The 10 Best Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia: A Local’s Guide
Formally, Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love, but perhaps its real nickname should be the City of Sandwich Love. In a city that has elevated the cheesesteak to civic symbol status, it’s no secret that Philadelphians are serious about their food. The cheesesteak was declared the 'Official Sandwich of Philadelphia' in 1992, and it is the single most sought-after food by tourists and locals alike.
However, what separates the two groups is the fact that locals, naturally, boast an intimate knowledge of the city’s hidden gems, holes-in-the-wall, and underrated spots. So, sure, touristy Pat’s and Geno’s deserve a visit. After all, the steaks are serviceable - even good - and every sandwich aficionado should tick the icons off their culinary bucket list, but there is a treasure trove of hotspots worthy of a visit (or three). So, grab your best elastic-waist pants and eat your way through the city like a real Philly local.
Pat’s King of Steaks
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Though long declared a tourist magnet by most Philadelphians, even the most well-versed aficionado would concede that any ‘best of’ cheesesteak list should include the beloved institution. After all, it is the (self-proclaimed) place where the cheesesteak was invented and, a restaurant doesn’t manage to remain open for nearly 100 years without having certain culinary bonafides, right?
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One half of the catty-corner culinary wars, Geno’s has been in a battle for cheesesteak supremacy with rival (and neighbour) Pat’s for years - a war that shows no signs of abating. Garish neon lights and touristy appeal aside, Geno’s has been churning out delicious, sliced ribeye sandwiches for over 40 years. Be forewarned: Those looking for an authentic Philly experience should be prepared for gruff service and a strict ordering system. Cheesesteaks, fries, and drinks are served from separate windows and requests for condiments (which are housed at a self-service sidewalk table) will be denied.
Cheesesteak restaurants are typically divided into two warring factions: Those who served sliced ribeye and those who serve chopped. Dalessandro’s is the latter - and it makes for a superior sandwich. Never mind noshing on thick planks of meat; here the grill cooks wield their spatulas like machetes and chop the ribeye into tender, minuscule morsels before piling it into a sturdy hoagie roll from renowned local bakery Amoroso’s.
John’s Roast Pork
Tucked away in a shopping plaza, John’s is a perennial favourite among food enthusiasts. In addition to its porcine prowess, the unassuming luncheonette is also famous for its cheesesteak. Starting with an all-important foundation, the bread of choice at John’s is a crusty, seeded roll from local bakery Carangi’s. Tender, shaved ribbons of ribeye and melty sharp provolone come together in a near-perfect union. The artfully executed cheesesteak helped thrust humble John’s into the spotlight in recent years and garnered the once-hidden gem a coveted James Beard Award. Not bad for a diminutive roadside stand.
This tiny corner market is big on flavor and its interpretation of the regional classic has gained a cult following happy to sing its praises while simultaneously trying to keep it a guarded neighborhood secret. Cheesesteak purists — who are also known to be bread-obsessed — appreciate the use of Sarcone’s hoagie rolls at this beloved hotspot.
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Besides having a fun-to-pronounce name, this South Philly institution has been slinging steaks since 1979 and shows no signs of slowing down. Cheesesteak fundamentalists beware - the chicken cheesesteak reigns supreme here and is arguably more popular than its beef counterpart. Unlike most cheesesteak joints in the city, patrons can create their own sandwiches and choose from a variety of toppings to suit their fancy. Complement one of the juicy behemoths with a side of Ish fries (fries with hot peppers and onions) and a Gremlin - a Frankenstein-like mashup of grape juice and lemonade - for a truly indulgent meal.
Woodrow’s Sandwich Shop
Woodrow’s Sandwich Shop Instagram Profile
A sophisticated take on the classic, the humble cheesesteak is elevated to an otherworldly realm at this South Philly gem. Take a detour from the norm and order a 'Woodrow’s Whiz Wit' - a delicious mélange of shaved ribeye, caramelised onions, cherry pepper mayo, and truffle-infused Cheez Whiz (liquified processed cheese). You won’t regret bucking tradition and, in fact, may be reluctant to return to the original.
Blink and you’ll miss this famed Delaware River waterfront eatery. The roadside stand is more ramshackle than refined, but one of the city’s tastiest cheesesteaks is served here, surprising not a single Philly resident. Those in the know line up for the truly old-school experience of dining at the beloved spot - and most are wise enough to order one of the famed chicken cutlet sandwiches as well.
Steve’s Prince of Steaks
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If restaurant names are any indication, Philadelphia is a culinary monarchy. Pat’s may be the King of Steaks, but restaurant owner Steve Iliescu has bestowed upon himself the title of Prince of Steaks and, at his eponymous Northeast eatery, many loyal 'subjects' clamour for his signature sandwich stuffed to the gills with thick-sliced ribeye, chopped onions, and whiz - all on a long, thin roll.
First things first, one must concede that the sandwich in question - the Schmitter ® - is technically not a cheesesteak. However, it must be noted that 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 sandwich and a cheesesteak and is the brainchild of this Chestnut Hill resto. It has many of the elements of the famed cheesesteak, like sliced steak, fried onions and melted cheese but takes an oddball (but delicious) 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-hand task.