The Philly cheesesteak is far from the only thing to eat in Philadelphia – this is, after all, one the country’s most exciting food towns – but somehow, it’s the infamously sloppy, no-holds-barred sandwich that has captured the popular imagination. Here are some of the best places to try cheesesteaks in Philadelphia.
Perhaps it’s the mysterious alchemy at work that renders the most humble of ingredients – bread, meat, cheese (preferably cheese whiz – yes, really, but trust us on this one), onions – into something totally beguiling. Maybe it’s the heritage of the cheesesteak, which dates back to the early 1930s and which has strong ties to Philly’s Italian community. Or maybe it’s that the cheesesteak is, in many ways, a proxy for the city’s character itself: scrappy, unpretentious, impossible to replicate anywhere else. If you’re looking to do some sampling, these 10 cheesesteaks in Philadelphia are the perfect way to get acquainted. Just make sure you practice how to order – follow these steps to avoid getting sent to the back of the queue.
It may not be mentioned in the same breath as Philadelphia‘s best-known steak slingers, but for locals in the know, it doesn’t get better than Dalessandro’s. Located in the northwestern neighbourhood of Roxborough, this quest-worthy creation is in many ways the Platonic ideal of a Philly cheesesteak. A perfectly chewy hoagie roll, flavourful chopped steak pieces, lashings of cheese whiz and fistfuls of lightly griddled onions: this sandwich is a thing of monstrous beauty.
Jim’s – at least its South Street location – is best known for its snaking queues of steak-seekers (most of them out-of-towners). And while the wait may be daunting, it’s worth it for one of Philly’s quintessential cheesesteak experiences. Watch through the Plexiglas as fryers slice, chop, flip and sizzle unholy amounts of meat and onions on a huge griddle; grimace in appreciative horror as whiz is slopped from a bucket onto your sandwich. And then sink your teeth into the final product just as the whiz works its way in to every crevice of the meat.
Pat’s and Geno’s
Philadelphia’s two reigning cheesesteak titans – famously located just across the street from each other in South Philly – get to share the title: after all, they’re best known for their rivalry, so visiting one without trying the other would be a missed opportunity. Both Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks have their own armies of devotees, and both claim to have invented the cheesesteak. Though some steak purists avoid the two these days, claiming that demand and competitive shenanigans have driven down quality, getting a taste of this famous head-to-head is still a Philly must.
After Pat’s and Geno’s, Tony Luke’s is usually the third option rounding out the famous triumvirate of cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. Like the others, it draws equal amounts of praise and criticism from fiercely opinionated Philadelphians. To find out where you stand, head to its original South Philly branch, which is unarguably the most authentic place to indulge.
Located way out in Philadelphia’s Main Line suburbs, Our Deli is far enough off the steak trail to be unknown, even by locals. But this cheesesteak is a perfectly executed thing of beauty. Made using high-quality steak, melted white American cheese that dribbles all the way through, and perfectly pliant hoagie rolls, Our Deli’s steak is one of the ultimate expressions of the style.
John’s Roast Pork
The cheesesteak at John’s Roast Pork doesn’t look like other steaks. For one, it’s served in a sesame-studded hoagie roll. For another, there’s no whiz on offer – your cheese options are either regular or strong provolone. While deviating from the accepted formula could, for some, be fatal, this is truly an old-school version of the sandwich (and given that John’s has had 85-odd years to get it right, certainly one of the tastiest).
Sonny’s Famous Steaks
If South Philly is too much of a trek, meander over to Old City’s Sonny’s Famous Steaks, which is another cheesesteak purveyor that’s nailed those cheese-meat-bread golden ratios. Instead of finely chopped, steak pieces here are big and beefy, and cooked to order – this is one unapologetically meaty concoction. While most cheesesteak joints are characterised by their gruff service, staffers at Sonny’s are also some of the friendliest in town, which is a bonus if you don’t know your “˜whiz wit’s from your “˜whiz witout’s.
Though it began life as a small grocery store and deli in southwest Philly back in 1947, these days Campo’s Deli draws the biggest crowds for its steaks. It’s also since expanded, making its Market Street location in Center City officially one of the most convenient cheesesteak stops in the city. This is another purveyor that favours larger pieces of griddled steak in lieu of chopped pieces – prepare to sink your teeth into a truly hefty sandwich.
Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop
When it comes to retro, throwback joints, Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop has the old-fashioned angle cornered. Though it’s got a new location in Philly’s trendy Fishtown joint, the original in Wissinoming in northeastern Philly is the undisputed classic. Alongside the cheesesteaks – which have been drawing hordes of the hungry to this far-out edge of the city since the 1970s – you’ll also find milkshakes, egg creams, and an all-around Americana vibe.
Steve’s Prince of Steaks
Philly’s cheesesteak slingers aren’t always the most modest of vendors – especially given their tendency to bestow their shops with regal monikers. But luckily for the folks at Steve’s Prince of Steaks, this sandwich is worthy of some finger-kissing adulation. A few tweaks set this recipe apart: there’s the long, buttery hoagie roll, the hefty slices of steak – some of the biggest you’ll find in the city – as well as the extremely generous ladles of cheese. Opt for whiz or the house American cheese sauce. Either way, prepare to bow down.
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Which of these cheesesteaks in Philadelphia have you sampled? Which cheesesteak spots have we missed? Let us know in the comments below.
Written by Claire Bullen