The 9th-annual Mac and Cheese Fest is upcoming this Thursday, March 14, from 6 to 8 p.m., and it’s set to be better than ever before. The festival, which features mac and cheese from two dozen restaurants in the Binghamton area, is a fundraising event for the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra is Broome County’s only professional symphony orchestra. Since being founded in 1955, their mission had been to provide live orchestral music to the area, but in 2017 their mission shifted to include social outreach in its list of goals. Their current mission statement is “building community through the power of live music.”

Ways they build community include their “Family Symphony Sessions” which allow the families of children under 17 to attend a symphony for free, and their “Musical Instrument Drive” which donates used instruments to schools in the area. The Mac and Cheese Fest is a fundraising event that helps make these programs possible.

Event organizer and Binghamton resident Julia Grella O’Connell says that attendees should expect the biggest Mac and Cheese Fest yet.

“The festival is now in its ninth year,” O’Connell wrote in an email. “In the eight previous years, it was held at the Holiday Inn Downtown. This year we are at DoubleTree Hotel in Downtown Binghamton, because it gives us more space, more parking and a better opportunity to host our 24 participating restaurants.”

Restaurants participating in the festival this year include Kampai Japanese Steakhouse, Mooney’s, Big Zues Barbeque, The Brickyard, The Grove, Calzone Bros, Park Diner, Strange Brew, The River Bistro and many more. There have also been vegan options before such as Parlor City Vegan.

When asked about the origins of the event O’Connell recalled when the idea was born.

“The event was born in 2016, when a Philharmonic staff member noted that almost every Binghamton restaurant had mac and cheese on the menu, and that there seemed to be a correspondingly big love for the dish throughout the area,” said O’Connell. “The festival is now in its ninth year and traditionally hosts up to one thousand mac and cheese-loving guests.”

After arriving at the festival and purchasing a ticket, attendees will be allowed to sample mac and cheese from all participating restaurants and will then vote for winners of different categories such as “Most Classic Mac,” “Most Original Mac,” “Judges’ Choice,” “Kids Choice” and “Best of the Fest.” The categories change by the year, giving different restaurants a better chance to show off their mac and cheese strengths.

Past winners include businesses such as Kampai Japanese Steakhouse, which won “Best of the Fest” and “Most Original Mac” in 2023, as well as “Judges’ Choice” and “Most Original Mac” again in 2022 and “Out of the Blue Box” in 2021. Park Diner won “Most Classic Mac” in 2023 and Big Zues Barbeque won “Judges’ Choice,” also in 2023. Having won awards three years in a row, it seems as though “Kampai Japanese Steakhouse” will be the restaurant to beat.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at their website,, or at the door using cash or card.

“All you need to bring is an appetite and a love for mac and cheese,” said O’Connell. “It’s a fun night for the whole family.”