Mac Salad

Creamy and velvety, this macaroni salad is a staple side dish of the Hawaiian plate lunch.

Mac Salad

Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Ali Ramee / Prop Styling by Christina Daley

Active Time:
15 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs 40 mins
6 to 8

Second only to two scoops rice, mayo-rich mac salad is a cornerstone of Hawaiian cuisine. No proper plate lunch is without it: it’s a creamy and comforting side at diners, potlucks, lunch wagons, drive-ins, and picnics. What makes a dish that is so elemental — it’s literally 90% mayo and starch — so craveable? Some believe the origins of mac salad in Hawai‘i came from European potato salad, which classically trained chefs cooked for the wealthy haole families who ran the plantations. Local workers then added cheaper dried macaroni to the potatoes. 

Much like a mouthful of rice, the soothing blandness of mac salad helps break up a meal, contrasting with a saucy main dish like adobo or beef stew. I guess if you’re not from Hawaii, you either love it or hate it, depending on how you feel about mayo. But I’ve also seen supposed mayo haters converted, too, so who really knows.

There are many recipes for mac salad out there, but I believe this one, which I serve at Tin Roof (and which you can also find in my cookbook, Cook Real Hawai‘i), is the peak of the form. Some people like to add peas, ham, tuna, celery, imitation crab, things like that, but I don’t mess — simplicity is king. I do add potatoes and boiled eggs because I feel they complement the macaroni without being too distracting. Grated carrots are for a touch of color. What I can’t stress enough is that you must overcook the macaroni until the noodles are fat and soft, definitely not al dente. It seems crazy when you do it, but it’s what helps the pasta soak up the mayo and become super flavorful. For mayonnaise, it’s got to be Best Foods (sold as Hellmann’s east of the Rockies). No dispute on that. 

The first time you make mac salad, the almost 2-to-1 ratio of mayo to starch also seems crazy, but just like when you make chicken or egg salad, the two ingredients become one homogenous thing as they sit in the fridge. Done right, mac salad should be so creamy and lush that you have to take a drink of water after a few bites! As a cherry on top, I like to serve chilled mac salad over a bed of shredded iceberg, which is often done at local diners. To me, it adds a touch of class — and some welcome crunchy freshness. — Sheldon Simeon


  • 8 cups water

  • 8 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni

  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt, divided

  • 2 medium-size russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

  • 2 cups mayonnaise

  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and roughly chopped

  • 1 medium carrot, shredded on large holes of box grater (about 1/2 cup)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt

  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for serving


  1. Bring 8 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high. Stir in macaroni and 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Cook until noodles are very tender but not breaking apart, about 2 minutes longer than package instructions. Drain macaroni in a colander, and rinse under cold water. Set colander over a large bowl; cover and let drain in refrigerator at least 2 hours.

  2. Combine potatoes and remaining 1 tablespoon kosher salt in a medium saucepan; add cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium, and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain potatoes, and set aside.

  3. Stir together mayonnaise, eggs, carrot, garlic salt, and pepper in a large bowl; fold in potatoes and macaroni. Chill until ready to serve. Serve with additional pepper.

To make ahead

Mac salad can be stored, covered, in refrigerator up to 1 day.

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