If a glimpse of a kids menu makes you hanker for some good ol’ mac-n-cheese, welcome to adulthood. Luckily, Los Angeles has a welcome wagon for grown-ups like you (and kids, too): the Roni Macaroni truck.
“Who doesn’t like mac and cheese?” said Roni Macaroni owner Mark Hurlston, quoting a phrase commonly heard around the food truck. “It’s been told to me many times.” With 39 years of experience in catering, Mark set out on a mobile mac and cheese mission with his wife Abril nearly two years ago.
Unsurprisingly, Mark’s childhood reference for the truck’s main dish was Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. While Roni Macaroni’s core product is reminiscent of Kraft in its creaminess and comforting sense of nostalgia, the similarities end there. A far cry from packaged cheese powder, Roni Macaroni makes its base cheese sauce with heavy cream and mild cheddar. And instead of compact, narrow noodles, Mark opted for large elbow pasta, which offers a soft, springy structure that delivers smooth cheesiness in every bite.
“It just seemed to hold the sauce a little bit better,” he said. “We cook it all ourselves on the truck, and the sauces.” On busy days, Roni Macaroni can go through 15 large tubs of pasta. So Mark orders dry pasta in 20-pound bags and cooks up batches in 11 to 12 minutes, careful to avoid overcooking. Well-practiced preparation allows orders to come out fairly quickly, within five minutes or less.
While Roni Macaroni’s straight mac and cheese is well received on its own, mashups with other everyday comfort food flavors add a tantalizing sense of unexpected familiarity.
“A lot of times people think of mac and cheese as plain and simple,” said Abril. “However, we surprise you by going beyond that and adding more complex flavors to make a really different flavor combination.”
The number one seller is the Steak Mac & Cheese, which mixes in shaved ribeye, grilled onions, and pimento peppers, with a topping of toasted breadcrumbs. Each mouthful is infused with beef flavor, and the pimentos add a zesty kick.
The LA Street Mac & Cheese is a nod to the bacon-wrapped hot dogs often sold on the streets of Los Angeles. It’s a marriage of creamy and hearty textures with bold salty flavors, folding in chunks of 100% beef kosher hot dogs and bacon, plus grilled onions and bell peppers.
The Buffalo Ranch Chicken Mac & Cheese is a tailgate party in a cup. “That’s actually one of my favorites,” Mark said. Hot wing sauce gives the cheese a more orangey hue, hinting at the spicy heat embedded within. Pieces of chicken, celery, and protruding sticks of julienned carrots ensure you get the full buffalo wing platter experience, complete with a drizzle of ranch dressing.
If you scoff at using utensils for your street eats, look for the handheld mashup options on Roni Macaroni’s menu. Mac and cheese is handily layered in burgers, hot dogs, and pulled pork or grilled cheese sandwiches. The cheesy pasta tempers the spiciness of the chili dog or the chili cheeseburger and enhances the barbecue in the pulled pork. Meanwhile, the bread becomes a sponge of flavor, soaking up the meaty cheese sauce.
Even without the mac and cheese, these sandwiches are made to satisfy cravings for ballpark classics. The hot dog is crisp on the surface, bursting with juiciness as your teeth sink in. The pulled pork exudes a certain sweetness amidst a light smothering of barbecue sauce. And before you even attempt to pick up the burger, drippings from the Angus patties will remind you to grab a stack of napkins.
But wait… there’s more! Don’t forget your side of fries: sweet potato, truffle parmesan, garlic, or topped with chili and/or cheese sauces. No matter what you order, the options to add on other meats, veggies and toppings ensure that you can always try something new.
Mark and Abril have yet to discover the limit of what they can create. As a result, their menu is constantly changing as they try new ideas. Crab Truffle Mac & Cheese and Hot Cheetos Mac & Cheese are some of the newest items on the truck. Not long ago, Taco Mac & Cheese made a special appearance and may see a return. In the near future, Mark also hopes to debut pizza or chili cheeseburger varieties of mac and cheese.
For particular events, Mark and Abril try to dream up something special, like they did for a recent Street Food Cinema screening of the movie Selena, based on the singer’s life. “Selena’s favorite color was purple. So we got edible purple glitter and put that on our regular mac and cheese,” Mark said.
Roni Macaroni also has a fierce vegan following, serving long lines of customers at vegan events, such as this year’s Vegan Street Fair in North Hollywood and the Vegan Playground in Downtown LA. “When we do the vegan festivals, we completely clean the truck—change our grease and everything—so there’s no meat products, no residue from meat products,” said Mark.
Vegans are treated to plant-based versions of Roni Macaroni menu items, including their plain, Buffalo, and LA Street (with vegan hot dogs and bacon) mac and cheese, plus tofu sliders, and garlic and truffle fries. Since existing vegan cheeses couldn’t adequately capture the signature creaminess of mac and cheese, Mark worked with a friend whom he dubs as their “cheese master” to create a proprietary non-dairy recipe. The result is a convincingly cheesy taste and texture that even non-vegans enjoy.
In addition to the menu variety, Roni Macaroni’s affordable prices and substantial serving sizes add to the truck’s wide appeal. A “small” 12 oz cup of mac and cheese is $5 and a “large” 24 oz cup is $8. The large cup is often shared between couples, and parents appreciate that they can feed the whole family with two large cups.
“It makes us really happy when someone comes back and thanks us for their food after having eaten it,” Abril said. “We like feeding people and making them happy.”