The Smith's Mac & Cheese

Photo: Quentin Bacon

The Crustiest
Glenn Harris, executive chef and co-owner of the Smith, which has two locations in New York City, uses a shallow baking dish to make this showstopper. That means there's maximum surface area for the cheese—a mix of Cheddar, Fontina, Gruyère and Parmigiano-Reggiano—to brown and bubble.

Get the recipe: The Smith's Mac & Cheese
Penne Pasta Quattro Formaggi with Butternut Squash and Sage

Photo: Paige Green

The Veggiest
With roasted butternut squash and sage mixed in to the pasta and cheese sauce, plus a sage and bread crumb topping, this casserole from chef Mitch Rosenthal's book, Cooking My Way Back Home, has a delightful balance of textures.

Get the recipe: Penne Pasta Quattro Formaggi with Butternut Squash and Sage
Home-Style Mac and Cheese

Photo: Home Restaurant

The Most Likely to Go with Sangria
This mac 'n' cheese put the New York restaurant Home on the map. The recipe matches robust extra-sharp Cheddar, Wisconsin Asiago and dry Jack cheeses with smoked paprika for a subtle Spanish flavor.

Get the recipe: Home-Style Mac and Cheese
Pit-Smoked Longhorn Cheddar Mac & Cheese

Photo: Hill Country Barbecue Market

The Smokiest
Elizabeth Karmel, executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market, which has outposts in New York and Washington, D.C., has figured out a way to marry the flavor of mac 'n' cheese with one of its classic accompaniments: smoked, barbecued meat. Karmel places the casserole in a smoker or a grill prepared with wood chips until it's hot and bubbly, which gives the dish a faint smokiness.

Get the recipe: Pit-Smoked Longhorn Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Cheesy Spaghetti Pie

Photo: Benchmarc Restaurants

The Most Playful
Who says mac 'n' cheese has to be limited to elbows or shells? Chef and restaurateur Marc Murphy, of Landmarc and Ditch Plains restaurants in New York, started subbing in spaghetti and making a pie-shaped version for his children and their friends as an after-school snack. As it turns out, adults love it too.

Get the recipe: Cheesy Spaghetti Pie
Short Rib Mac 'n' Cheese with Gruyere

Photo: Theresa Smith

The Meatiest
Two legendary foods join forces in this dish from chef Brandon McGlamery of Luma on Park restaurant in Orlando, Florida. He makes a smooth Gruyère béchamel and folds in pieces of braised short rib, black pepper and grated horseradish, and then tosses it with rigatoni (which has ridges that are perfect for holding on to the cheese).

Get the recipe: Short Rib Mac 'n' Cheese with Gruyère
Lobster Mac 'n' Cheese

Photo: Patrick McNamara

The Most Over-the-Top
Lobster tastes rich and buttery on its own. Pair it with creamy pasta—as chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier do at their Maine and Massachusetts restaurants—and it takes on a decadence we didn't know was possible.

Get the recipe: Lobster Mac 'n' Cheese
Lunch Lady Doris's Spicy Mac and Cheese

Photo: Thinkstock

The Kickiest
Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock, aka the Casserole Queens, throw a dash of cayenne pepper into this luscious mac 'n' cheese. Sun-dried tomatoes help absorb some of the heat.

Get the recipe: Lunch Lady Doris's Spicy Mac and Cheese
Goat Cheese and Beet Plin with Tarragon

Photo: Kelly Campbell

The Most Nontraditional
Pasta pillows stuffed with a mixture of beets, goat cheese and Parmesan are tasty enough. But Philadelphia chef and Rustic Italian Food author Marc Vetri takes them a step further: He tosses the "plin," as he calls them, with a butter-tarragon sauce and tops them with more Parmesan. The dish isn't baked like a traditional mac 'n' cheese, but it's no less satisfying.

Get the recipe: Goat Cheese and Beet Plin with Tarragon
Healthy Mac and Cheese

Photo: Thinkstock

The Lightest
This is no bland, low-cal mac 'n' cheese. Instead, whole wheat pasta, Greek yogurt and butternut squash add rich and hearty flavor—without the extra calories.

Get the recipe: Healthy Mac and Cheese