“You don't crave something that you've never had, right?” Byrne said. “Cravings are brought on by a memory of something.”

A prime example of a successful memory strategy is the fast-casual Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, Byrne said. “They basically took the kids menu, things that everybody can relate to—chicken fingers or maybe mac and cheese would be another example. They took something that every kid loves and initiated the adult application of the kids menu.” Byrne said the chain focused on the one thing they do really well, and there's no need to expand beyond that.

C-stores win with mac and cheese, too. Wisconsin’s Kwik Trip received high praise from a guest: “Their mac and cheese is to die for.”

Knoxville, Tennessee-based Pilot Co. (pictured) also earned kudos: “They serve a fried chicken mac and cheese I really enjoy. The flavors meshing together are wonderful, and I haven’t seen another place with this dish.”