Ordering at The Cheesecake Factory is hell—so I found a way to conquer its endless menu

How are you supposed to select from a 250-item menu? By reexamining your priorities.

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Plates of Cheesecake Factory entrees
Photo: Peter Dench (Getty Images)

There are over 250 menu items on The Cheesecake Factory menu, so I am understandably incapable of ever deciding on one before a server arrives at my table. It’s the same failure, every time: Once I’ve ordered I have no idea if what I’ve selected is something I genuinely want to eat, or if I’ve simply spit out a random string of food words between heaving breaths. The menu draws culinary inspiration from Italy, Jamaica, Thailand, Mexico, France, and an alternate dimension where hamburgers are so sexy, they’re called Glamburgers. It’s far too much for me to process, even if I study the menu in advance.

I’ve only successfully dined at The Cheesecake Factory a handful of times. By “successfully,” I mean I didn’t leave with a heap of regrets about which menu items I ordered and which I left behind. On these occasions, the only thing I knew I wanted from the outset was some sort of cheesecake—which doesn’t narrow things down very much, since there are several dozen flavors to choose from. However, this starting point succeeds in keeping my brain from shorting out; I expect cheesecake variety from any factory-scale cheesecake operation, and I never second-guess my cake-ordering decisions because cake is always a guaranteed good time (as long as there are no raisins).

So after some spiritual reflection, I’ve come away with this: Maybe the reason I am so often incapable of navigating The Cheesecake Factory’s 128-page menu is that I have been reading it incorrectly. It is not an appetizer or an entree factory, after all—it is a cheesecake factory, and cheesecake must been seen as paramount. All other forms of sustenance are secondary.

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Now, I’m not much for calorie counting (it doesn’t quite jibe with my illustrious career as a fast food critic), but I do know that if I eat too much in a single sitting, I will get a tummy ache. This means if I choose poorly in the appetizer and entree categories, my body will spare no room for cheesecake, which is an absolutely unacceptable thing to happen at The Cheesecake Factory. And so, I propose the best way to navigate The Cheesecake Factory menu.

The best way to order at The Cheesecake Factory

1. Flip straight to the back of the menu, where the desserts are found.

2. Determine what your dessert will be before making any other decisions about your order.

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3. Take the calorie count of that dessert, and subtract it from the USDA’s recommended daily recommendation of 2,000 calories.

4. When ordering the rest of your food, eliminate any individual menu items with calorie counts higher than the resulting number.

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Why do any of this? I assure you it’s not for health/wellness/diet-related reasons. Instead, it’s about using calorie counts as a rough indicator of how filling a certain item will be (whether due to its carbs, sugar, sodium, what have you, who cares). Eliminating dishes over a certain calorie threshold is just a way to help you pare down an endless menu to a manageable list of options, and derive maximum enjoyment out of everything you order. Let me explain.

With only six of The Cheesecake Factory’s 48 desserts coming in at under 1,000 calories, the process above eliminates at least two-thirds of the remaining menu options. This still leaves over 50 appetizers and entrees to choose from, without all the background noise of disappointing pastas and platters of orange chicken that will never compete with the stuff at Panda Express. You don’t need these dishes in your life. Make The Cheesecake Factory menu work harder to win your affections.

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Many of the lower-calorie entrees can be found on a small section of the menu that, for some misguided reason, is called “Skinnylicious.” I am not going to The Cheesecake Factory with the idea of adjusting, maintaining, or even thinking about my weight. So while testing my menu theorem, I disregarded the Skinnylicious menu entirely, on principle. That allowed me to narrow my search even further.

After these two rounds of menu cuts, I still had over two dozen menu options to choose from. My dining companion and I decided to split a plate of avocado toast (900 calories) and a cauliflower crust pizza (760 calories). These decisions were made in less than ten minutes, and neither of us had a panic attack in the process. Success!

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Avocado toast and cauliflower crust pizza at The Cheesecake Factory
Photo: Allison Robicelli

Of course, a stress-free ordering system would mean nothing if the food was lousy. I am happy to report that both the avocado toast and cauliflower crust pizza were some of the best dishes I’ve ever been served at a chain restaurant, and as you can see from the photo above, the portions were generous enough that we were exactly as full as we wanted to be just before the all-important cheesecake hit the table.

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In a true test of my patented Optimal Cheesecake Factory Ordering Theorem, we ordered the two highest-calorie desserts on the menu to split: Oreo Extreme Dream Cheesecake (1,600 calories), and Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake (1,770 calories). Incredibly, neither of us felt like taking naps under the table immediately after licking our plates clean, and high-fived upon realizing that we had cracked The Cheesecake Factory code.

Noticing our enthusiasm, our server disclosed that she was a semi-professional bodybuilder, and suggested that we try the Thai lettuce wraps on our next visit. But why put off until tomorrow what you can do today, especially when there are Cheesecake Factory breakthroughs to be had? Feeling as fine as we did, we ordered a single portion of these lettuce wraps to see if they’d put us over the edge. This is what a single portion looks like:

Thai chicken lettuce wraps at Cheesecake Factory
Photo: Allison Robicelli
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The platter contains 850 calories’ worth of grilled chicken, coconut noodles, cucumber salad, sauces, and vegetables. And, sure, it did put us over the edge a little bit, but we didn’t mind because it tasted incredible, and it was for science. Most importantly, the Thai lettuce wraps were further proof that you should select your dessert first and work backward from there. When that approach leads you to discover an entree this delicious, you won’t feel the slightest bit deprived.