This post about what’s gluten-free at the Cheesecake Factory is sponsored by Nima Sensor and contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosures for details.
You might be wondering what’s gluten-free at the Cheesecake Factory, a restaurant that boasts the “world’s largest menu” with more than 250 dishes on its 12+ page menu. This menu makes it really hard to decide what to order – especially if you’re indecisive.
Before heading to the restaurant, I checked the Cheesecake Factory’s website to see if I could find a gluten-free menu. I could not. I later learned that gluten-free items are labeled directly on the menu – no separate menu needed.
I also found information about how the restaurant caters to the allergy community in the FAQ section of its website:
“We offer a variety of substitution options and always do our best to accommodate special requests to prepare your meal just the way you like it. In addition, almost all our restaurants offer a gluten-free menu. When ordering, please inform your server of your needs and we will try to accommodate.”
It sounds promising, right? But of course, like most restaurants, there are no guarantees.
Also note that the Cheesecake Factory updates its menu twice per year, and the menu and allergen offerings can vary from restaurant to restaurant.
When examining the Cheesecake Factory menu (in Littleton, CO), I notice a little “GF upon request” logo next to many of the items, all indicating that a gluten-free version can be made, upon request.
It does not mean the item is gluten-free; rather it means the item is gluten-free if you ask for it to be gluten-free. DON’T ASSUME – always ask.
Additionally, my server showed me a purple slip of paper he must fill out when someone conveys they cannot eat gluten. It’s a checklist of things the cook preparing my meal must check off. Here is what it looks like:
I can’t help but wonder if there needs to be a few additional items on this checklist, like “Use clean pasta water.” More on that in a bit…
What to Order Gluten-Free at the Cheesecake Factory?
With such a huge menu, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of gluten-free options to choose from as well.
The extensive gluten-free selection includes salads, burgers, steaks, pastas, tacos, corn tamale cakes, Shepherd’s pie and even two different gluten-free cheesecakes for dessert.
Additionally, you can eat the French fries as my server told me that all fries are cooked in a dedicated fryer at the Cheesecake Factory (no worry of cross contamination in the deep fryer). Please note that I did not eat nor test the fries during my visit (maybe another time).
Nima Sensor Testing
Because the Cheesecake Factory can’t guarantee anything will be gluten-free, I knew I would need to check for myself before eating anything.
That’s why I’m so happy I have a Nima Sensor. It allows me to test a piece of my food for gluten before I take a bite. Nice, right? (More about the Nima Sensor below – scroll down.)
I ordered the following dishes, all specified to be gluten-free upon request (and all which involved me having a lengthy conversation with my server to discuss the seriousness of my “gluten allergy”):
- Chicken Lettuce Wraps appetizer (gluten-free upon request)
- Chicken Soft Tacos (gluten-free upon request)
- Evelyn’s Favorite Pasta (gluten-free upon request)
- Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake (gluten-free upon request)
Here is how each item fared against the Nima Sensor and a bit of commentary about each as well. As you will soon see, you win some and you lose some.
(1) Chicken Lettuce Wraps
The Mexican chicken lettuce wraps seemed pretty safe (although you can never assume). Inside each lettuce cup is some lightly seasoned chicken and fresh veggies. I tested the wraps anyway and it tested just fine with the Nima Sensor.
I thought the Mexican lettuce wraps were tasty and healthy. Definitely recommend, particularly if you’re eating on the lighter side.
(2) Chicken Soft Tacos
These tacos looked nearly identical to the lettuce wraps (same chicken, I think) plus included a few more veggies and diced avocado as well. I decided not to test these because they were too similar to the lettuce wraps. Duly noted to not order both items due to the similarities between the two, although both were truly delicious.
(3) Evelyn’s Favorite Pasta (GF)
This dish looked so beautiful when it arrived at my table. It’s gluten-free pasta and vegetables in an oil and broth sauce. Before eating, I tested the pasta and guess what? My Nima Sensor found gluten – ug!
The server was so kind and courteous and noticed that there may be an angel hair noodle in my bowl. I think you can see it in the above picture. See that angel hair noodle in between the two pieces of broccoli?
Seeing that prompted me to ask if the gluten-free pasta was cooked in clean pasta water. My server said he “thought” it was but would check what went wrong.
They made me a new pasta and, unfortunately, the second pasta dish tested positive for gluten too. Ug, again!!
I decided to nix pasta altogether and they brought me a second soft chicken taco dish (my husband and I were sharing the tacos and pasta – but we ended up only eating two orders of tacos).
UPDATE: So many people in my Instagram community said that they found a stray gluten noodle in their gluten-free pasta. Several people have reported being extremely sick after eating pasta at the Cheesecake Factory. I cannot, in good conscious, recommend you eat the gluten-free pasta at this restaurant. The process to cook gluten-free pasta at the Cheesecake Factory is majorly FLAWED! DO NOT order pasta no matter how tempting it sounds.
(4) Godiva(R) Chocolate Cheesecake
The fourth and last item I tested for hidden gluten is the Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake.
I must admit, I was VERY hesitant to order this cake. It’s displayed in the same display case as all the other cheesecakes. The gluten-free cheesecakes are on the top shelf (so no other cake crumbs drip on them) but they are still exposed to cross contact.
I asked a few more questions, including:
- Does your staff change gloves? (My server said yes)
- Does the staff use clean utensils? (My server said yes)
I heard all the right answers, but I was still uncomfortable with the risk of cross contamination inside the display case.
I then asked if it was possible if they could get me a slice that wasn’t in the display case – this way I knew it was safe? My server didn’t think he could do it, but in the end, the manager went and got the cake for me herself and told me it came from a clean, untouched cheesecake (not the cheesecake from the display case). Score one for me!
I suggested that going forward, they consider offering to get their true allergy customers a slice from a fresh cheesecake (one not in the display case) upon request. Wouldn’t that be great if it was standard procedure?
I used my Nima Sensor to test the Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake and found out it’s gluten-free (contains no gluten ingredients). The Nima Sensor is all smiles!
You can watch me do test live on Facebook in this video:
After I did the Facebook Live test, someone on my Facebook page commented that Godiva Chocolate may not be gluten-free. She pointed me to the Godiva FAQs page where it says the following:
“ALL of our products including solid chocolate pieces may contain gluten. Any person with a gluten allergy should NOT consume ANY of our products.”
This blanket statement is so confusing to me because solid chocolate should not contain gluten. Ug! What is wrong with this company (Godiva)?!? I would never eat Godiva chocolate if I had known this information (which I learned after the fact).
IMPORTANT: I emailed The Cheesecake Factory and Godiva to get to the bottom of this confusing issue. Here is the statement I received from The Cheesecake Factory (June 28, 2019):
Thank you for contacting The Cheesecake Factory. We welcome all inquiries and comments about our Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake. Although Godiva’s website, general customer service, or corporate support center may provide information on their direct to consumer products and their presence of Gluten; the Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake we offer is a collaboration cheesecake which includes an exclusive Chocolate that is Gluten Free.
With that being said, because sensitivities vary, please note that we do not have separate baking or cooking facilities, and we cannot guarantee against cross contamination of ingredients. Thank you again for contacting us. We hope to serve you soon!
As noted in my Facebook Live test, the Nima Sensor did not find gluten in the cheesecake (and now we understand why), and I felt fine after eating it (my personal experience only).
Also, before you “hate” on me for eating this lovely piece of chocolate cheesecake, please scroll down to read the “Hi Haters” section. Yes, I even thought of you when writing this article!
Recommendations for Eating Gluten-Free at the Cheesecake Factory
I do not recommend eating at the Cheesecake Factory if you’re gluten-free. There are too many unknowns and confusing things going on, including the Godiva disclosure not lining up with the Cheesecake Factory’s disclosure, and the pasta confusion and inconsistencies.
However, if you still want to eat gluten-free at the Cheesecake Factory despite this warning, consider these tips to doing so as safely as possible:
- Order least risky foods. It appears that too much can go wrong with the pasta – so I highly recommend you avoid ordering it. They might use the same water to cook the gluteny pasta, or they might strain it in a shared or unclean strainer. Order, instead, foods that are as naturally gluten-free and require the least handling and processing.
- Convey seriousness of your “allergy.” If you cannot eat gluten, convey the seriousness of your diet to your server. As you know, many people are simply avoiding gluten, but some of you cannot even have a crumb of gluten.
- Don’t assume. Remember, the dishes are “gluten-free upon request.” This doesn’t mean the dish is gluten-free, it means it can be made gluten-free. There is a BIG difference.
- Ask for cheesecake from the back. My server didn’t think he could get me a cheesecake from the back (not in the display case) but the manager did just that. So ask both your server and/or manager to see if you can get a safe slice. It’s worth it if you can make it happen because the cheesecake is AMAZING!
- Always test. I’m not sure I feel comfortable eating at the Cheesecake Factory without testing certain dishes for gluten first, especially the pasta dishes. Refer to #1 – order the least risky foods. You can always eat pasta at home, don’t risk it when you know it’s questionable. Plus, the pasta is just filled with a bunch of excess calories – something I didn’t need in the first place.
- Don’t go during busy hours. If you want extra care in taking and preparing your order, avoid going to the Cheesecake Factory during peak hours.
What’s a Nima Sensor?
If you haven’t figured it out yet, a Nima Sensor is a portable gluten detecting device that enables you to test your food for gluten right at your table.
I always tell my server, “I’m going to test my food for gluten,” so he or she knows just how serious I am about my gluten-free diet.
Most servers are really excited to see for themselves how the food tested. In fact, at the Cheesecake Factory, my server kept coming back to see how the Nima Sensor fared and he commented that he thought the Nima Sensor was a really cool device. He even encouraged me to order the cheesecake. I think he secretly wanted to know how it fared when put to the Nima Sensor test.
Hi Haters, This Section is For You
I know a lot of you want to hate on me or the Nima Sensor. That’s okay, I can take it and I’m sure you have nothing better to do with your time. Listen up, being gluten-free is messy, flawed, imperfect and forever a learning experience.
Had I known about Godiva’s may contain wheat statement beforehand (as you can guess, I don’t typically eat Godiva’s chocolate to know that), I would have not ordered nor eaten the cheesecake. That is not the way I roll and if you know me (which you don’t), then you’d know that.
However, this blog is written for everyone on the gluten spectrum. Some people might feel comfortable ordering it given the information I’ve offered up in this post, others will not. That’s okay. Again, this is a perfectly imperfect process. No judgement here.
While I am a huge fan of the Nima Sensor, and it saved me BIG time from eating the obviously glutened Evelyn’s pasta at the Cheesecake Factory, it has its limitations and I am not dumb or blind to that.
The Nima Sensor only tests a small portion of your food, not the entire dish. When you invent something better, hater, let me know. Testing a small portion is better than testing nothing.
I know the Nima Sensor is not a substitute for the lengthy conversation that I had with my server before I even ordered. If you heard me chat with my server at any restaurant, you’d know I take this gluten-free thing seriously. The reason I hadn’t eaten at the Cheesecake Factory in the 7+ years since going gluten-free was because I was scared to. I finally mustered up the courage to go so I could help my community navigate this extremely popular restaurant that they were eating at anyway.
You should know that if you’re going to judge someone, you should judge them with good intentions.
Furthermore, I know that the Nima Sensor cannot detect fermented foods like soy sauce, beer and even barley malt. These sneaky ingredients contain gluten but the gluten is broken down so much that Nima cannot detect it. This is why you must read ingredient labels and ask questions in addition to testing your food for gluten. Again, if you invent something better that can detect ALL gluten in a portable little device, let me know. Until then, I love that the Nima Sensor is looking out for me.
In the meantime, haters, work towards making a true difference in this world … and for goodness sakes, quit judging those of us trying to figure it out and doing our best. #weareallinthistogether