When in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, you must save your appetite for the city’s famous Philly cheesesteak. The trick is, it’s hard to choose just one. Philly is famous for a variety of cheesesteak joints, each with its own unique twist on the traditional all-American sandwich. Here are the top 10 must try cheesesteaks.
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Just a stone’s throw from the Liberty Bell and Independence Visitor Center is Philadelphia’s landmark cheesesteak. Known for their hoagies, Campo’s Deli has been dealing in sandwiches and cheesesteaks for half a century. With an impressive offering of cheesesteak meats, hot sauces, vegetables and cheeses, Campo’s allows patrons to get creative with their orders. The only issue? You might have to fight to get a seat in the crowded joint– but that’s half of the cheesesteak experience.
Tucked far away from the cheesesteak-seeking tourists in central and south Philadelphia, Dalessandro’s Steaks maintains a cult-like following in the leafy northwestern suburb of Wissahickon. A few minutes walk away from the scenic hiking trail tracing the run of Wissahickon Creek, Dalessandro’s is indisputably a local’s cheesesteak spot of choice.
A rival of Pat’s King of Steaks since the early days of the sandwich’s popularity, Geno’s sits on the opposite side of the intersection from its age old competitor in all of its flashy, neon glory. While the famed intersection of East Passyunk Avenue and South 9th Street is undeniably worth the culinary pilgrimage, cheesesteak enthusiasts would do best to divorce taste buds and nostalgia; Geno’s has drawn fire in recent years for a tasteless cheesesteak. Ambiance is perhaps the greatest draw to this fallen giant, between a monumental neon exterior and tongue-in-cheek signs by the counter.
This famed joint is an innovator that pioneered the chicken cheese steak and its signature purple soft drink the ‘gremlin’, which equal parts grape soda and lemonade. Its name is a mouthful as well as its stakes; Ishkabibble is purportedly a snappy Yiddish saying which means ‘I should worry’. But rest assured, there’s nothing to worry about in terms of its quality cheesesteak, except maybe how you’ll make room for two.
Joe’s Steaks & Soda Shop
Founded in 1949 as Chink’s Steaks by Sam ‘Chink’ Sherman, Joe’s Steaks & Soda Shop now bears the name of Sam Sherman’s successor Joe Groh, who worked his way up from a kitchen hand to the owner. Since Joe Groh took over the establishment in 1999, it has received numerous accolades from Philadelphia Magazine and Anthony Bourdain’s Philadelphia episode of The Layover, and rightly so; in addition to a mean cheesesteak—available with eggs on Sunday mornings—Joe’s boasts one of the finest milkshakes in the city. Despite its rebranding, Joe’s remains a pillar of the Philadelphian delicacy in the Frankford area.
John’s Roast Pork
Known as the best non-tourist cheesesteak, John’s Roast Pork forgoes gimmick for quality. Cheese whizz is definitely not on the menu here. Instead, diners choose between provolone and American for their made to order sandwich on a delicious loaf from Carangi Bakery. Hungry patrons form two separate lines: one for cheesesteaks and the other for the famous namesake roast pork. Years ago, John’s Roast Pork was a favorite of dock workers thanks to its riverside location. Now the restaurant has catapulted to mainstream fame thanks to glowing media reviews.
Pat’s King of Steaks
Credited with the invention of the cheesesteak way back in 1930, Pat’s King of Steaks is arguably more of a monument to the history of the cheesesteaks than the best place to have one. The story goes that founder Pat Olivieri, who had a hotdog stand, decided to throw some steak on his grill instead. The steak gained a following and Olivieri abandoned his hotdog stand for a permanent location, later adding cheese to the famed formula. Pat’s is as rich in ambience as its sandwiches are in calories. The experience of ordering this self proclaimed ‘original’ cheesesteak is rite of passage; instructions for ordering are displayed clearly and legibly on a sign. Don’t ever ask for a menu.
This modest red-roofed stand on the corner of West Passyunk Avenue and West Ritner Street is easy to overlook due to its humble appearances. But don’t be fooled; Philip’s Steaks is home to Philadelphia’s most sought after cheesesteak. Called the ‘old fashioned’, this cheesesteak is overflowing with the regular beef, provolone and fried onions, but also has the less conventional addition of grilled tomato, hot Italian peppers, seasoning and oregano. You won’t find this special recipe on the menu but simply ask for it just like the regulars do.
Sonny’s Famous Steaks
Sonny’s Famous Steaks boasts superior quality ingredients, from hand sliced rib-eye steak to tender rolls and gooey cheeses. What truly distinguishes Sonny’s, however, is its helpful and friendly service, which– unlike most cheesesteak establishments – will let customers have it their way. House variations of the famous item include the bacon cheesesteak, the pizza steak saddled with marinara sauce and mozzarella, and the pepperoni cheese steak. Sonny’s also offers an extensive selection of cheeses including bleu cheese, American and mozzarella. No wonder it’s the favorite cheesesteak joint of GQ magazine’s acclaimed foodie journalist Alan Richman.
Steve’s Prince of Steaks
Steve’s Prince of Steaks is by far the locals’ favorite joint according to this useful study of cheesesteak consumers. A possible factor in Steve’s strong local following might be its established reputation in the rougher streets of northeast Philadelphia. But, recently Steve’s opened a new branch just a few blocks away from Town Hall in central Philadelphia. Unlike its competitors, Steve’s serves whole steaks, not ones that are chopped to bits, and place them on delicate rolls instead of the traditional thick loaf.
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