Beyond pizza, there’s no cooler power duo for kids than mac ‘n’ cheese. And with a huge variety of shapes and characters, not to mention organic and natural brands, mac and cheese is a staple in most munchkin-infested households. Next time your hungry hippos are screaming for mac, skip the boxes of neon-orange noodles and take them to one of these Eastside eateries where the ingredients are wholesome and the flavors are rich.

panera bread mac n cheese

photo: Jennifer B. Davis

Panera Bread
Best known for their sandwiches and baked goods, Panera Bread serves up a deliciously unique mac and cheese. While not resembling a classic macaroni noodle with its bright cheese sauce, Panera’s signature kids’ menu mac & cheese includes tender shell pasta in a blend of rich cheeses including a tangy Vermont white cheddar cheese sauce. The large shell mac comes with a healthy side choice and hits all the right notes with hungry kiddos.

Eastside locations: Bellevue, Redmond, Woodinville and Renton
Online: panerabread.com

Nordstrom Cafe
There’s something in the oh-so-flavorful cheese sauce that keeps little mac ‘n’ cheese connoisseurs coming back to the Nordstrom Cafe. This is not your typical blue box variety mac and cheese on the kids’ menu. It’s a deliciously creamy, light yellow mac that is cooked al dente and served at just the right temperature. Each bowl of cheesy goodness comes with raisins and a fruit cup along with crayons, games and coloring pages to keep tiny eaters busy. And let’s not forget about the little chocolate goodies that come out at the end of the meal!

Eastside locations: Bellevue Square, Alderwood Mall and Westfield Southcenter
Online: restaurants.nordstrom.com

Nordstrom Mac n Cheese photo: Jaime Freni

Beach House Bar and Grill
A local Eastside haunt, this somewhat old-school Kirkland location (known generally for its stunning Lake Washington views in the summer months and more adult-themed happy hours), still knows how to wow mini beach-goers with its popular twisted mac ‘n’ cheese. And while a bit on the pricier side, the proximity to the water and gorgeous views make the mac well worth it. Psst! Don’t forget to finish off your meal with the Beach House s’mores served with a table-side grill.

Beach House Bar and Grill
6023 Lake Washington Blvd. N.E.
Kirkland, Wa 98033
425-968-5587
Online: beachhouserestaurants.com

Red Robin mac n cheese

photo: Jennifer B. Davis

Red Robin
Swarming with small, hangry diners, Red Robin not only provides a darn good burger on the cheap, but a cheesy mac ‘n’ cheese on their kids’ menu that is favorite among the petite posse. Resembling the classic oh-so-recognizable blue variety, little gobblers eat it up with gusto and have the option of adding healthy sides (think apple slices, mandarin oranges and baby carrots with ranch dip) from their Baby Robin menu.

Eastside locations: Alderwood, Bellevue, Factoria, Redmond and Woodinville
Online: redrobin.com

kirkland beach house mac n cheese

photo: Jennifer B. Davis

Purple Café & Wine Bar
While standard mac and cheese is on the kids’ menu at Purple Café & Wine Bar, if your little diner has a more sophisticated palate (or if you’re ready to up your tyke’s mac and cheese game), it’s hard to beat the lobster baked mac and cheese. Rich, creamy and full of flavor, each bowl comes with cavatappi, maine lobster, creamy gruyère sauce and truffled breadcrumbs. Purple’s offering is a long way from the blue box favorite (thankfully, for some small diners).

Eastside locations: Bellevue, Kirkland and Woodinville
Online: purplecafe.com

Does your little diner have a favorite Eastside spot for mac and cheese? Dish in the Comments below.

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— Jennifer B. Davis