Confess: Deep down, you're still a kid - one who's clamoring for a mac-and-cheese fix. How convenient that your favorite childhood classic now graces menus at restaurants divey to deluxe.
These days, you might sink a plastic spoon into a bowl of elbows in Day-Glo yellow sauce at a chain eatery, or sit down to a casserole of cavatappi with four cheeses, lobster and truffle oil at a gastro-pub.
Plain or fancy, mac and cheese is what you want to eat when you're having a bad day. Or a really good one.
Here are 10 of our favorite spots ready to satisfy your craving:
THE DISH Somewhere between a coffee shop and serious restaurant, Upper Crust offers a mac and cheese laced with wild mushrooms, scallions and roasted cherry tomatoes in a sauce with three or four cheeses (Gruyère, Parmesan, American and Cheddar). Chef-owner Nick Lucchesi also does a lobster mac and cheese (as a special or on demand) made with roasted portobello mushrooms and truffle oil and topped with pesto Parmesan panko bread crumbs.
THE PRICE $8 for regular mac and cheese; lobster version $13.95 as lunch entree, $10.95 as dinner appetizer
THE DISH At this intimate gastro pub, the mac and cheese appetizer feeds at least two. It comes in a bubbling casserole and is made with rotini in a sauce of four cheeses (Asiago, Parmesan, Fontina and Gruyère) laced with bacon and chives, topped with mixture of panko bread crumbs and potato chips. So good.
THE PRICE $8
THE DISH These stylish burger-centric restaurants serve what they term the "world's best" mac and cheese (also pictured on the cover). Hype aside, it's very good, made with al dente cavatappi in a cream sauce containing American, Cheddar, Jack and Pecorino Romano. As an appetizer, it comes in a casserole; as an entree, it's heaped into a great big bowl.
THE PRICE $8 appetizer; $12 main course
THE DISH Leave it to a brew pub to come up with "smoked Buffalo" mac and cheese made with cavatappi, smoked chicken, tomatoes, Gorgonzola cream, bread crumbs. It's a heaping bowlful that's simultaneously comforting and zesty.
THE PRICE $13.99
LANDMARK DINER, 1027 Northern Blvd., Roslyn, 516-304-5387
THE DISH At this snazzy new double-decker diner, chef Chris Palmer gives you three options, the most basic being cavatappi in a deliciously creamy sauce (made with Jack, Cheddar, Parmesan, mozzarella and cream cheeses) laced with ham and peas and piled in a shallow bowl. There's also a chili mac and cheese as well as a Greek version made with chopped gyro meat, feta and dill.
THE PRICE $14-$15
LOLA'S KITCHEN & WINE BAR, 180 W. Park Ave., Long Beach, 516-442-1090
THE DISH At this lively lounge-y spot, chef David Livingston makes an appetizer of fried mac and cheese "bites" with elbows and a sauce with mozzarella, two kinds of Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses. As a side dish, he bakes the same mixture in a casserole topped with bread crumbs.
THE PRICE $8 for bites; $7 for side dish
THE DISH In a Parisian-style bistro, mac and cheese - or gratin de macaroni - takes the form of an oblong casserole filled with elbow pasta, lardons of bacon and green peas in a creamy, cheesy sauce that's topped with bread crumbs. Who cares that it's not really French?
THE PRICE $16
THE DISH At this Irish pub with a serious food side, the mac and cheese is listed as an appetizer but will serve as many as three. What you get is a casserole of orecchiette in a three-cheese sauce laced with bacon and caramelized onion, baked until its bread-crumb topping turns golden brown. Just try to stop forking away at it.
THE PRICE $8
PUBLIC HOUSE 49, 49 E. Main St., Patchogue, 631-569-2767
THE DISH Chef Richard Desmond's macaroni and cheese is one of several showstoppers at this boisterous gastro pub. Desmond makes the dish with Fontina and white Cheddar cheeses, Virginia ham and caramelized onion; it's finished with toasted herb bread crumbs.
THE PRICE $8
PANERA BREAD, Locations in Hicksville, Massapequa, Farmingdale, Carle Place, East Meadow, Mineola, Rockville Centre, New Hyde Park, Bay Shore, Bohemia, East Northport, Port Jefferson Station, West Babylon, North Babylon, Huntington Station, Riverhead, Hampton Bays and Bridgehampton; panerabread.com
THE DISH A creamy sauce made with Vermont white Cheddar and American cheeses bathes a shell-like pasta; the result is pure irresistible comfort.
THE PRICE $4.99 for small; $8.49 large