-only establishments coast-to-coast (the Travel Channel's top picks include Brooklyn's Mac Shack, SoCal-based Elbows Mac n Cheese, and MACS Macaroni and Cheese Shop in Wisconsin Dells), with all of these featuring mac and cheese with mix-ins and add-ons ranging from the basics (buffalo chicken and chili) to the healthy-ish (spinach and artichokes) to the downright decadent (white truffles).

Mac and cheese does not make other foods taste better

In addition to restaurants specializing in mac and cheese, another way mac and cheese has been making itself ubiquitous is by showing up as a part of some other food. Mac and cheese pizza seems to be offered by every suburban strip mall pizzeria these days (even Aldi has it) but the question remains as to who actually eats it. While pizza itself manages to maintain a proper balance between carbs and cheese by way of tangy tomato sauce, that balance is a delicate one, and adding a heaping helping of extra carbs and cheese on top tilts the balance deep into the bland zone. (Not to mention, the texture's just weird.)

Grilled cheese with mac and cheese? Again, the sum is less than the total of its parts, which weren't all that much, to begin with. Grilled cheese also tends towards the boring unless the ingredients are top-notch. Putting sauced-up pasta in the middle just makes the sandwich soggy and gross without improving the taste at all. Nor does mac and cheese belong on a hot dog, in a burrito, or, according to this tweet, in ice cream. (OP's verdict: "mistakes were made." Bet.) And while truffled lobster stuffed with mac and cheese might be pretty darn good, this dish from Barton G's carries a $90 price tag, so probably not too many of us are going to be finding out anytime soon.

Mac and cheese is a food trend without any redeeming features

Many food trends catch on for inexplicable reasons and have a brief moment in the spotlight before fading into obscurity. (Anyone remember cronuts or ramen burgers?) Others seem to stick around for a while because they just taste good – who doesn't love bacon, after all? Still, other trends, while not so yummy, have nutritional benefits that keep them on the menu year after year (think kale and quinoa). Mac and cheese, however, is neither particularly tasty (a solid 3 out of 5 stars, meaning "it's okay, but...") nor remotely healthy. As Delish points out, the boxed stuff is highly processed, and even homemade mac and cheese = too much cheese + way too many carbs.

So why, oh why hasn't mac and cheese gone away yet? Well, it will probably never go away, but it should at least slink back into the cupboard where it belongs. Seeing mac and cheese on every restaurant menu, and mac and cheese-only emporiums in every major city (and a few minor ones) is akin to seeing everybody suddenly start wearing their bathrobes and slippers outside the home and claiming it's a fashion statement. Once the initial novelty factor wears off (with mac and cheese, this was about 10 years ago), the whole trend just seems kind of silly.