I tried mac and cheese from 6 fast-food chains, and the winner blew away the competition

I tried the mac and cheese from six chains, and Chick-fil-A's was by far the best.

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I tried the mac and cheese from six chains, and Chick-fil-A’s was by far the best.
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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Mac and cheese is fun.

There’s just something about a warm, gooey, cheesy bowl of mac that brings me back to the days before I had to worry about rent, medical bills, and the looming climate apocalypse.

Read more: I tried the signature burgers from 5 major fast-food chains, and the winner was obvious

Armed with a handful of lactose pills, I went on a quest to find the best mac and cheese the fast-food world has to offer. I ate the mac and cheese from six chains’ Manhattan locations: Popeyes, Boston Market, Panera, KFC, Subway, and Chick-fil-A.

Each one was melty and cheesy, but only one offered a tangy and rich flavor that left its competition in the dust.

Here’s how they compared:


Popeyes has truly won my heart with its fried chicken. But I wasn’t sure if its mac and cheese would win me over too.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I was concerned by how quickly my mac came out. It was as if the cashier had whipped it out of a storage rack.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

It tasted like pre-packaged cafeteria food. There was a layer of film on top, and the pasta itself was mushy yet brittle.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The sauce was decently cheesy, but also kind of watery. It was mostly just bland.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I was disappointed by Popeyes’ mac. Only the chicken will keep me coming back.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Read more: I ate 8 chicken sandwiches from fast-food chains, and the best was also the cheapest


Boston Market was the only chain that sold mac and cheese with rotini noodles instead of the more traditional elbow macaroni.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

It was slightly cheesier and creamier than Popeyes’ mac. Mostly, it tasted like Kraft straight from the box.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The pasta was hotter and fresher, though, and the rotini worked surprisingly well. Their extra surface area and curly shape allowed for more sauce to soak in.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

However, the texture was mostly just that of mush.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I enjoyed Boston Market’s mac slightly more than I did Popeyes’, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it when I can just make an equivalent mac at home.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Panera hovers in the odd purgatory between fancy and fast.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Read more: I ate the same meal at Texas Roadhouse, Outback Steakhouse, and LongHorn Steakhouse. Here’s how they compared.


Its mac and cheese was no exception. The wider, shell-like macaroni and white cheese sauce were like a cafeteria version of Annie’s white cheddar shells.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

But the mixture was more salty than cheesy. The pasta was predictably mushy.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The sauce was watery rather than cheesy and tasted mostly of milk and salt.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I’d take a box of Kraft over Panera’s plain mac and cheese any day. However, Panera does have several loaded mac options which might taste better.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Unlike Panera, KFC has no business pretending to be healthy or fancy — so it doesn’t.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

And honestly, that’s a good thing. KFC fully embraces its role as a purveyor of bad-for-you food that tastes good.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Its mac and cheese tastes artificial and plasticky. It also tastes pretty good.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The sauce was cheesier, denser, and slightly sweet. The pasta was mushy and very floury.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it overall. Out of the four tasted I’d tasted so far, it was the most satisfying.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Read more: I ate chicken nuggets from 6 fast-food chains, and the best were also the cheapest


Subway doesn’t really sell anything that traditionally goes with a side of mac. But why not eat mac and cheese with your sub sandwich?

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Subway’s mac was very hot and very creamy.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The pasta was on the thicker side. The sauce, although very creamy, was slightly less salty and cheesy than I would have liked.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The main taste that lingered after each bite was that of milk.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Subway’s mac is actually quite satisfying, even if it isn’t especially flavorful. It tastes like dairy, if not like cheese.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Read more: I tasted french fries from 8 major fast-food chains, and the winner surprised me


A new item on the menu, Chick-fil-A’s mac and cheese was sold out the first time I tried to buy it.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I returned early the next day and managed to snag a cup. As soon as I took off the cap, I knew I had something special.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I’ve never been particularly impressed by the Chick-fil-A items I’ve had in the past, but this mac and cheese was a different story.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

It was tangy and rich with the taste of real cheese and heavy cream.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The texture was also great, with the mac being less mushy than most and the baked cheese adding extra variety to each bite.

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Out of all the macs and cheese I tried, Chick-fil-A had the best bowl by far. Subway, which was second-best, didn’t even come close. Chick-fil-A’s mac tasted homemade, like it’d been made from scratch and pulled fresh from a grandma’s oven. (Not my grandma — she’s also lactose intolerant.)

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider