During these tough times, comfort food has exploded as Los Angeles’ new frozen yogurt. No one wants chilly austerity. We want warmth, reassurance, sustenance. We need a big food hug, and nothing wraps you up in its embrace and promises everything will be OK quite like macaroni and cheese. When the need strikes, rather than reaching for a little blue box, set your course for Downtown, where Mac & Cheeza is ready to greet you with open arms.

Brought to you by the culinary masterminds behind Eagle Rock’s exceptional contemporary soul food mecca, Larkin’s, Mac & Cheeza champions a Burger King-style “have it your way” attitude with their bare bones, laid-back operation. Tucked unassumingly in an 8th Street storefront, halfway between the bustle of grungy Broadway and the artist lofts on Spring Street, you smell Mac & Cheeza before you see it. Follow that pungent garlic and cheese aroma inside the sunny, vaulted concrete industrial space decorated with homemade macaroni art, where a conveyor belt oven and a cornucopia of options awaits you, and get ready to be overwhelmed.

The dining experience at Mac & Cheeza is best described as an embarrassment of riches. With special care for both vegans and the intolerants (gluten and dairy-free diets are well catered to), diners are invited to compose their own cheesy opus. You begin with noodles, either regular or rice, that are topped with a Cheeza base: your choice of cheese or soy, a thick, heavily garlic bath that clings to each noodle and bakes into a sturdy base for the add-ins that come next. If you want to keep your mac ’n’ cheese bare, you’re welcome to, but why not get down with your bad self and toss in some jalapenos, barbecue chicken Or any of the other dozen-plus choices you’re presented with?

Veggies like collard greens, black olives, peas, green onions, mushrooms, tomatoes or spinach can be added, along with ground beef, barbecue chicken, hot links, tuna, bacon, ham, chorizo or veggie sausage. Then it’s all topped with either a cheese blend or spicy toasted walnuts and sent down their conveyor belt oven until it’s a bubbling cheesy cauldron that’s not only delicious, but made to order.

On a recent visit, the barbecue chicken, collard greens and tomatoes called my name. I was nervously expecting the chicken to be something like pulled pork, but it was actually sweet, smoky, chopped chunks of dark and white meat. The collards, similar but mellower than the five-alarm version served at Larkin’s, were spicy and quietly homey, balancing nicely with the tomatoes. It was hearty, unexpected and delicious.

Unexpectedly, rice noodles mixed with the soy cheese base and topped with spicy walnuts was just as satisfying as anything featuring real meat or cheese. That’s the magic of Mac & Cheeza.

Chef Larkin Mackey and co-owner Joshua McBride, who live mere blocks from their new outpost, borrowed the restaurant’s concept from Mackey’s brother, Sean, who established the brand in Bakersfield. Looking for a smaller, less cumbersome operation, Mac & Cheeza is more about takeout and delivery, than settling in. While a few low benches and small, end table-looking stools can be commandeered by diners, guests are invited to grab-and-go with their Baby Mac ($5, plus additions), Momma Mac ($10, plus additions), Daddy Mac ($15) or Mac Daddy ($20 and big enough to feed a small herd) compositions.

But don’t forget about dessert. At the end of the railroad space, conveniently located by the register just in time for impulse purchases while you hungrily await your creation, is a refrigerator stocked with exotic sodas, cherry Kool-Aid and, best of all, desserts courtesy of Mama Mackey. A rotating list of sweets, also available at Larkin’s, make their way through Mac & Cheeza. Last week saw red velvet cake and homemade banana pudding featuring Nilla wafers (drool), but she’s also known for whipping up peach cobbler, sweet potato pie and an outstanding “Sock-It-To-Me” cake. It’s a delectable family affair that’s not to be passed up.

See, who needs a blue box when there’s this new downtown treasure?



For more information, call (213) 622-3782 or visit macandcheeza.com.