We tried mac and cheese from 4 different fast-food chains ― and the winner was also the cheapest option

Zoë MillerOur mac and cheese taste test sampled Popeye’s, Panera, Boston Market and KFC.
  • As part of an ongoing taste-test series, INSIDER tried mac and cheese from four different fast-food restaurants.
  • We tested the offerings from Popeyes, Panera Bread, Boston Market, and KFC.
  • Popeyes was the winner.

Eaten as a side or as an entrée, mac and cheese is a classic comfort food that both kids and adults enjoy. If you want a bowl of cheesy goodness on the go, various fast-food chains offer a take on this simple but satisfying dish.

To determine where to get the best fast-food mac and cheese, INSIDER went to four restaurants as part of an ongoing taste-test series. We’ve previously tried everything from fried chicken and mashed potatoes to chocolate chip cookies and coffee.

Here’s what we sampled:

  • Popeyes
  • Panera Bread
  • Boston Market
  • KFC

To stay consistent, we ordered the smallest portion available at each restaurant (called “small,” “regular,” or “individual”).

Keep scrolling to see who won.

Popeyes had the cheapest option.

Zoë MillerPopeyes had the cheapest option.

The fried chicken may be the main event at Popeyes, but the chain is also known for its signature side dishes, which range from biscuits to red beans and rice.

Popeyes’ mac and cheese, made with classic elbow noodles, was the cheapest option we tried: a regular portion cost $US1.99. Although the sauce was on the salty side, with a taste reminiscent of American cheese squares, it was pleasantly creamy and slightly tangy. The pasta itself could have been a little chewier, but it wasn’t overcooked.

Panera Bread offered the most generous portion ― but it was also the priciest.

Zoë MillerPanera was the most expensive but also offered the biggest portion.

Panera‘s mac and cheese is so popular that copycat recipes abound on the internet. Boasting a savoury, sharp cheddar flavour and an appealing pale yellow colour, its thick sauce had a similar consistency to a cream-based soup (after all, one of the chain’s signature dishes is its broccoli cheddar soup). The noodles, mini pasta shells cooked al dente, were evenly coated by the sauce, in our opinion.

Despite its rich flavour and authentic taste, this pasta dish’s price was less attractive. At $US5.19 for a (generously-sized) small portion, which also includes your choice of kettle chips, bread, or an apple, in our opinion Panera’s take isn’t the most wallet-friendly option if you’re looking for a habitual mac and cheese fix.

The mac and cheese from Boston Market tasted like the boxed kind.

Zoë MillerBoston Market mac and cheese is reminiscent of boxed mac and cheese.

For $US2.59, Boston Market’s individual size was on the skimpier side. The sauce, which appeared bright orange, tasted similar to the powdered variety that comes with boxed mac and cheese. It wasn’t bad, but in our opinion it clung to the pasta in uneven globs. The noodles themselves, which had a semi-soft consistency, were the best part ― Boston Market gets props for using corkscrew-shaped rotini pasta instead of macaroni.

KFC’s was the second-cheapest, but it didn’t taste natural.

Zoë MillerKFC’s mac and cheese had a texture similar to rice pudding.

KFC‘s individual mac and cheese, which cost $US2.29, was the second-cheapest option after Popeyes’. However, the sauce had an artificial, buttery flavour ― like eating straight margarine. A milder sauce would have also balanced out the toughness of the elbow noodles, in our opinion. Overall, the consistency of this mac and cheese was similar to rice pudding.

Although it was a close call, Popeyes was the winner with a price that couldn’t be beaten.

Zoë MillerPopeye’s was the winner overall.

At nearly one-third of the price of Panera’s mac and cheese, Popeyes’ was a steal ― especially considering that the chain’s regular portion appeared to be larger than the individual sizes from Boston Market and KFC.

Panera Bread was the runner-up.

Zoë MillerPanera was a solid runner up.

Panera’s mac and cheese tasted the most authentic, but it’s not the best option for those on a budget.


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