Taste Test: How to Cool Down a Spicy Mouth
Melt has an extensive menu that covers classic blends (chorizo and potato), pork (Cuban War Pig), beef (Cleveland cheesesteak), and pierogi (the Parmageddon). It's the best thing to come out of the Forest City since a certain basketball stud (we're talking about Earl Boykins, obviously).
Freezing weather and lack of championships be damned! This grilled cheese shop gives the entire city of Cleveland a reason to stick around. Also, if you get a Melt tattoo, you get a 25% discount for life. It's probably worth it.
We're not saying that the Grilled Cheese Grill invented the sandwich-bunned burger (we're also not saying it didn't...), but the fact of the matter is that a grilled-cheese burger is only as good as the sandwiches that bookend the patty. Luckily, GCG's Cheesus is held together by two of the best grilled cheeses in the country, served from an OG food cart and best eaten on a psychedelic bus parked next to the mini kitchen. Not into burgers? No problem. Gourmet grilled cheeses here also include one made to taste like a jalapeño popper, another with Brie and roasted peppers, and an Italian variation stacked with cured meats known as the Shocker. Miraculously, the simple American cheese version manages to still stand out. Especially when there's a burger on top of it. -- Andy Kryza, senior editor
San Francisco, California
The seven-time winner of the Grilled Cheese Invitational has to keep up appearances, but this NorCal eatery more than covers its ass with some of the best grilled cheeses on the West Coast... or any coast, for that matter. Originator Heidi Gibson has a degree in engineering from MIT, which explains how she came up with the transcendent idea of the breakfast grilled cheese -- which beats the hell out of a simple cup of Folgers, in the "best part of waking up" arena.
In addition to its signature grilled cheese with applewood-smoked Cheddar and a hot cup of bisque, this Hot 'Lanta (sorry) staple holds a monthly grilled cheese-and-wine dinner that pairs new blends with suitable bottles of vino. The resto says, "This combination lets diners reminisce about childhood with a touch of added sophistication." We say, "Sounds good!"
Los Angeles, California
When Barker Bradford wrote "Oh My Darling, Clementine" in the 1850s, this quaint SoCal mini-chain of family-owned bakeries is almost definitely what he had in mind. Offering some timeless favorites like grilled pimento cheese and a classic white cheddar grilled cheese, all with locally sourced ingredients, Clementine is a breath of fresh, simple, cheesy air in the land of Kardashians, fake tans, and plastic body parts.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
If you couldn't tell from the name, HopCat is -- primarily -- a joint focused on sports and beer first, and everything else second. But considering they have 130 beers on tap (meaning, if you tried one per hour, you'd be there for five-and-a-half days), it only makes sense to supply thirsty patrons with something appetizing to line their stomachs -- and to make the latest Lions loss more bearable. Their legendary Madtown grilled cheese combines smoked Gouda, Muenster, and dill havarti -- the greatest Michigan-based trifecta since Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, and Chauncey Billups -- with apple slices, honey, and garlic aioli, all between two thick-as-Barry-Sander's-thighs slices of sourdough bread. HopCat, which now has 16 locations throughout Michigan and the Midwest, is consistently recognized nationally as one of the best craft beer bars in the States. It's about time its grilled cheese gets some recognition, too.
Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Probably... but when chicken tenders are involved, the more excess, the better. This is exactly how people in Chicago think, God bless their gluttonous hearts. Cheesie's Tenderizer (pictured above) features tenders, mozz, Cheddar, bacon, hot sauce, and Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce squeezed between two slices of thick Texas toast. And this is just a single offering from the menu that features a dozen other cheesy iterations, all of which come with a distinct dipping sauce (the Tenderizer comes with ranch, just so you know). Dipping your GC in ranch is totally acceptable, unlike other comfort foods.
When you think of Nashville's food scene, BBQ and hot chicken immediately spring to mind. And by all means, you should totally gorge on all that stuff on your next Aziz Ansari-style jaunt to the Music City. But please, save a little pocket of stomach space for this gourmet sandwich truck, founded by a husband-and-wife team of LA transplants (one of which happens to be a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef). Their truck is always packing eco-friendly melts like the B&B of Tennessee (Benton's bacon, buttermilk Cheddar, and seasonal jam on multigrain), and they're even cool enough to let you build your own sandwich on the fly, with any combo of their 15+ ingredients.
New York owes the City of Brotherly Love a thank you, as the PA original Meltkraft has expanded its line of revered grilled cheeses throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. The cheese in the artisanal sandwiches at Meltkraft come from cows, sheep, and goats that are actually owned by the restaurant. Be sure to try the Valley Thunder (12-month-aged Cheddar, beef brisket, and baked macaroni & cheese) and/or the Melter Skelter (three-month-aged raclette, pickled green tomatoes, jalapeños, BBQ potato chips, and watercress). See, there's more to this city than cheesesteaks. There's also Meltkraft. Oh, and a Rocky statue.
If you've ever been to Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Badgers, you'll know they care about cheese... possibly moreso than any other place/people on the planet. You know, Wisconsin Cheddar, cheese curds, cheeseheads, and all that. So, it probably shouldn't come as that much of a surprise that a sandwich from Madison made the cut. What might be semi-surprising, is the sheer number of (!) vegetables that somehow slid their way into the best grilled cheese in our cheesiest, most calorie-laden state. Alchemy, long a music venue and late-night comfort food haunt for inquiring University of Wisconsin students, is known locally and nationally for their stuffed grilled cheese, a packed-to-the-gills cheese sandwich with roasted carrots, red onions, tomato, broccoli, and cilantro pesto sauce. All this comes together to smother the combo of Swiss and (duh) local Cheddar into some levels of health-consciousness... all between two thick slices of sourdough bread. I'm pretty sure that's your daily dose of vegetables right there. And hey, in Wisconsin, you might even be set for the entire week.
Brooklyn, New York
The "Adult Cheese" sounds like the worlds worst dirty movie... in reality, it may be New York City's best and most distinct grilled cheese in a sea of copycats and soggy to-go containers. The addition of roja salsa, cream cheese, and poblanos to the classic Cheddar and (probably) pimento blend may strike some as violating grilled cheese sacrosanct -- but really, if that's your mindset, you need to grow up. Oh... maybe that's why they call it the "Adult Cheese."
Seattle, Washington, and New York, New York
Beecher's Pike Place Market location quickly gained cult status during the early '00s as one of the best grilled cheese spots in Seattle -- and the entire country. It finally took its show to the East Coast, opening a New York outfit in 2011 (we are very thankful). It's a straight-up cheese shop, first and foremost, but the cafe also offers a variety of meat-laden grilled cheeses on crispy artisanal bread that makes you wonder why Starbucks remains the Emerald City's second most loved export. (No. 1 is Frasier, obviously.)
People can argue all day about the perfect grilled cheese ratio, but at 24 Diner it's two parts freshly baked sourdough (from its sister restaurant Easy Tiger), two parts cheese (Cheddar and havarti), and one part butter to turn that bread into a crispy, golden diet-destroyer. On top of the basics, it adds roasted tomatoes for a big burst of umami, and when the server asks if you'd like to add bacon and avocado, the answer should always be a resounding "yes." -- Dan Gentile, staff writer
If you can wade through all the crunchy "Vermont-ness" (if you've been there, you know what I'm talking about) present at the all-around pleasant farmers market in Woodstock, Vermont, you'll find one of the best grilled cheeses of your lifetime. The expansive menu touts myriad sandwiches packing genuine Vermont Cheddar, with options for carnivores and vegetarians alike. If you've ever met someone from Vermont, you've probably heard about "how great Vermont is" no less than 30 times. When it comes to sandwiches, they may be selling themselves short.
Steuben's is Denver's unofficial source for top-notch comfort food, and it has been since it opened its doors 10 years ago -- if you translate that age into "restaurant years," it's practically 100. But it still looks damn good. Its sandwich is a decadent cheese bomb, with two slices of Texas toast needed to structurally support the yellow, white, American, and Muenster cheeses within, and it's somehow only $5. With that low of a price point, the restaurant is begging you to add green chile (because it's Colorado) and bacon (because it's sourced from local pork geniuses Tender Belly). It comes with a side of chips and a pickle, but we're guessing you won't have room. -- Lee Breslouer, senior writer
Charlotte, North Carolina
Tupelo Honey Cafe describes its Southern Belle grilled cheese "... as delicate as it is bold!" This is very much the case with almost every Southern belle I've ever met, and it definitely holds up in sandwich form. This classy dish packs Brie, Gorgonzola cheese, and house-made pear & onion marmalade on sourdough, because sometimes, you just need a little Southern sophistication. And now, that sophistication has spread throughout the South, as Tupelo has outposts in Virginia, Tennessee, and that other Carolina.
A perennial favorite for "best food truck in Miami," Ms. Cheezious has now taken root in Vice City with a brick-and-mortar store, so you always have a solid joint for sandwiches in between tanning sessions and watching Scarface (that's what people in Miami do, right?) The cheeky name only exemplifies the playful menu: we're talking about barbecue pork melts, cheesy crab melts, and even a waffle-and-chicken melt. And if you are the kind of person who likes to cleanse his palate with a decadent dessert (my man!), try the s'mores melt, which is exactly what you'd expect it to be.
Wilton Manors, Florida
At first glance, New York Grilled Cheese seemingly has a lot going against it. First, for a restaurant that loudly touts itself as New York-ian, it sure seems to be very much inside the state of Florida. One strike. Secondly, in lieu of bread, NYGC unabashedly uses waffles as its grilled cheese vessel. While we can't defend the Florida thing, we certainly can assure you that New York Grilled Cheese's decision to opt for the waffle may be the best thing to happen to the grilled cheese since sliced bread (which is the first time that cliche actually make sense). They tout themselves as the "Home Of The Waffled Grilled Cheese®," and their menu is flush with elaborate sandwiches, all featuring hot-pressed waffle buns. Some menu standouts include the breakfast-centric Wall Street Grinder Award, with scrambled eggs, thick-cut bacon, caramelized onions, and waffle fries on waffle-seared garlic bread. Or, the Meatpacking District, with slow-cooked brisket, chive and horseradish Cheddar, American cheese, and their top-secret Holy Aioli sauce. It's enough to make you feel like Frank Sinatra in the middle of Florida, humidity be damned.
Grilled Cheese & Co. -- which owns the coveted ILoveGrilledCheese.com domain name -- is a regional Maryland chain that serves up handmade sandwiches along with homemade soup. It sounds like a lot of work, but it is definitely worth the trouble. The trademark is the literally trademarked Crabby Melt®, which combines the already-amazing sandwiches with sweet claw crab meat and signature Crabby Dip. And you thought The Wire was the best thing to come out of Baltimore...
You may see Roxy's food truck cruising the streets of Boston, and if you do, chase it down like a fat kid scoping the first ice cream truck of the summer. Or don't, because it now has several brick-and-mortar joints all over the greater Boston area. You can frequent them at your convenience to sample dishes like the absolutely essential Mighty Rib Melt, with fontina, braised short rib, and caramelized onion. It's as sharp as a Harvard undergrad, without the crippling sense of entitlement that usually comes with.
Fair Oaks, Indiana
If you've ever craved the chance to commune with the cows who provided the raw materials for the grilled cheese you're about to consume, Fair Oaks Farms is your place -- a working dairy farm in Indiana that also happens to create a killer grilled cheese at their ... wait for it ... Cowfe (yep). Delightfully crisp ciabatta provides the base for your choice of their cheese -- mild cheddar, swiss, or havarti pepper -- and they'll happily add ham or bacon should you desire, but this cheese doesn't need any help from pork products. -- Matt Lynch, senior editor