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I Tried the Mac & Cheese at America's Most Popular Steakhouses & One Is Uniquely Delicious

Here's where to find the can't-beat-it combination of creamy, bold cheese and al dente pasta.
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Can you identify a good macaroni and cheese by its looks? I believe you can. It starts with the right kind of pasta—typically elbow, cavatappi, shells, or other varieties with nooks and crannies to absorb the creamy cheese. The pasta must be cooked to al dente perfection, that magical point between too hard and too soft.

The cheese coloring is important, too. In the Crayola box, the macaroni and cheese crayon is orange, but I think the best hue for the dish skews to light yellow. As for the cheese texture and amount, it should be smooth and abundant but not overwhelming. Striking a proper balance is key.

The specific type of cheese used is important, too, and there are many right answers here. Cheddar is one of the most popular choices, often with some parmesan, gruyère, and even gouda or mozzarella. I often award special bonus points to macaroni dishes that come with broiled cheese on top.

I went looking for top-notch versions of this dish at a few of America's most popular steakhouses. Texas Roadhouse, Outback Steakhouse, and LongHorn Steakhouse all offer their own macaroni and cheese rendition as a side dish. The three chains go head-to-head in categories including steaks, fried onion appetizers, and house salads, so it's really any restaurant's game.

Which steakhouse mac was the cheesy champion? Read on to find out.

Texas Roadhouse

texas roadhouse mac n cheese
Megan Hageman / Eat This, Not That!
PER 1 SIDE: 380 calories, 18 g fat (11 g saturated fat), 450 mg sodium, 37 g carbs (2 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 17 g protein

With a lifetime of trips to the southwestern-style restaurant under my belt, I'm sure I have indulged in Texas Roadhouse's mac and cheese, but any memory has long since faded. I went into this taste with an open mind and a genuine curiosity.

The cheesy dish is considered to be more of a "premium" side at the steakhouse. This means it comes at a $0.99 upcharge if you order it with your entrée in place of one of the complimentary sides like veggies or mashed potatoes. I ordered an unaccompanied side of mac and cheese which cost me $4.48. You can also add pizzazz with a sprinkling of cheddar cheese and bacon for $1.29. I kept my mac bare-bones to get a fair read on its quality, sans any frills.

The look: The laid-back atmosphere of Texas Roadhouse was mirrored in the mac and cheese presentation. It looked slopped onto the plate. Maybe it would have looked better on the side of a steak? The noodles are of the classic elbow macaroni variety–kind of like Kraft but curvier and fatter–and they come covered in a pale yellow sauce.

The taste: Cheesy and creamy, but standard. This mac could have passed as homemade or a dish brought to a workplace potluck. There's not much else to it besides noodles and cheese, which tastes something like a white cheddar or Parmesan. I wouldn't be surprised if the chain throws in some sour cream or cream cheese to give it a thick, creamy boost. Besides maybe a bit of salt, there are no added toppings or seasonings, not even a flake of pepper.

 Texas Roadhouse vs. Outback Steakhouse: Which Has the Best Bone-In Ribeye?

LongHorn Steakhouse

longhorn steakhouse mac n cheese
Megan Hageman / Eat This, Not That!
PER 1 SIDE: 610 calories, 37 g fat (22 g saturated fat), 1210 mg sodium, 43 g carbs (5 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 26 g protein

While Texas Roadhouse boasts a southwestern-inspired ambiance and Outback takes an Australian approach, LongHorn's restaurants go full Western mode. Old-timey photographs hang on the walls and cowboys on horses run wild through the darkly lit dining room. But, similar to its competitors, LongHorn hangs its hat on steaks and classic menu items such as its Steakhouse Mac And Cheese.

The side is denoted on the menu as a LongHorn specialty and can be ordered alongside an entrée—like the New York strip I ordered—for an added cost of $2.79. It can also stand alone for a price of $5.49.

The look: The side is served in a classic, oval-shaped baking dish. Curly-cue noodles, or cavatappi, make up the base. It all gets covered with a four-cheese layer, which is bubbly and browned. Bits of applewood-smoked bacon peek through. The mac and cheese description mentions a parmesan bread crumb topping, but I think my local restaurant skipped that step.

The taste: I had high hopes for this mac on account of the extra cheese and bacon. It ended up being disappointing. There is certainly a satisfying cheese pull with each bite. However, all the different flavor profiles work against each other. I tasted what I thought to be cheddar and parmesan cheeses—just like at Texas Roadhouse. But, I also picked out something like gruyere, and it was too cheesy–something I never thought I would say. The smokiness of the bacon permeates the entire bowl. If that's something you enjoy, you may like LongHorn's offering, but it's not my cup of tea.

 Texas Roadhouse vs. LongHorn Steakhouse: Which Has the Best Bone-In Ribeye?

Outback Steakhouse

outback steakhouse mac n cheese
Megan Hageman / Eat This, Not That!
PER 1 SIDE: 720 calories, 37 g fat (18 g saturated fat), 1010 mg sodium, 74 g carbs (4 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 25 g protein

At some steak joints, appetizers and sides are mostly afterthoughts—mere fillers to round out the meal. Not at Outback. No, these are some of the most celebrated items on the menu here, including the beloved Bloomin' Onion, mouthwatering French onion soup, the Over-The-Top Brussels Sprouts (that's what they're called on the menu), and the chain's side of Steakhouse Mac & Cheese.

On a visit to my local Outback, I ordered the noodle-based side alongside a juicy 13-ounce ribeye. There was an upcharge of $2.99 for the mac. Ordered by itself, the mac would have cost $5.99. Outback offers a simpler version of the side dish for the kiddos and calls it Mac 'A' Roo 'N Cheese. How bloody cute is that?

The look: It comes in a minuscule cast iron skillet, nicely dressed up for the occasion. The noodles are cavatappi and corkscrew-shaped—like Longhorn's—and come in a subtle yellow-orange shade. They are topped with parsley and a light dusting of crispy bread crumbs.

The taste: Understated cheese, but bold flavor. Compared to the Texas Roadhouse and LongHorn's macaroni, this one isn't oozing with cheese and sauce. It lets the noodles—served perfectly al dente—breathe and shine. The breadcrumbs added a welcome layer of texture and a tiny crunch in every bite. But, what defines this mac and cheese is the seasoning mixed into the cheese substance. It's similar to a southwestern spice blend, and I detected something like paprika, chili powder, cayenne pepper, or maybe a combination of the three, which gives it a hint of mild heat. Outback does not create your average, everyday mac. No, the chain has invented something even better.

Megan Hageman
Megan is a freelance writer based in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Megan