Grilled cheese tops the comfort-food scale for many Americans. The combination of crisp, buttered bread enfolding ooey, gooey cheese is irresistible, and gourmets have reinvented and updated the classic with artisinal ingredients and imaginative twists. Food trucks dedicated to grilled cheese prowl major cities, and cafés across the country specialize in this beloved sandwich. Price is one more reason America loves its grilled cheese. While there are plenty of break-the-bank versions (including the world's most expensive sandwich), many gourmet grilled cheeses ring up well under $10. Here are 10 drool-worthy examples in honor of National Grilled Cheese Month.
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This is a classic grilled cheese made with artisanal ingredients, and it really hits the spot -- especially paired with one of the restaurant's craft beer options. Baguettes are sourced daily from a local bakery and generously stuffed with Shelburne cheddar and Reading raclette cheeses. The oversize sandwich ($7) gets a smear of housemade aioli on the top and bottom before it's pressed. The effect is a classic browned and buttery crunch on the bread with indulgently gooey melted cheese pooling out the side. It comes with pickles and chips.
There's something deeply comforting about an old-school restaurant that isn't trying to reinvent the wheel, just serving up classic, homestyle sandwiches. The grilled cheese menu at Queenie's has four options, starting with a blend of pepperjack and cheddar between toasty seven-grain bread smothered with sauce, tomato, and red onion ($8), and the restaurant takes kindly to additional requests. There's a grilled turkey variation, one with crisp bacon, and the Santa Fe, which is served with mild green chiles.
Park Main upgrades a simple sandwich with top-notch ingredients. While many places use nondescript bacon and watery tomatoes, the tomatoes here are ripe and juicy -- but the real star is the pecan-wood-smoked bacon. The sweet, smoky, and umami-rich flavors combine in delicious harmony. The sandwich ($9) is served daily during lunch, and there's a ham option, as well, for $8.
This Portland food stand has two storefronts and a roving converted bus, and they do the "Grilled Cheese Grill" name justice. The full menu of around 20 cheesey offerings is broken down by category, including desserts and rotating specials, all coming in under $10. One of the many specialty offerings is a genius combination of grilled jalapeños for flavor and heat, cream cheese and colby jack for the filling, and tortilla chips for a crunchy, southwestern kick ($6.50).
The mission at Roxy's is to elevate grilled cheese to unimagined and sophisticated heights. Head to the Allston location for its namesake creation ($6.50), which can be paired with some of the the site's craft beer offerings. This mature take on a childhood favorite combines herbed goat cheese, peppery arugula, sweet caramelized onions, and fig jam. A food truck serves four versions of updated grilled cheeses starting at $5.
This family company has been in business since 1939, and its flagship location in Rittenhouse Square offers five grilled cheese sandwiches, all under $9. There are other examples of chefs layering caramelized onions and juicy brisket with semi-hard, nutty cheeses to make an epic sandwich, but sherry vinegar and sesame-seed bread bring layers of complexity to a dish that isn't used to such treatment. Other Di Bruno grilled cheeses, such as the Spicy Italian and Cheddar Chutney with smoked gouda, make the case for return trips.
A grilled cheese has only two essential ingredients, and this café's specialty is the bread. The Southern California bakery gives grilled cheese an adult-friendly, European makeover by melting together triple cream brie and gorgonzola between rosemary olive oil bread ($8). There's an option to add fresh roma tomatoes when in season, and a half-sandwich ($5) is also available.
How do you make cheddar and pepperjack on sourdough even more indulgent? Melthouse upgrades this classic combination with additions of roasted cauliflower and red peppers -- and the pièce de résistance: tempura fried onions. With double crunch, creamy cheese, and sweet nutty flavors from the veggies, this "deluxe" offering from the restaurant's extensive menu ($8) stays true to the essence of grilled cheese while being much more than a simple sandwich.
This grilled cheese mini empire has six locations across Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Philly. It takes pride in using its own handcrafted cheese to ensure every sandwich is made with high-quality ingredients. This staple on the menu at each location combines aged raclette with pickled green tomatoes, jalapeño, watercress, and barbecue potato chips for extra crunch and sweet tang. As any sandwich aficionado knows, adding potato chips between the bread is a pro move, and a welcome twist in this cheesy meal ($8.50).
This mini chain of four restaurants brings the best of local Chesapeake fare to the world of grilled cheese. For the Crabby Melt ($7.50), sweet Maryland crab dip is blended with monterey jack cheese between crisp ciabatta. The mild, ultra- creamy filling lets through the natural flavor of the crab. With so many specialties under $10 on the menu, this is something of a grilled cheese mecca. An offering on the "underground menu" adds grilled chicken and bacon to the Crabby Melt and keeps the price to $10.