- Mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food.
- I tried the mac and cheese from Popeyes, Boston Market, Panera Bread, KFC,Subway, and Chick-fil-A to see which chain does it best.
- With real cheese baked in, Chick-fil-A’s mac and cheese offered a tangy and rich flavour that left its competition in the dust.
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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.
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 Manhattan locations of six chains: Popeyes, Boston Market, Panera, KFC, Subway, and Chick-fil-A.
Each one was melty and cheesy, but only one offered a tangy and rich flavour 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.
I was concerned by how quickly my mac came out. It was as if the cashier had whipped it out of a storage rack.
It tasted like prepackaged cafeteria food. There was a layer of film on top, and the pasta itself was mushy yet brittle.
The sauce was decently cheesy, but also kind of watery. It was mostly just bland.
I was disappointed by Popeyes’ mac. Only the chicken will keep me coming back.
Boston Market was the only chain that sold mac and cheese with rotini noodles instead of the more traditional elbow macaroni.
It was slightly cheesier and creamier than Popeyes’ mac. Mostly it tasted like Kraft straight from the box.
The pasta was hotter and fresher, though, and the rotini worked surprisingly well. The extra surface area and curly shape allowed for more sauce to soak in.
However, the texture was mostly just mushy.
I enjoyed Boston Market’s mac slightly more than Popeyes’, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it when I can just make an equivalent mac at home.
Panera hovers in the odd purgatory between fancy and fast.
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.
But the mixture was more salty than cheesy. The pasta was predictably mushy.
The sauce was watery rather than cheesy and tasted mostly of milk and salt.
I’d take a box of Kraft over Panera’s plain mac and cheese any day. However, Panera does have several loaded-mac options that might taste better.
Unlike Panera, KFC has no business pretending to be healthy or fancy — so it doesn’t.
And honestly, that’s a good thing. KFC fully embraces its role as a purveyor of bad-for-you food that tastes good.
Its mac and cheese tastes artificial and plasticky. It also tastes pretty good.
The sauce was cheesier, denser, and slightly sweet. The pasta was mushy and very floury.
But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it overall. Out of the four options I’d tasted so far, it was the most satisfying.
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?
Subway’s mac was very hot and very creamy.
The pasta was on the thicker side. The sauce, though very creamy, was slightly less salty and cheesy than I would have liked.
The main taste that lingered after each bite was that of milk.
Subway’s mac is actually quite satisfying, even if it isn’t especially flavorful. It tastes like dairy, if not cheese.
A new item on the menu, Chick-fil-A’s mac and cheese was sold out the first time I tried to buy it.
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.
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.
It was tangy and rich with the taste of real cheese and heavy cream.
The texture was also great — the mac was less mushy than most, and the baked cheese added variety to each bite.
Out of all the mac-and-cheese bowls I tried, Chick-fil-A had the best by far. The second best, Subway, didn’t even come close. Chick-fil-A’s mac tasted homemade, as if it’d been made from scratch and pulled fresh from a grandma’s oven (but not my grandma — she’s also lactose intolerant).
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