Back in 2007, my brother and I were hanging out in Las Vegas during NBA All-Star Weekend when we saw Antoine Walker strolling through Caesars Palace. Given the year, 'Toine definitely wasn't playing in the game, but he came out whatever reason and I was more excited to see him than any other player, since the '01-'02 Celtics are one of my favorite teams of all time.
Anyways, we started stalking him (obviously), tracking his movements through the casino, into the Forum Shops, and finally to the Cheesecake Factory. This is amazing! we thought. Antoine Walker is going to go the Cheesecake Factory solo—and he's wearing a Gucci fannypack! But then something kind of weird happened: Antoine Walker could not get a seat at the Cheesecake Factory. The place was heaving with customers, and the hostess wasn't about to make any special accommodations, even for a 6'9" man rocking a very expensive watch who was quite obviously a professional basketball player.
In retrospect, the incident always feels kind of fitting within the context of 'Toine's spiral as a player and a celebrity. But it also reminds me how insanely popular the Cheesecake Factory is. Anywhere you go in the country, the place has 45 minute-plus waits; it's easily the most referenced restaurant ever by athletes sharing their favorite places to eat; and fiscally, it's the chain all others aspire to be, with sales bordering on $1,000 per square foot (for perspective, a luxury mall takes in about $350 to $500 per square foot).
As our tastes evolve and our yuppie impulses harden, Cheesecake Factory is really the only major chain that we haven't abandoned.
We all know that being successful at selling enormous meals to Americans isn't commendable in and of itself, but within the ranks of casual restaurants on its scale, Cheesecake Factory really does standout. My brother and I have been going for nearly two decades now, and as our tastes evolve and our yuppie impulses harden, Cheesecake Factory is really the only major chain that we haven't abandoned—we still go whenever we visit our mom in Maryland, and this past Christmas, I just gave my brother a $100 gift certificate so that we could go eat wild amounts of food. It was the highlight of the holiday.
The menu is both absurdly long and just the right length. It is a pitch-perfect mapping of the American palate from coast-to-coast, and I would defy anyone to go in there and not find at least one dish that seems appealing. And for the chain connoisseur, it's a hit list of the fusion-era dishes that have become casual-dining staples, from "Cajun" pasta to "Tex-Mex" egg rolls. Some chains truly have only one or two good dishes, but at Cheesecake Factory, there are a lot more winners to navigate.
Having recently gotten into an in-depth argument about the relative pleasures of Buffalo Blasts versus Chicken Costoletta, we decided it was time to really set the record straight. After much debate, we arrived at the 15 best Cheesecake Factory dishes, ranked—definitively—in order of greatness.
There is not really room for debate, but if you'd like to make a case, the comments are open.