How easy is it to get sucked into Pinterest and spend hours perfecting your food board aesthetic? I owe many late night grumbling stomachs to those pictures. But c’mon, I know we’re not legitimately going to try everything we pin.

My eye always goes to the copycat recipes — I mean why not eat restaurant-quality dishes for a quarter of the cost? Or like, on the couch in your oldest groutfit?

With the help of my four hungry housemates, I wanted to expose which of your favorite noodle dupes are actually worth your time and money, and which should be traded for take out. Let’s see if my judges can tell the difference between these three restaurant pastas and their homemade Pinterest copies.

Round 1: Noodles & Company Penne Rosa


Photo by Ilze Vizulis, Edited by Tomer Elkayam

Though Noodles & Company doesn’t require tips, encourages you to leave your dirty dishes behind, and values their chill environment, the price of this DIY recipe for sure beats the dining out cost. This fan favorite, Penne Rosa, can even be made vegetarian by leaving out the meat and swapping in veggie stock (perks of having a vegetarian roommate? Make this for #meatlessmondays).

My Question: Can you taste the difference between this recipe and the authentic food?

Their Answer: We have a winner! The judges concluded that the homemade version had the same pasta to veggies ratio and was creamier (“in a good way”). Their only problem – the Noodles & Co. Penne Rosa had more spice, but simply adding more crushed red pepper flakes would have made the two indistinguishable.

Overall: DEFINITELY recommend.

Round 2: Panda Express Chow Mein


Photo by Ilze Vizulis, Edit by Tomer Elkayam

I know what you’re thinking, why go through the trouble to recreate Panda Express when it only costs a couple bucks to pick it up? Well, though price may not motivate you to try this one out, preparing food in your own house is always a better option than at fast food restaurants because you can actually control the quality and quantity of what you add (you know how much extra salt restaurants add, right?). This recipe requires hardly any time and very few ingredients…and did I mention no meat? Can I get another WOO! from my veg-heads?

Expectation: This cheap, easy Chow Mein will taste so Panda-like that my friends will have to start calling me Bao-Bao (side note: let’s just acknowledge the fact that this panda has more twitter followers than me).

Reality: A tie?! Half of the testers preferred Panda’s and the others opted for the knock-off, but they all agreed that the flavors of the two dishes were completely different and found them difficult to compare. The real deal Chow Mein? Less sauce, better noodles. The fake? Saucier, spicier, and thicker pasta. Though your fave dish will only be revealed after your own taste test, one thing’s for sure…this recipe will not pass for Panda Express.

Round 3: Panera Mac & Cheese


Photo by Ilze Vizulis, Edit by Tomer Elkayam

Macaroni and cheese is not just a food, it’s an art form – and Panera is the Picasso of this pasta painting. Panera has stepped up their food game in the past few years offering far more than just their fresh bagels and coffee: now serving healthier, heartier dishes like unique wraps and seasonal salads.

Unfortunately, as with all good things there is a cost, and with the caliber of their food, Panera can run their bills a bit steep. With this imitation recipe, you could save around $6 per serving. If this tastes legit, why not practice your dope cooking skills and save money at the same time?

Prediction: This copycat mac will sMACk (too far?) Panera’s prices down while still matching the flavor of this classic comfort food.

Result: Well, there has to be a loser – right? Though this imitation recipe tasted fine, Panera undoubtedly knocks out any type of competition. My testers critiqued the lack of cheesy and/or salty flavor and thought that it would have benefited from some swiss cheese or bread crumbs.

Personally (cause I have a say too, right?), if I were making this recipe for dinner, it’s good enough that I would enjoy it, but when you’re looking for your Panera mac and cheese fix, I’d recommend take out.


Photo by Ilze Vizulis, Edit by Tomer Elkayam

Though I wouldn’t go as far as to say that all of these recipes will replicate their restaurant counterparts, these dishes pleased my wallet, my palate, and my friends – what more could I ask for? Try them out if you want a good meal, but if you want an exact dupe, the Noodles & Company Penne Rosa Copycat is the only way to go.

A big thanks to my judges (pictured above from left to right), Michael Ragnone, Kristen Frogner, Erin Provagna, and Ilze Vizulis, for their very difficult, taste-testing work.