In Arizona, we want things done a certain way. We like our hot dogs Sonoran, our margaritas prickly peared, and our mac and cheese chock-full of green chiles. A classic dish of Americana delivered with a Southwestern spin is the comfort dish of many locals. So whose kitchen should you head to when you're feeling blue (or green)? We gathered our two top contenders for some hand-to-hand smack and cheese.
In This Corner: The Main Ingredient Ale House & Cafe
The Setup: This cozy Coronado hot spot is endearing because of its historic building. Offering a killer playlist of underground hip-hop and a great happy hour, TMI is perfect for sitting on the patio with your friend, your dog, and an ice-cold craft brew.
The Good: This dish is served homestyle. It's a generous block of cheesy cheddar casserole stuffed with sizable noodles (the type of macaroni noodle that eats other noodles for breakfast) and visible green chiles scattered throughout.
The Bad: A couple of things. First, it is mild -- too mild. And, yes, it does say right there in the menu description that Mindy's mac is packed with cheddar and mild green chiles, but we assumed that the spice factor of these chiles was based on more a curve for Arizona natives. Second, there's the delivery. Though the portion size is generous, the plated casserole cut looses heat quickly, and adding a side of bread to the plate is less a complement than it is a carb-y redundancy.
In The Other Corner: The Roaring Fork
The Setup: Tucked away off Chaparral and Scottsdale Road, just north of Fashion Square Mall, this dinner-only destination is the wood-fired creation of Larry Foles and Guy Villavaso. Despite being more corporate than its competitor (there are two other Roaring Forks in Texas), this restaurant carries a distinct Southwestern style that fits perfectly in Scottsdale.
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The Good: This chile mac and cheese is literally green with Shrek-hued noodles that, despite the name, gain their coloring from blanched spinach. The dish delivers on flavor and texture with a palatable spice and a nice juxtaposition of panko crumbs and creamy noodles. The presentation of the dish, an adorable yet functional kettle, helps keep the mac and cheese warm with every bite.
The Bad: For the same price as TMI, you're getting only half the portion size. While Main Ingredient's mac and cheese could be served as a entree, Roaring Fork's is no more than a side dish, for one. And where are the chiles? Sure we taste it, but neither the fork nor our discerning eyes could detect the presence of the elusive pepper.
And the winner is . . . Roaring Fork. This mac and cheese has three winning factors: taste, texture, and presentation. It really sets itself apart from the classic standby. Now if only Roaring Fork could add it to the happy hour menu.