What You Should Absolutely Never Order From The Cheesecake Factory

The Cheesecake Factory is one of the most popular restaurant chains in America. With over 250 dishes that careen dizzyingly between America's Heartland to Bangkok, The Cheesecake Factory's menu is both exhausting and comforting. There's too much to choose from, yet there's something for everyone. As the Los Angeles Times called it, the chain is "Manifest Destiny in restaurant form." 

The Cheesecake Factory has a loyal cadre of present and past employees, and it's frequently included in Fortune's annual "100 Best Companies To Work For." Employees swear that all food is made to order with fresh ingredients — except for the cheesecake, which is allegedly made in an actual factory and shipped frozen to each restaurant. 

What employees don't tell you — and what The Cheesecake Factory would never admit to — is that lurking beneath those fresh ingredients are other unhealthy add-ins that make this restaurant less than diet-friendly. Some items on the restaurant's doorstop menu are less horrifying than others, but if you want to find out what menu items you should run away from, read on.

Louisiana Chicken Pasta

There's a reason why The Cheesecake Factory's huge menu is all over the map. When it opened in 1972, founder and CEO David Overton needed a place to sell his mom's cheesecakes. "I wasn't a chef," he told Thrillist"I had no experience in the restaurant business either." He needed a menu he could cook himself, and so initially, The Cheesecake Factory served American fare: burgers and fries, sandwiches, and salads. Other restaurants with specialty cuisine were stiff competition, and Overton didn't want to lose business to them. "We just kept putting things on the menu that people seemed to like," he admitted. The company expanded the menu haphazardly, adding Mexican dishes, Italian dishes, and hybrids of bothAnything that could be conceivably ordered, Overton added to the menu, reports Mental Floss. "I probably should have kept the menu slimmer."

This throw-it-to-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks philosophy gave birth to Louisiana Chicken Pasta. This Frankenstein creation won the 2015 Xtreme Eating Award as one of the top five worst restaurant-chain meals. It's four breaded and fried slices of chicken breast placed on bowtie pasta with "spicy New Orleans sauce." The New York Times also took note of this dishstating that one portion has 2,370 calories, "which means you can leave food on the plate and still go over your daily quota." Xtreme Eating adds that "For those numbers, you could have two Fettucine Alfredos plus breadsticks" at The Cheesecake Factory's rival, Olive Garden.

Pasta Napoletana

Although there are a few vegetarian options — a veggie burger recently appeared on the menu — The Cheesecake Factory isn't the place for someone who doesn't eat meat, unless, per Women's Health, you're willing to make a meal of mainly side dishes. One Redditor had the temerity to request a vegan side dish and was presented with a sizable chunk of steamed broccoli. Hey, they're trying!

But there are some items veggie lovers definitely shouldn't order. One includes an over-the-top dish called Pasta Napoletana, which sounds like something Napoleon threw together while invading Naples. Neapolitan sauce is basically a marinara — fresh tomatoes, basil, and garlic — a dish any vegetarian or vegan would adore. But as described by the Los Angeles Times, Pasta Napoletana is a "fleshy bacchanal that tastes like someone scraped the top of a Meat Lover's pizza onto a plate of spaghetti." 

Pasta Napoletana scored another win for The Cheesecake Factory in the 2017 Xtreme Eating Awards as the "Worst Adapted Pasta." This vegetarian's nightmare is a Matterhorn of Italian sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, and bacon piled on top of three cups of spaghetti that's been drenched in heavy cream and butter. The Cheesecake Factory has been under fire for years about its absurd portion sizes. A spokeswoman told CBS News: "Many of our guests come in and want to celebrate and not be concerned with calories." Pasta Napoletana packs 2,480 calories with 221 grams of fat. It may be delicious, but this monstrosity will expand your girth.

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

Research into the myth that breakfast is the most important meal of the deal is contradictory, but as reported by Time, registered dietician nutritionist Sharon Collison believes that "Skipping breakfast is associated with increased disease risk — not only obesity but diabetes, heart disease, and just lower dietary quality." So maybe Cheesecake Factory patrons ought to pass this deadly breakfast by. The Cinnamon Roll Pancakes nabs one of the top spots in the 2019 Xtreme Eating Awards. With the equivalent fat, sugar, and calorie content of 11 Krispy Kreme Glazed Doughnuts, the Center for Science in the Public Interest marvels that it's "not easy to cram 2,040 calories into three pancakes." But The Cheesecake Factory manages it with aplomb. 

Considering that three, six-inch homemade buttermilk pancakes total 525 calories, you have to wonder just how much sugar and butter is Cheesecake Factory stuffing into these pancakes. According to the online recipe, four, six-inch pancakes contain half a cup of vanilla icing, and plenty of the cinnamon swirl ingredients, including brown sugar, cream, and cinnamon, are ladled on top. Mystery solved! So how long would it take for you to burn off this cinna-bomb? According to Nutritionix, for a 140-pound person, it would require over three hours of running. Better to order one of Cheesecake Factory's few healthy offerings.

Chicken and Broccoli Pasta

At first glance, the Chicken and Broccoli Pasta appears to be a somewhat healthy-ish pasta dish. It's not covered in cheese, and butter and cream aren't pooling in the plate. Per The Cheesecake Factory's nutritional guide, at 1,360 calories and 22 grams of saturated fat, it's not exactly a diet dish, but it's not one of the chain's usual belt-looseners either. But keep reading the nutritional information, and the truly unnerving revelation is that this pasta — with 5,890 mg of sodium — is the equivalent of a human salt lick.

According to the American Heart Association, too much sodium increases blood pressure, which is one of the major risk factors of heart disease. "More than 70 percent of the sodium we consume comes from packaged, prepared, and restaurant foods," the AHA report states. Salt is tasty, and per Time, restaurants add much more of it than is necessary to flavor their meals. Ninety percent of Americans eat more salt than necessary. The American Heart Association recommends 2,300 mg of sodium daily for healthy adults but encourages adults to stick to no more than a daily 1,500 mg. So even if you push the salt shaker aside, you're still getting way too much sodium.

Which brings us back to the insidious level of sodium in the Chicken and Broccoli Pasta. This one entree has nearly three times the amount of sodium anyone should ever eat in a single day. You're best off avoiding it.

Sheila's Chicken and Avocado Salad

So, you've had a couple of appetizers at The Cheesecake Factory, and you're full to the gills, but you don't want to be the only one at the table without an entree. You think: "I'll order something light." And, voila!, the server presents you with Sheila's Chicken and Avocado Salad. It's big, it's bountiful, it's beautiful ... well, it's big. What you're about to dig your fork into has been deemed by The Daily Meal and Business Insider as one of the most unhealthy menu items at The Cheesecake Factory. But why? It has good-sized chunks of grilled chicken and avocado on a tower of mixed greens. Cashews and fried tortilla strips aren't the most diet-friendly items, but they can be picked out. 

The real damage is probably from the salad dressing, a honey-peanut vinaigrette that contributes to the salad's 56 grams of sugar. The USDA recommends 12 teaspoons in total per day, so Sheila's salad is getting up there on the sugar count. Chefs are taught in culinary school that adding sugar can balance a salty dish that doesn't taste right. Sheila's Chicken and Avocado Salad has 2,130 mg of sodium, so the kitchen is doing a real balancing act. If those levels weren't insane enough, this salad has 129 grams of fat and a total of 1,840 calories. To put this into perspective, The Cheesecake Factory's Bacon-Bacon Cheeseburger has less fat and is 251 calories lighter.

SkinnyLicious Chicken Pot Stickers

In 2011, Founder and CEO David Overton introduced the new SkinnyLicious menu. "We wanted to create a menu that delivers an exceptional dining experience to our calorie-conscious guests," he stated in a press release. The small plates, appetizers, and flatbreads were reformulated to have only 490 calories, and salads and entrees would have 590 calories or less. Spokeswoman Althea Rowe told ABC News that The Cheesecake Factory has had lower-calorie items for 30 years, but many patrons don't select them but instead come for the large portions and rich desserts. But with SkinnyLicious, "We're really making it easier for people to find low-calorie items on our menu." 

In 2018, the FDA issued menu-labeling requirements for chain restaurants with 20 or more locations. Up until then, The Cheesecake Factory kept nutritional information a secret (per Calorie Lab), but it got around the FDA's mandate by publishing a nutritional guide that's separate from the menu, which you can peruse upon request if you're interested in the fats, sugar, and sodium of any dish you might think of ordering. So even though many SkinnyLicious items are under 600 calories and significantly lower in fat, sodium levels can be still off the chart. Most hover between 1,200 and 1,500 mg, but the Chicken Pot Stickers are sky-high at 2,690 mg. This five-piece appetizer is over the FDA's recommended daily sodium intake for a healthy adult.

Kid's Menu Macaroni and Cheese

The Cheesecake Factory refused to add a kids' menu for years. Marketing officials defended this unusual choice by claiming that there were off-menu choices for kids. But then in 2009, a press release (via The Orange County Register) announced that "We have developed a new Kid's Menu to satisfy families with young children who desire specific menu items that fit their kids' unique taste and portion size requirement." But a single glance at the kid's menu will reveal that it's pretty much the same fried and fatty stuff you get at any fast food spot. Only two items on the menu — grilled chicken and grilled salmon — are relatively nutritionally balanced. 

As for the rest of the kid's menu, in 2012, the authors of Eat This, Not That! criticized its pasta with alfredo sauce as the most unhealthful meal in America (via New York Daily News). With 1,810 calories, this pasta bomb is equivalent to 40 chicken McNuggets

In 2018, Eat This, Not That! altered its condemnation by suggesting menu items that would be okay to eat. But the new worst meal "winner" is the Kid's Menu Macaroni and Cheese. This sizable portion is less caloric (1,160), but it has 79 grams of fat (47 grams of which are saturated). Registered dietician Jenn Fillenworth, MD, RD, wrote on the Eat This, Not That! website: "The amount of fat and saturated fat in this dish should come with a warning label to parents."

Bruleed French Toast

The top winner of the 2014 Xtreme Eating Award for the worst meal is Cheesecake Factory's Bruleed French Toast. This sugar-shock-inducing brunch bomb is stuffed with custard and served with a quarter cup of buttered syrup and — with the optional side of bacon or ham — has a grand total of 2,780 calories, a full week's worth of saturated fat (93 grams), and 2,230 mg of sodium. Imagine eating 14 slices of frozen French toast slathered with half a cup of cream cheese and sprinkled with 24 teaspoons of sugar. To work this off, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, you would have to swim laps for seven hours.

Dietician Paige Einstein told Vox: "When French toast is 'Bruléed,' fries are 'bottomless,' and steaks are now garnished with not just one, but two Italian sausages, it's clear that caloric extremism still rules the roost at many of America's chain restaurants." She also revealed that two out of three Americans are overweight or obese, and one in ten adults has diabetes, "thanks in part to The Cheesecake Factory ..." Or as one Quora user posted: "Unless I am doing a Michael Phelps swimming regimen, lifting weights like the Rock, or jogging like Floyd Mayweather, I would suggest staying away from Cheesecake Factory."

Chicken and Biscuits

Chicken and biscuits is no one's idea of diet food. Scanning recipes for chicken and biscuits, you'll find that most have anywhere from 400 to 800 (at most) calories per portion, even those with cheese and creamed gravy. But it does make you wonder what The Cheesecake Factory puts into its take on this classic Southern meal to jam it full with 1,610 calories, 89 grams of fat, and 3,170 mg of sodium. Even Paula Deen, who is hardly known for holding back in her recipes (that is, before her diabetes diagnosis), wouldn't make a dish this rich.

After The Cheesecake Factory won its sixteenth Xtreme Eating award in 2014, Founder David Overton was reportedly fed up. "I was sick of winning that prize," he told The Wall Street Journal. He changed a few recipes but clearly did not change his chicken and biscuits. The dietician for the Center for Science in the Public Interest remarked "Mr. Overton may be tiring of the prize, but he's certainly making sure that The Cheesecake Factory remains the most calorically extreme chain that we've seen." So if you have a hankering for some rib-sticking comfort food, you'll be doing you and your family a big favor by passing on The Cheesecake Factory's chicken and biscuits. Why not just make Paula Deen's version at home?

Orange Chicken

If you poured warm orange marmalade over KFC's Popcorn Nuggets and tossed on a couple of sliced carrots, you'd get a frighteningly close approximation to The Cheesecake Factory's Orange Chicken. There are plenty of items on the restaurant's current menu that are deep-fried. "The process of frying is known to alter the quality and increase the caloric content of food," said Leah Cahill, PhD, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University in Canada. As a result of its being deep-fried, the Orange Chicken has 59 grams of fat, and considering that a slice of the original cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory also has 59 grams of fat, it's pretty outrageous.

Then, there's the orange sauce that so many patrons love. According to a copycat recipe posted by Cheesecake Factory At Home, it has one packed cup of brown sugar, which probably accounts for this dish's 77 grams of sugar. And that plain slice of cheesecake has 53 grams of sugar. So, ironically, a lighter option is to skip the Orange Chicken and have a slice of cheesecake instead.

Breakfast Burrito

Recently a Redditor posted that he weighed 133 pounds and wanted to bulk up by eating The Cheesecake Factory Diet. As an employee of The Cheesecake Factory, he's entitled to free food, and after consulting the company's "nutritional" book, he wrote that he could easily get 1,000 to 2,000 calories in one meal. If he wants to pack on the pounds fast, he really doesn't need to look much further than the served-all-day Breakfast Burrito, 2018 Xtreme Eating's award-winner for "Worst Way to Start the Day." 

This diabolical egg-and-meat-stuffed behemoth has almost a days' worth of calories (1,950), a ton of sodium (3,640 mg), and a heap of saturated fat (59 grams). The Center for Science in the Public Interest equates chowing down this burrito to eating seven McDonald's Sausage McMuffins. The skinny Redditor was advised by other Redditors that he seek out "clean foods" instead because — other than the plain grilled salmon — he was not going to find them at The Cheesecake Factory.