Side dish

Macaroni and cheese, Texas cafeteria style

Macaroni and cheese Texas cafeteria style DSC 3164

A few years ago, a shop in New York that specializes in vintage restaurant plates had on display white mugs marked with the Luby’s logo. Since Luby’s is a Texas institution, I was surprised and delighted to see the mugs so far from home. And every time I visited the shop, I’d acknowledge the mugs with a smile.

Now, for those unfamiliar with Luby’s, it is a cafeteria-style restaurant. This means that when you enter, you grab a tray and slide it down a line, pointing out to workers on the other side of a glass partition all the items you wish to eat.

Typically, you start with a wide array of salads, which often include leafy greens along with carrot and raisin and pea salads, too. Next up are the entrees, where popular options can be chicken-fried steak, enchiladas, and fried chicken. The side dish section will have standards such as mashed potatoes, green beans, and macaroni and cheese. Then, as you continue to push your tray along the line, you’ll see snacks, breads, beverages, and desserts.

After you pay the cashier, you take your tray into the dining room, where the lights are typically bright, the chairs are padded with wheels on them, and workers walk around with carts offering refills of tea and coffee. It’s not an upscale experience, but it is a familiar and relaxing one, especially for older folks and families.

The cafeteria was never considered cool, but for those who grew up eating at them they were always pure comfort. Indeed, my family dined at cafeterias throughout my childhood, and every Wednesday you’d find us at Luby’s, where I’d get a LuAnn platter stacked with liver and onions along with a bowl of creamy macaroni and cheese.

All my life I’ve been fond of the cafeteria experience, which is why seeing those Luby’s mugs in New York made me so glad. But I will confess I failed to buy a mug, and one day when I visited the store, I sadly noticed that they were gone. I had missed my opportunity. And like those mugs, cafeterias could also become a missed opportunity, as once-beloved spots across Texas are now closing.

Now, about that macaroni and cheese. Like most cafeteria fare it’s not a fancy rendition of the dish. In fact, all the recipes I saw from various cafeterias all called for a similar combination of just pasta, milk, and American cheese. There are no bread crumbs, aromatics, spices, or fancy cheeses, but that’s to be expected. Cafeteria food doesn’t work that way.

Macaroni and cheese, Texas cafeteria style | Homesick Texan

Here is my take on the style, which may not be complicated or sophisticated, but it’s still creamy and good. Indeed, it’s a friendly dish that always feels welcome, much like a meal enjoyed at the neighborhood cafeteria.

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Macaroni and cheese Texas cafeteria style DSC 3150
5 from 9 votes

Macaroni and cheese, Texas cafeteria style

Course Side Dish
Cuisine Southern, Texan
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings 8
Author Lisa Fain


  • 8 ounces dried elbow pasta
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 pound American cheese, chopped or shredded
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Black pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 2-quart casserole dish or large cast-iron skillet.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil on high, add about a tablespoon of salt, then add the pasta. While occasionally stirring, cook per the package instructions until the pasta is tender. Remove the pot from the stove and drain the pasta.
  3. Stir together the milk and corn starch. Return the pot the stove and pour in the milk. Turn the heat to medium low and while stirring, cook until the milk begins to thicken, about 2 minutes.
  4. Turn the heat down to low and start adding the cheese to the pot, a handful at a time. Stir until the cheese melts then add the next handful. Once all the cheese has been added and melted, add the butter to the pot, along with the drained pasta. Taste and add salt if needed along with a few shakes of black pepper.

  5. Stir until the pasta is well coated. The sauce will be thick, though if it feels too thick you may thin it with more milk.

  6. Spoon the macaroni into the casserole. Cover then cook for 20 minutes or until the pasta is bubbling. Serve warm.

  1. Loved Luby’s! Favorite lunch stop years ago with my grandmother. “Salad? Thank you.” said the sweet lady with the peaches and cream complexion!

    • Lisa Fain

      Diane–I have fond memories of going with my grandparents, too!

  2. HEB has frozen Luby’s Mac and Cheese and a Jalapeño version!

  3. My original comfort food — my babysitter Mimi made it for me when I was 4. Only she mixed in a dollop of ketchup and didn’t bother with the oven. It’s still my go-to when I need a food-hug.

  4. I remember eating at the Luby’s in Galveston not that long ago. My favorite was fried fish with tarter sauce, scalloped potatoes, creamed spinach and cherry pie. The good ole days!

  5. When I saw the picture in your newsletter, my VERY first thought was all those Luby’s trips with my high school band back in the day. Panera comes reasonably close to the idea, but there’s something about the creamy Luby’s goodness that has stuck with me. Can’t wait to try this!

    • Lisa Fain

      Lauren–The Luby’s version also calls for American cheese, though they use powdered milk, which I don’t usually keep on hand. I find they’re both equally creamy, though. Enjoy!

  6. So many fond memories with my mom, a retired nurse, who would frequent the Lubys right by the hospital. She always ordered the Luannn plater with the liver! Thanks for the walk through memory lane. I’ve been looking for just the right simple mac and cheese recipe. Thank you!

    • Lisa Fain

      Emily–It’s amazing to me how many people ordered the liver, as I loved it, too! You wouldn’t think that would be such a favorite but it is. Enjoy the mac and cheese! It’s indeed simple and good.

  7. Erin Leamon

    Hi Lisa, was the store Fish’s Eddy? Sounds like something they would have. I follow Luby’s on Instagram just to have the memories.

    • Lisa Fain

      Erin–Yes! It was Fishs Eddy. When I was in New York I lived in Chelsea and every time I walked by the store, which was often, I’d pop in and look around. I love Fishs Eddy and miss it–such a fun shop!

  8. Laura Cummings Nelson

    Such a great memory, thank you. We lived in Wichita Falls growing and sundays after church we went to Lubys or Furrs cafeteria. Man, my parents certainly got their moneys worth with my sister. She had hollow feet, and could put away food. The food was homemade and delicious!

    • Lisa Fain

      Laura–You’re welcome! The cafeteria was always very popular with the after-church crowd! If my grandma didn’t have a pot roast going at home on Sundays, that’s where you’d find them, too.

  9. Barbara Freedman

    We are definitely on the same page! However, as I grew up in New Orleans, it was Wise Cafeteria instead of Luby’s. They served almost everything you mentioned, including the mac n cheese. But the absolute best were the thick, perfectly fried eggplant sticks. We put confectioner’s sugar on them and ate them for pre-dessert, before moving on to chocolate cream pie. Yummmm. Thanks again for stirring the memories.

    • Lisa Fain

      Barbara–I’ve never heard of Wise Cafeteria as most of my readers who came from Louisiana always talk about Piccadilly, but I’ll have to look it up as I want to make those eggplant sticks!

  10. Love your recipes. We moved out of Austin last year and they keep us going. Now it’s time to make Your Mac and cheese. But are you sure 8oz of dried macaroni is correct? Seems like a pound (full box) would be more reasonable. Thanks!

    • Lisa Fain

      Todd–The recipe is indeed for eight ounces of pasta but please feel free to either double the recipe or instead make more pasta if want it less cheesy.

      • Yep, 8 oz it is. I used 16 oz last night and had to add another cup of milk. One part noodle to two parts cheese!

  11. Lisa Dowdy

    5 stars
    Luby’s …so many memories. Grandparents, great aunts and uncles, aunts and uncles, cousins, parents, siblings, spouses, children. It was the family meeting place. Salmon Croquette with macaroni and cheese, green beans, jalapeno cornbread, coconut or chocolate pie, and tea plus a nibble or two from someone’s green pea salad was my ‘go to’ meal. I have two Luby’s cookbooks. My favorite is the 50th anniversary (1996) which I cook out of frequently. Comfort food at its best!

    • Lisa Fain

      Lisa–Thank you for sharing your memories! My aunt loves the salmon croquettes, too. And I agree, it is indeed comfort food at its best!

  12. Barbara Freedman

    Sadly, it closed its doors years ago. It was a home away from home while I was growing up. Piccadilly no comparison. . .

  13. Barbara Freedman

    “ growing” up.

    • Lisa Fain

      Barbara–Your previous comment prodded me to research on Wise and I saw that indeed it had closed and also how beloved it had been. I was hoping to find that eggplant recipe, but I wasn’t successful. I will keep looking, however!

  14. I loved Luby’s, and would go regularly with my mom. I always go fried fish with tartar sauce, Mac & cheese, and lime jello or cheese cake. Unfortunately my most vivid memory surrounding the restaurant chain was our band director giving us details of an upcoming trip to Killeen for competition where we would be eating at Luby’s. This was about 6 months after the location had reopened from the 1991 mass shooting, and he tried making light of the situation when students expressed unease by quipping that everyone “don’t forget your flack jacket”. No one thought it was very funny, and I think we wound up going to McDonald’s instead. I did visit the location years later while living Killeen, but it never really felt right.

  15. Ken Foxman

    I am not fond of processed American cheese. Would you recommend a good cheddar as a substitute?

  16. What do you think about adding some diced tomatoes (fresh or canned? I remember my aunt (who lived with us) adding tomatoes when she made macaroni and cheese (I think canned). This recipe sounds SO good, and best of all, so easy – no flour/milk roux, etc.

  17. Shirley Thompson

    Lisa, thanks for posting this recipe. And for the trip down memory lane. My Mother never learned to drive, & after my Dad died I would take Saturdays or Sundays (my days off work) to take my Mother shopping, to the library, wherever she wanted to go. A trip to Luby’s (in Phoenix) was almost always included. So many fond memories. Now I need to go make this Macaroni & Cheese.

    • Lisa Fain

      Shirley–You’re welcome, and thank you for sharing your story. It’s such a delight to hear people’s fond memories of going to the cafeteria! Enjoy the macaroni and cheese!

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