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These gooey concoctions don't break the bank

By Kase Wickman
Globe Correspondent / February 18, 2009

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College kids: put down the blue box! We know you love macaroni and cheese, and we know you're on a budget. Lucky for you, not all Boston restaurants serve up mac with truffle oil and hefty tabs. These three local spots deliver the double whammy of delicious comfort food and value - not to mention the leftovers. So save yourself the time doing dishes, and the weirdly high sodium levels, and hop on the T for these cheesy, ooey gooey mac meals.

MMMac & Cheese
Fighting through the tourists in Faneuil Hall can be exhausting, so it's a good thing that a mac mecca awaits the courageous at the east end of the Quincy Market building. MMMac & Cheese, sharing space with an organic salad joint, offers up Frisbee-sized containers of made-to-order macaroni concoctions, oversize noodles swimming in ultra-cheesy sauce. Try the Italian mac (the basic noodles-and-sauce mixture with basil, tomato, mozzarella, and Parmesan; $8.50 for a large), watch it cooked in an individual frying pan in front of you, then take it away in a microwave-safe container, ready for the leftovers you will undoubtedly have (a large serves up two generous dinner portions). In addition to plain old cheese, MMMac offers up Cajun and barbecue variations, among others. Before you steel yourself to find a seat among the out-of-towners gaping at the buskers, be sure to ask for a VIP card, which will entitle you to 15 percent off on all your inevitable return trips. Quincy Market building, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, 617-523-4622.

Trident Booksellers & Cafe
The keyword for this bowl is butter. Traditional elbow noodles swim in creamy sauce alongside comfortingly cubed peas, carrots, and ham - vegetarians, the friendly staff is happy to leave out the pork with no grumbles - topped with crumbled Ritz crackers ($12.95). Customers eat their generous portions (slightly smaller than the human head) of reassuringly mom-reminiscent pasta in the quiet brownstone book- shop, looking out on the shoppers on Newbury Street and surrounded by original art and a vast magazine selection - which do you prefer, French, Italian, or British Vogue, the Atlantic or McSweeney's Quarterly? They've got them all. If you're hankering for mom, a good read, and about three dinner-size portions of pasta in one place, Trident's got you written all over it. 338 Newbury St., Boston, 617-267-8688.

T. Anthony's Pizzeria and Restaurant
Macaroni and cheese - and college campus atmosphere - are best experienced here in the wee hours; T. Anthony's is open until 3 a.m. on Fridays. The mac here is no-frills: cheddar, American, and elbow noodles reign supreme under a straightforward bread crumb layer. Warm, cheesy, and cheap ($8) is just what the post-midnight doctor ordered, and T. Anthony's serves it up superbly, if not so delicately. The youngish local staff prefer to bellow orders out above the dull roar of college students, and they get impatient quickly. However, the sometimes-surly waitstaff are as much a part of the restaurant's character as the red and white tabletops and walls crammed full of Boston University athletics photos and memorabilia. While you wait for your order, check out the team pictures for the men's basketball teams (and their hilariously short shorts) of the 1970s. Eagles fans beware: Anyone who dares enter wearing Boston College colors will be summarily mocked. 1015 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-734-7708.