Ranking Fast Food Mac And Cheese From Worst To Best

When you think about fast food, your mind probably goes to standbys like cheeseburgers, fries, fried chicken sandwiches, and chicken nuggets. Like anyone else, most of the time we gravitate toward these classic meals whenever we hit up our favorite fast food joints. But sometimes we like to experiment with lesser-known sides. One of our favorites is macaroni and cheese. Not many fast food restaurants serve ooey-gooey noodles, so whenever we see them, we pounce.

 Some of the fast food mac and cheese offerings out there rival grandma's recipe, while others might leave you disappointed and hungry. To help you tell the difference, we've gone through each noodle dish from worst to best to help you decide which ones are worth ordering and which ones deserve a hard pass. That said, you may disagree with us. So, even if we didn't particularly like one version, we encourage you to give it a try. Who knows? You might discover a new favorite. Now that we've whet your appetite, check out our in-depth ranking of fast food mac and cheese.

14. Mr. Chicken

Southern-style cooking is all about using simple ingredients to create delicious, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs dishes. Mac and cheese is basically the epitome of that definition, so we were excited to see what Cleveland-based Mr. Chicken came up with in the side dish department. Unfortunately, our hopes of a creamy pile of cheese-covered noodles were dashed when we saw the fluorescent-yellow hue of Mr. Chicken's mac. 

To say this side is inedible is a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. For one thing, the elbow noodles tend to be overcooked, which gives them a gummy taste and texture. The sauce leans toward the watery side and is lacking in the flavor department. Now, we're not expecting freshly made cheese when we order mac, but Mr. Chicken's seems well past its sell-by date. On top of that, the gritty texture indicates that the sauce is made using some kind of premixed powder. Despite all of its flaws, though, some people seem to like it. Feel free to give it a taste and let us know what you think. 

13. KFC

Even though we're massive foodies, we tend to stick with what we know — especially when it comes to fast food side dishes. At KFC, that means adding mashed potatoes and biscuits to our chicken tenders order. If you can believe it, we didn't even know KFC served mac and cheese before we started looking at fast food restaurants in depth.

As far as positives go, KFC's macaroni and cheese is served piping hot and the noodles are cooked al dente. Alas, those are about the only good things it has going for it. Right off the bat,  the artificial yellow color and the lack of cheese smell spell trouble. Pretty much the only smell you'll notice is the one coming off the starchy pasta. Taste-wise, it's the same story — all macaroni and no cheese. And contrary to KFC's description, this side isn't creamy, but rather gluey. As far as fast-food macaroni and cheese is concerned, you're better off giving this one a pass and making instant mac and cheese at home.

12. Golden Chick

A mainly Texas-based fast food restaurant, Golden Chick is famous for its hand-breaded fried chicken sandwiches and generous family meals. The latter comes with a choice of sides that includes dirty rice, fried okra, and mac and cheese. Based on looks alone, it's clear that this mac wouldn't be one of our top picks.

While the menu picture looks like good ol' Kraft mac and cheese, the real version more closely resembles a soupy mess. It's so runny, in fact, that you might have trouble keeping the noodles on your fork long enough to taste. If you succeed in coercing some pasta into your mouth, chances are you'll be disappointed by the completely bland flavor profile. Given the lack of originality, poor presentation, and flat flavor, it feels like Golden Chick hasn't made its mac and cheese as big of a priority as its chicken. Try it if you're curious, but make sure to keep your expectations in check. 

11. Bush's Chicken

With frequent specials like Tender Tuesdays and Wing Wednesdays, plus a list of sides that includes okra, Pepper Poppers, and corn nuggets, it's easy to miss the mac and cheese at Bush's Chicken. That's a shame, too, because Bush's cheesy pasta dish is a solid item on a chicken-dominated menu. Available in single or family size, you can order just enough for a little taste or make everyone happy by bringing home the larger size.

Like many fast food companies, Bush's Chicken makes its macaroni and cheese with elbow pasta and a cheese sauce that's not particularly revolutionary. It's by no means creative, but it is fairly tasty, and that's all we can ask for when we're indulging in a cheesy cheat day. We've heard from others that it can be bland and watery, but we recommend trying it for yourself before making up your mind.

10. Boston Market

If you're lucky enough to still have a Boston Market nearby, then we recommend adding a mac and cheese side to your next rotisserie chicken order. Unlike a lot of fast food mac and cheese that uses elbow noodles, Boston Market's version is made with spiral rotini noodles. Not only are they way easier to eat (in theory), but their curvy shape and extra surface area hold more cheese than other types of pasta.

While the pasta choice is novel, it can be tough to time the cooking, which might lead to limp noodles that are too weak to stand up to the generous amount of sauce. And speaking of sauce, no one would blame you for thinking it's super cheesy based on looks alone. However, that's not really the case. Sure, the salt level compensates for the lack of cheese flavor, but it just isn't as satisfying as it could be. Overall, it's worth trying once, but the mashed potatoes and cornbread are definitely the stronger side dish options here.

9. Panera Bread (Broccoli Cheddar Mac and Cheese)

Broccoli Cheddar Soup is hands down one of the best items at Panera Bread. Served with tiny bits of broccoli and carrots in a rich cheddar cheese broth, it's the definition of comfort food. Given our amazing soup experience, it's only natural to have high hopes for the mac and cheese riff of this beloved Panera item. Unfortunately, like a lot of remakes, the new version just can't hold a candle to the original. Put simply, this flavor combo works better as a soup than a pasta dish.

For one, the vegetable pieces are tiny — so tiny they don't seem worth including. Not only do they not add much in the flavor department, but if you're chowing down on mac and cheese, there's a good chance you're not super worried about nutritional values. Panera describes the cheese sauce as creamy, but more often than not, it's thin and runny. There are definitely notes of cheddar, but the chalky aftertaste camouflages from what could be a tasty sauce. It's not all bad, though. The noodles are generally well-cooked. Plus, the option to eat mac and cheese out of a bread bowl for no additional charge definitely bumps this dish up a couple of notches.

8. Bojangles

If you live in or have visited the Southeast, then there's a good chance you've heard of Bojangles. Specializing in Cajun-style fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits, Bojangles is the place to go for tasty homestyle food served fast. Like a lot of chicken restaurants, Bojangles offers macaroni and cheese as a side dish (or fixin, as they call it). Made with elbow pasta and a creamy sauce, its version is about as classic as it gets.

While it won't win any awards for innovation, Bojangles' mac and cheese is a solid on-the-go option. The pasta is cooked well, although it might be a bit too soft if you prefer your noodles al dente. Tasting the sauce might help you overlook the slightly soft noodles.  Rich, creamy, and with just the right amount of sharpness, this sauce is surprisingly complex. This is, without a doubt, one fast food mac and cheese we'd happily order again and again.

7. Church's Texas Chicken

Although lesser known than other fast food chicken restaurants, Church's has been serving up delicious Southern comfort food since 1952. Church's chicken and biscuits are out of this world, but ignoring its mac and cheese would be a huge mistake.

Made with cheddar cheese and elbow noodles, Church's version may resemble a lot of fast food mac and cheese, but it's better than most. Church's sprinkles its mac with extra cheese, then bakes it to an absolutely perfect golden brown prior to serving. The amount of cheesiness is incredible and is enough to make up for some of the less ideal aspects of this dish. The main issue is consistency. Church's sauce has so much cheese in it that it's almost runny. We prefer a little heft in our mac and cheese, something Church's just doesn't deliver. However, if you like extra-cheesy mac, then this might be perfect for you.

6. Slim Chickens

One of the biggest reasons we love Slim Chickens is that they recognize that adults love mac and cheese just as much as kids do. With that in mind, they've created a tasty, generously-sized mac and cheese side that pairs perfectly with tenders, sandwiches, and wings.

This version is a winner for so many reasons. For starters, the elbow pasta is cooked a perfect al dente. It may seem like a small detail, but properly cooked pasta really is the basis for the perfect mac and cheese. Aside from the perfectly-cooked pasta, the flavor complexity Slim Chickens has created deserves a round of applause. There are at least two different kinds of cheeses present. One is cheddar, for sure, while the other remains a tasty mystery. Finally, it's served steaming hot, another minor detail that's often overlooked by other restaurants. If you ever find yourself near a Slim Chickens, make sure to save room for this mac — we promise it will be worth it. 

5. Dave's Hot Chicken

Los Angeles-based Dave's Hot Chicken has garnered all kinds of praise for its spicy chicken tenders, so we were curious if its mac and cheese side lived up to the hype as well. Like its signature dishes, Dave's mac and cheese has a bit of a kick. If you're sensitive to spicy foods, you might have to limit your portion, but if you can handle a bit of heat, the spiciness adds a whole new level of flavor we didn't know was possible in mac and cheese.

Aside from the spice, the cheese sauce is creamy, smooth, and perfectly gooey. Plus, it's got this slightly orange color that indicates that there's actually real cheese inside and not some artificial powdery replica. The noodles are cooked to the correct texture and provide the perfect backbone for the cheese sauce to shine through. There's really nothing we don't like about this version, but if you're looking for a more classic mac, this one might miss the mark.

4. Panera Bread

Although Panera's Broccoli Cheddar Mac and Cheese missed the mark, the chain's standard mac is one of its best menu items and more than makes up for it. The original version is made with shell pasta, which, by itself, is a welcome change from all of the elbow macaroni. On top of that, the shells come out with plenty of bite left to support the creamy sauce.

What Panera has managed to do with its sauce is truly magnificent. It's thick, rich, creamy, and full of sharp white cheddar cheese. Its depth and complexity are impressive for any restaurant, but they're spectacular when you consider that Panera is a fast-casual eatery. If we had to nitpick, we'd say that it's lacking a bit of spice. But even adding a few shakes of black pepper or a dash of hot sauce would be enough to catapult this mac and cheese to the top spot. Try it on your next visit and you'll be in heaven throughout your whole meal. 

3. Popeye's

Like any foodies worth their salt, if Anthony Bourdain blesses something, we listen. In a 2017 interview with The Boston Globe, the late "Parts Unknown" host revealed Popeye's mac and cheese as his most shameful guilty pleasure food. That's a pretty serious endorsement, and it's worth asking if Popeye's mac and cheese really is one of the best. 

In true homestyle fashion, this tasty side is made with plenty of real butter, cream, and cheddar cheese. Before serving, it's topped with extra shreds and baked. The result is a perfectly browned crust that adds just the right amount of crunch to an otherwise gooey dish. To counteract the gooeyness, we recommend giving it a good stir before digging in. And don't be afraid to really get your fork in there — the noodles are firm enough to stand up to your mixing. Although Popeye's quality control seems pretty well regulated, some people have reported receiving rubbery noodles covered in a bland sauce. All the more reason to try it out yourself. 

2. Chick-Fil-A

Chick-Fil-A's menu promises a baked-in-restaurant mac and cheese and based on the crispy, light brown crust pieces inside the cup, that seems to be an honest statement. Some people may appreciate the extra texture from crust remnants, but if you prefer a totally smooth mac dish, this might not be the one for you.

However, if you're on the fence, we wholeheartedly encourage you to give Chick-Fil-A's mac a try. Not only is it baked to liquid perfection, but this classic mac and cheese goes above and beyond in the flavor department. Unlike most versions that contain only cheddar, Chick-Fil-A's features a three-cheese blend (Parmesan, Romano, and cheddar). This creates a complex, well-balanced flavor profile that's way more sophisticated than a fast food mac and cheese has any right to be. Plus, the cheese pull is 100% Instagram-worthy. All in all, this is a savor-worthy mac that could easily fool you into thinking you're eating homemade.

1. Noodles & Company (Buffalo Chicken Mac)

Based on its name alone, Noodles & Company's Buffalo Chicken Mac sounds too good to be true. Luckily, this mac lives up to its promise. Made with a blend of real Wisconsin cheddar, Parmesan, and cream, the sauce is rich and full of flavor. More specifically, the Parmesan adds a nice tanginess that's often missing in mac and cheese, fast food or otherwise.

But Noodles & Company didn't stop with its amazing sauce. This delicious mac is topped with Parmesan-crusted chicken, Frank's RedHot Buffalo Wings Sauce, and scallions. The Buffalo sauce added punchiness, while the chicken provides the extra bulk needed to make this feel like a full meal and not just a side dish. Lastly, the scallions add just the right amount of freshness to brighten up an otherwise heavy dish. It's close to perfect, and for that reason, it comes out as the victor in this battle of the macs.