Growing up, I was a picky eater. Goulash? Gross. Scalloped ham and potatoes? No way. Stroganoff? Ewwww. Liver and onions. Who does that?  

So every meal (except Wednesdays because that was church night and we always had spaghetti) my go-to was Kraft mac and cheese. The kind in the blue box. And I’m not exaggerating when I say I had it every night.

Every night.

While my taste buds are a little more foodie-ish these days, I must admit sometimes I still take great comfort in hamburger mac and cheese (yes, the blue box kind).  

Best mac and cheese restaurants in America

Today I’m all about the gourmet adult mac and cheese. Especially with lobster. Or bacon. Or jalapenos. Or other stuff.

While I make it a habit not to eat at chains while traveling, I do make exceptions as some of my recommendations have a few other locations. I’ve noted below where I’ve enjoyed this classic comfort food. 

Note: If no image is available, that means I was probably hungry and capturing the moment was secondary to meet my basic hierarchy of needs. 

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Best lobster mac and cheese: C Level – San Diego, California 

C Level’s lobster mac and cheese has remained #1 on my list for many years. And several of my friends agree. I challenge anyone to direct me to a superior macaroni and cheese. I won’t believe you until I try it. C Level serves their dish with a side of local organic greens, candied walnuts and an herb vinaigrette. The generous portion could be split, but I don’t share lobster mac and cheese. Just ask my friend Marlena.

Recreating how it went down: Setting: Convention at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Me: With a glass of lobster mac and cheese and a glass of shrimp mac and cheese. Marlena: “Can I have a bite?” Me: Long pause with my mouth still full, I point and say, “Ummm…you can get your own right over there.”

Mac and cheese self-care
MP and kmf are still friends even though they don’t share mac and cheese.

Best mac and cheese with hot chicken: The Stillery – Nashville, Tennessee 

I may or may not stop at The Stillery more than once or twice every time I visit Nashville – home of the second best mac and cheese locale in the entire U.S. The cavatappi at The Stillery is baked with a house cheese sauce and breadcrumbs. AND Nashville’s famous hot chicken! The chicken is optional for some people (weird), but not me. Soooooo good!

Best lobster mac and cheese: Smack Shack – Minneapolis, Minnesota (and MSP airport) 

My third favorite place is closer to home: the best lobster mac and cheese at Smack Shack in Minneapolis. They make it with taleggio cheese, sweet corn and breadcrumbs (I believe they offer two sizes). It is super rich and super dense so come hungry. Especially because you must try their lobster guacamole appetizer.

I also love this place because of its history. This popular establishment started as a food truck serving lobster rolls in a parking lot. While I’ve only ate at the Minneapolis location, they now have a restaurant at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. So if you’re flying through MSP, I highly recommend stopping in. (Side note: One of my favorite local pizza places, Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza, also opened up a dining option at MSP – and they are located right across the street from Smack Shack in the North Loop of Minneapolis).

Best lobster mac and cheese: Founding Farmers – Washington, DC 

lobster mac and cheese

This is an incomplete review because in addition to their delicious lobster mac and cheese, Founding Farmers also offers seven cheese macaroni with optional chicken tenders as well as ham, apple and peas macaroni and cheese. Think I need a return trip or two to DC.

Best lobster mac n cheese: Chester’s Kitchen & Bar, Rochester, Minnesota

Located only 90 minutes south of the Twin Cities, this lobster mac and cheese at Chester’s Kitchen & Bar in Rochester, Minn. is worth the drive. In fact, I’m tempted to jump in my vehicle right now and go on a road trip. This flavorful pasta dish features Maine lobster claw meat, aged cheddar, cream, caramelized shallots, a light bread crust and grilled ciabatta bread. Check out my full review of our experience at Chester’s Kitchen & Bar who graciously hosted my husband and me.

Best lobster mac and cheese: Turner’s Seafood – Salem, Massachusetts (also Melrose and Gloucester) 

lobster mac and cheese with a side salad

My husband, son and I had just finished a three-hour walking tour in Salem, Mass., so were famished when we arrived at Turner’s Seafood. Beyond excited when I saw they offered lobster mac and cheese on the menu, made with penne pasta in a tomato vodka cream sauce, English peas and fresh ricotta. My only regret is that I booked a place without a refrigerator and microwave for leftovers. Still feeling bad I left some on my plate.  

Best mac and cheese: Salt + Smoke: St. Louis, Missouri

mac and cheese

While Salt + Smoke is known for its BBQ in St. Louis, I was drawn to their award-winning mac and cheese. They have won the St. Louis Mac & Cheese Throwdown more than once. Yeah…it’s pretty amazing…the savory white cheddar cracker mac comes as a side to one of Salt + Smoke’s BBQ platters or sandwiches, but definitely rich enough to enjoy as a meal. Thanks Salt + Smoke for hosting me on my solo trip to St. Louis when I visited the Gateway Arch National Park.

Best lobster mac and cheese: Meat Market – Miami, Florida 

Image: Imagine a mouthwatering pic of mac and cheese.

You’ll find the lobster mac and cheese under the Chef’s special sides section at the Meat Market, but it’s large (and rich) enough to eat as a main course. I ordered mine with a side of their crispy Brussel sprouts with bacon and almonds. 

Minnesota Twins Gear at

Best build your own BYO mac and cheese: BRGR Kitchen + Bar – Kansas City, Missouri 

mac and cheese with a can of beer and sweet potato fries

If you’re in the Power & Light District in Kansas City, you can build your own mac and cheese at BRGR Kitchen + Bar. The base includes parmesan, white cheddar and boursin cheese topped with buttered bread crumbs. You can add any of the following for $1 to $2 each: peas, mushrooms, jalapeños, roasted garlic, sautéed onions, blue cheese, grilled chicken, bacon, hamburger. I build mine with jalapeños and bacon, with a side of sweet potato fries and a can of Stella.

Best and least expensive lobster mac and cheese: Bagatelle – Key West, Florida 

mac and cheese

While my husband and I were happy-hour hopping in Key West last year, I was drawn to Bagatelle because they offered a $5 lobster mac and cheese appetizer.


For lobster mac and cheese. Great lobster mac and cheese. Do it! You won’t be disappointed.

Best crab mac and cheese: Bourbon Butcher – Farmington, Minnesota  

Colorful glasses on a lit wall
Hmmm…no mac and cheese image, but here’s a cool shot of their beverage wall.

Located only 7.8 miles from my front door, the Bourbon Butcher offers an amazing and the best crab mac and cheese made with penne pasta, fresh lump crab and smoked bacon smothered in a smoked gouda cheese sauce. And they also have a crazy fancy cocktail menu and game room with skee-ball.  

Best lobster Mac & Cheese: The Barrymore – Las Vegas, Nevada  

lobster mac and cheese

This hidden gem off the Las Vegas strip in the Royal Resort, The Barrymore offers its lobster mac and cheese as a side dish.


Made with a truffle and mascarpone-tallegio cream sauce, this tasty lobster mac and cheese is large enough to eat as a main course with a salad and/or Brussel sprouts. I also love the retro ambiance of The Barrymore with vinyl records on the ceiling.  

The best spicy mac and cheese: Lucky’s 13 Pub – Minnesota and North Dakota  

seven women out to dinner
No mac and cheese pic, but here’s the hockey mom tribe.

My hockey mom friends and I meet at Lucky’s 13 Pub in Burnsville, Minnesota once a month (well pre-pandemic). And they can pretty much predict my order: the spicy mac and cheese with Italian sausage, onions, peppers, cheese sauce, and a parmesan crust. But sometimes I get their wings – they’re only $5 on Wednesdays.

Best loaded macaroni and cheese: Twin City Grill – Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota  

skillet of mac and cheese with bacon

Love the loaded macaroni and cheese at the Twin City Grill; it’s located in the North Garden of the Mall of America on the first floor. Dish comes with tomatoes, applewood smoked bacon and toasted breadcrumbs.

Best lobster and crab mac and cheese: Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse – Golden Nugget, Las Vegas

Golden Nugget sign and balcony in Las Vegas

If you’re on Fremont Street in Vegas, make reservations at Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse located inside the Golden Nugget. And while Vic & Anthony’s offer a great lobster and crab mac and cheese main course, I always order the mac and cheese as a side. That’s because I’m all about Vic & Anthony’s roasted salmon filled with smoked gouda and jumbo lump crab with mashed potatoes and asparagus. Yes, this meal at Vic & Anthony’s in Las Vegas requires a pre- and post-workout. Or two or three.

A few of my favorite mac and cheeses from nationwide chains 

lobster mac and cheese

When you find a chain is your only option, here are a few of the best mac and cheese dishes at some national restaurants.

  • Noodles & Company: Best Wisconsin mac & cheese with parmesan-crusted chicken
  • Hard Rock Café: Best twisted mac, chicken and cheese
  • House of Blues: Best mac and cheese skillet
  • McCormick & Schmick’s: Best truffle mac and cheese
  • The Capital Grille: Best lobster mac and cheese
  • Applebee’s: Best four cheese mac and cheese with honey pepper chicken tenders

What’s your favorite place for mac and cheese?

My quest to find the best mac and cheese is ongoing. Would love for you to recommend places for me to experience. Please leave the name and location in the comments.

penne pasta with bread crumbs

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mac and cheese with chicken

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Best mac and cheese in the US

Twin Cities-based blogger sharing memorable emptynester, solo, family and girlfriend-getaway adventures, as well as my day hiking adventures (including all 66 Minnesota state parks), latest book reviews, and updates on my quest for the best adult mac and cheese. Also two WIPs: historical fiction and psychological thriller


  1. Yum! I was just in Vegas – wish I’d seen this earlier to go check the lobster Mac & Cheese out! Oh well, next time.

  2. This post is awesome! I love all the different places you have tried. I have never heard of putting chicken, or jalapenos on mac and cheese!

    1. Nashville’s hot chicken on mac and cheese – sooo good! I’m tempted to book a flight there right now. And jalapenos definitely give it a kick!

  3. All of these look so good! I tried Lobster mac and cheese for the first time on a buffet at Disney, and I was hooked! Being on a buffet, it probably wasn’t even as great as some of these. I’ve never ordered it as a main course, but it looks like I need to. Yum!

    1. I’m trying to remember the first time I had lobster mac and cheese, but, honestly can’t recall. If it’s on the menu, it’s very likely I’m ordering it.

  4. I’m a bonafide foodie and I approve this post….lol! Fun info on Mac. I’m super excited several are close to us to try. Next time we’re in San Diego, we’re going to C-Level for sure. Thanks!!!

    1. You most definitely are a bonafide foodie and am honored you approved my post. Haha! San Diego actually has a mac and cheese week that I’ll need to experience one of these years.

  5. I love a good mac and cheese. My husband makes an awesome one with a solid roux. You have just made me so hungry!

  6. We have the same rule – no chain restaurants while traveling! And Founder Farmers in DC is amazing! I’ve had some amazing mac n cheese but I’m sorry I haven’t kept track as well as you to share here. ☺

    1. It’s a good rule…I have made some exceptions. We were in Venice about eight days into a two-week tour of Italy and Greece and my teenage son wanted to eat at the Hard Rock. I felt almost guilty, but it was a beautiful view of the canal…and was pleasantly surprised to find nearly everyone in our travel group there as well…they were wanting a burger also!

  7. I have such fond memories of mac and cheese when I was a kid. It looks like it’s time to up my game and try some of these delicious sounding adult versions.

  8. I love some good mac n cheese. I love my Aunt’s homemade mac n cheese 🙂 I think the baked potato choice you posted about looks delicious. You really are a mac n cheese expert! Such a fun article!

  9. I have never been a huge Mac n Cheese lover, but my children and husband are. Until I tried two of their favorites places. So when we go to these two places I at least split one or get a side of lobster Mac n Cheese. Cafe 4 downtown Knoxville and House of Blues in Orlando.

  10. The mac and cheese with the hot chicken sounds really good. I can’t believe how many different varieties there are out there. Great write up

    1. Thank you so much! The mac and cheese with hot chicken is really good…actually went back a couple of days later for more on my first visit and returned last fall with other friends.

  11. Honest to goodness did not know you could put lobster in Mac! Never would have occurred to me. I’ll definitely have to try it!

    1. I hope you love it as much as I did! The Stillery has two locations in Nashville – downtown on 2nd Ave and mid-town on Broadway.

  12. I love this post! And your #4 is in my area, at Founding Farmers! I go there a lot, but haven’t tried their mac and cheese. I’ll have to get it next time.

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