We’ve all been there. The potluck buffet is laden with mysterious meats, sad wilted salads, strange spreads and dips of unknown origin and then suddenly you spot it – the golden bubbly glow of that familiar cheddar-topped casserole, like a beacon welcoming you home. There, you think. There is something good to eat. Because, let’s face it. Even when macaroni and cheese isn’t great, it’s always really good.

Familiar, comforting and sustaining, it is a food that every generation can enjoy, from gap-toothed toddlers to dentally reinforced centenarians. Springing up at summer cookouts, football tailgates, après-ski events and Easter brunches, it is truly a dish for all seasons. Whether your tastes run plain or fancy, there is a macaroni and cheese out there for you. Here we’re presenting, in no particular order, a sampling of some of Evanston’s most tempting offerings.

Hecky’s Barbecue

Hecky’s Mac and Cheese (Photo by Steve Lemieux-Jordon Evanston Photographic Studios)

The community said a tearful goodbye to Hecky Powell last May, but his wife Cheryl Judice keeps his memory alive by continuing to serve up some of Evanston’s favorite barbeque dishes, prepared using her mother-in-law’s top-secret recipes. Hecky’s classic macaroni and cheese features a velvety smooth sauce that’s rich and deeply satisfying, designed to feed the soul as well as the stomach. When pressed to provide details about the dish’s ingredients, Judice just laughs. “That I can’t do. I can feel Hecky telling me, ‘You’ve got to be kidding!’” Macaroni and cheese, she says, is by far their most popular side dish, first choice among college students, vegetarians and even picky young eaters. The only complaint she ever hears is that it disappears too quickly. You’ve been warned. Order extra to avoid disappointment.

1902 Green Bay Road

Firehouse Grill

Firehouse Mac and Cheese (RoundTable photo)

Presented with little fanfare in a sturdy white ceramic bowl, there is an undeniably nostalgic appeal to this familiar old friend. The glossy orange sauce is slightly sweet with nutty overtones and well-balanced salinity. The macaroni noodle is firm. Velveeta is the star of this comforting stick-to-your-ribs dish, with cheddar, American slices and a dollop of Merkts providing piquant back up. Owner Pat Fowler says it’s a particular favorite with his younger customers, but also a hit with the older set. “It’s not an elevated mac and cheese,” he notes, “but it works.”

750 Chicago Avenue