Best Newly Arrived National Chain - 2000
The Cheesecake Factory
Say what you will about the continued chain invasion of San Francisco, the Cheesecake Factory boasts a couple of features from which some local restaurants could learn. First, there are few places here where you can go and be seated to just have dessert and coffee. Think any of your favorite chichi eateries, with their exquisite paeans to sugar, are going to slip you in between dining parties for a $20 tab? Hardly. Second, even with reservations, it's typical to find yourself waiting a half-hour or more to be seated at any number of local hot spots. Walk-ins are even tougher. This may be unavoidable, but the constant "just another 15 minutes" refrain wears rather thin after an hour. The solution: pagers. Once you've put yourself on the list, the Cheesecake Factory gives you a pager and tells you to take a hike. You'll be buzzed when your table's up. We're not claiming the food's out of this world; it's just OK (notwithstanding the tasty avocado egg rolls), but servings are big and reasonably priced. The real deal here -- big surprise -- is the dessert. Cheesecakes come in every flavor under the sun, from the Ben & Jerry's-like chocolate peanut butter cookie dough to Key lime to tiramisu, plus the gorgeous pumpkin cheesecake, when it's in season. Nearly all of them are fantastic.