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The Best Sandwiches in Philly Are Not Cheesesteaks

26 November, 2020

Italian roast pork sandwich from John's Roast Pork, photo courtesy of E. Tillen

Italian roast pork - John’s Roast Pork

Ironically, John’s serves up one of the best cheesesteaks in the city, but the Italian roast pork sandwich is the biggest draw at this no-frills roadside joint. Aged provolone, thinly-shaved pork bathed in its own jus, and a generous heap of bitter, garlicky greens are packed into a sturdy seeded roll, a recipe that hasn’t changed since the restaurant’s 1930 opening. The city may be overflowing with restaurants serving their own versions of the sandwich, but John’s has solidified its status as the real deal. National acclaim and a James Beard Award haven’t inflated the ego of this Philly institution; its menu still maintains an offering of simple but delicious fare.

14 Snyder Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19148

The Schmitter® - McNally’s Tavern

That’s right—Philly is home to a sandwich so good that it requires a trademark. The Schmitter® is a hybrid of sorts; it’s a unique cross between a sub and a cheesesteak and is the brainchild of old-school pub McNally’s Tavern in Chestnut Hill. It has many of the elements of the famed cheesesteak like sliced steak, fried onions, and melted cheese but takes a bit of an oddball (but tasty) turn with the addition of grilled salami, tomatoes, and a sloppy slathering of a top-secret special sauce. Gone is the familiar long roll used in so many local greats; the overflowing contents of The Schmitter® are stuffed between a Kaiser roll which makes eating this zaftig delight an absolute two-handed task.

8634 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19118


The Schmitter (McNally's) image courtesy of Jason Varney

Roast beef - DiNic’s at Reading Terminal Market

Anyone who’s ever visited Reading Terminal Market knows that one of the country’s oldest public market draws huge crowds daily and navigating the crowded space can sometimes be an exercise in both patience and elbow throwing. The market is truly a food lover’s paradise with myriad dining hotspots housed under one roof, but there is perhaps no greater standout than DiNic’s. Hailed for its gargantuan sandwiches piled high with slow-roasted meat, the decades-old institution is responsible for many a traffic jam as both residents and visitors alike vie for a spot in line. Though often overshadowed by the menu’s famous roast pork sandwich, the roast beef here absolutely holds its own. The folks at DiNic’s know that good bread is the foundation of any great sandwich and the roast beef sandwich begins with a split Italian roll and can be topped with a combination of sharp provolone, broccoli rabe, sautéed spinach, or roasted long hots (peppers).

51 N. 12th St., Philadelphia, PA 19107

Pork roll and cheese - Memphis Market & Grill

Across the bridge in New Jersey, pork roll is known as Taylor ham but whatever you call it, it’s a staple of Philly breakfasts. This simple bodega sandwich can be found all over the city, but there’s something that feels authentic about getting one from the grill of a tiny neighbourhood corner store. The pork roll is great on its own, but throw in a side of breakfast potatoes and a no-frills cup of coffee and you’ll feel like you’re the protagonist in a Springsteen song.

2327 E. Huntingdon St., Philadelphia, PA 19125

Tabouli - Bitar’s

Bitar’s is one of those underrated spots that pulls double duty as a grocer and restaurant; the menu reads like a Middle Eastern greatest hits list and the best sandwich here is completely vegetarian. A Philadelphia sandwich that doesn’t include meat? Yes, it’s true—one of the city’s top eats is chock full of tabouli, cubes of salty feta, and tahini. If you’re looking to recreate the magic at home, just browse this grocer’s shelves of imported goods and specialty items.

947 Federal St., Philadelphia, PA 19147

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