Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

January 27, 2020 (Last Updated: July 29, 2020)
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Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is a staple in a Hawaiian plate lunch. This classic side dish features elbow macaroni smothered in a mayonnaise dressing with grated carrot and onion. It’s the perfect tangy and creamy counterpart to any meal.

Macaroni salad made with elbow macaroni and grated carrot, serving in a decorative glass bowl

A trip to Hawaii sounds really amazing right now! In lieu of a plane ticket, harness the flavors of Hawaii through a simple recipe for an island classic. I’m not referring to Kalua pork or tuna poke, although you can serve this recipe alongside either of those if you’d like.

Surprisingly Hawaiian macaroni salad, or mac salad, is perhaps as ubiquitous on the islands as pineapples. You can easily create this recipe in place of any macaroni salad. It’s fantastic with burgers or ribs. It’s great for picnics and potlucks.

You can also include this fantastically simple Hawaiian mac salad in a classic plate lunch. This terminology refers to a plated meal consisting of a serving of protein, steamed rice, and mayo-based salad.

This can include macaroni (or mac) salad, potato mac salad or even tuna mac salad. Make your own classic Hawaiian plate lunch by pairing this easy Hawaiian mac salad with another standby: Loco Moco.

Loco Moco (white rice, burger patty, gravy, and fried egg) with scoop of macaroni salad

What makes Hawaiian Macaroni Salad unique?

There are similarities between Hawaiian mac salad and other American macaroni salads. A few specifics set the Hawaiian version apart from all the rest. First of all, you absolutely must use Best Foods or Hellman’s brand mayonnaise for the dressing.

These are the only brands of mayo that are used in this dish. They are technically the same brand, but have different names depending on the US region where you purchase them.

Also, the traditional components other than macaroni and mayo typically include grated carrot and onion. Although it seems super straight forward, and potentially basic, it’s outrageously good! There’s a reason it’s practically its own food group on the Hawaiian islands.

How to make it

First, boil your elbow macaroni in salted water. From my understanding locals tend to overcook their macaroni, so the noodles are soft and fat. I have made this macaroni salad multiple times, trying it with both al dente and more tender macaroni. Both are good.

This is a situation where the chef can make the choice on how long to cook the noodles. Err on the longer side for a more traditional textured mac.

Drain the pasta and transfer to a mixing bowl. Drizzle the top with apple cider vinegar, and add grated carrot and onion. Stir, and let it cool slightly for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile whisk together the dressing. Combine your mayonnaise with milk and sugar. Stir it into your macaroni and carrot/onion mixture, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Refrigerate your mac salad for 1 hour or overnight. If the mixture is a bit stiff before serving, thin it out with a touch more milk.

metal mixing bowl with elbow macaroni, small metal mixing bowl with mayonnaise-based dressing

There are many different variations to the basic salad, but this is a good starting point. In my experience most recipes stick to the basics with a few tweaks here and there.

The serving size for this recipe is based on an ice cream scoop of salad per plate. You can even halve the quantity in the recipe below (I have on occasion), and it is still plentiful. If you desire more macaroni per person, make the full recipe, or even double it for a party or potluck.

Close up of a forkful of Hawaiian macaroni salad

Other recipes you may like

Overhead view of a bowl of Hawaiian macaroni salad with grated carrot

What’s your favorite way to make macaroni salad? Have you ever tried the Hawaiian version? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and don’t forget to rate this recipe. Thanks!

Hawaiian macaroni salad in a decorative glass bowl

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is a staple in a Hawaiian plate lunch. This classic side dish features elbow macaroni smothered in a mayonnaise dressing with grated carrot and onion. It's the perfect tangy and creamy counterpart to any meal.
5 from 4 votes
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Resting Time 1 hr 10 mins
Total Time 1 hr 30 mins
Course Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Hawaiian
Servings 6 to 8 servings
Calories 443 kcal


  • 8 ounces dry elbow macaroni
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 carrot peeled and grated
  • 2 tablespoons grated onion (it will be liquidy)
  • 1 1/4 cups Best Foods or Hellman’s mayonnaise (I use Light Hellman's–same great taste, less calories!)
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  • In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni according to package directions (see notes). Drain and transfer to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the apple cider vinegar over the top, add the carrot and onion, stir, and let it cool slightly, about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, milk, and sugar. Stir the mayonnaise mixture into the macaroni, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. Gently stir before serving, and if needed thin it out with a teaspoon or two of milk or a little more mayo.

Notes & Nutrition

The locals tend to overcook the pasta until it’s soft and fat. I prefer to cook until tender but not really overcooked. This is a matter of personal preference.
Servings 6.0 * calories 443 * Total Fat 34 g * Saturated Fat 5 g * Monounsaturated Fat 8 g * Polyunsaturated Fat 20 g * Trans Fat 0 g * Cholesterol 17 mg * Sodium 306 mg * Potassium 112 mg * Total Carbohydrate 30 g * Dietary Fiber 2 g * Sugars 2 g * Protein 5 g
*All nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary with brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes and more.*

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hawaiian macaroni salad made with elbow macaroni in a glass bowl


  • Reply
    Mary Kabakian
    April 15, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    5 stars
    This is a great side dish for any time of year. Perfect for picnics too!

  • Reply
    April 19, 2020 at 12:57 am

    5 stars
    Amazing! This is just like my grandma used to make, right down to the vinegar and sugar. You can’t beat this recipe!

    • Reply
      April 19, 2020 at 7:42 am

      Thanks Jamie! It’s so addictive. I usually start with one scoop on my plate but keep adding more and more 😀

  • Reply
    June 12, 2020 at 10:01 am

    5 stars
    Soooo good. I could have personally added a little more mayo but flavor is awesome. I’ll definitely be using this recipe again in the future.

  • Reply
    Margie Pedroza
    July 31, 2020 at 7:30 pm

    5 stars
    I’m a fan! Added some celery just because we like it and it worked well!

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