How Cheesesteaks Became An Iconic Philadelphia Sandwich

If you're looking to find the best possible cheesesteak, it's pretty obvious which city you should head to. There's a reason why they're often referred to as Philly cheesesteaks. In the City of Brotherly Love, two cheesesteak joints reign supreme, and they're locked in a decades-long, vicious rivalry: Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks, via Guide to Philly. Apparently, their animosity reached a head when Sylvester Stallone's Philadelphian fighter Rocky ate a cheesesteak from Pat's in the 1976 film of the same name.

Though their rivalry doesn't seem to be going anywhere, at least anytime soon, Pat's King of Steaks will always have a card in its back pocket. Pat Olivieri, the eponymous restaurateur behind the famous foodery, is credited with having actually made the very first cheesesteak all the way back in the 1930s, according to Philadelphia Magazine. This cheesy, beefy classic is as Philadelphian as the Liberty Bell, and it all started with Pat.

The history of the Philly cheesesteak

Per Philadelphia Magazine, Olivieri was not a sandwich seller at all when he first introduced the world to this famous sandwich. In fact, he stumbled upon the iconic dish while hard at work hawking hot dogs. One day, tired of dining on his own hot dogs for lunch, Olivieri bought some steak scraps from a local butcher and tossed it on the grill. He placed the resultant meat mass on a hot dog roll. While he was chowing down on his new creation, a curious cab driver drove by and asked Olivieri if he could try the sandwich. He gave the cabbie half, and the rest is history.

According to the current owner of Pat's King of Steaks, Olivieri's great-nephew Frank, the eponymous cheese was not a feature of the original steak sandwich until the '40s and '50s, per Philadelphia Magazine. The restaurant's manager at the time, "Cocky" Joe Lorenza had the ingenious idea to add provolone cheese to the chopped steak.

Philadelphians today enjoy both classic cheesesteaks and innovative flavors

Today, you can enjoy Philly cheesesteaks at restaurants all across Philadelphia. However, you should be aware of what the consensus recipe for an authentic cheesesteak recipe is. According to Billy Penn, a true cheesesteak consists of at most four ingredients. Simply grill thinly sliced meat, then add cheese, choosing between the original offering provolone, American, and liquidy Cheez Whiz, then put the mix inside of a soft hoagie roll. If you want, you can add onions.

Despite what the Philadelphian purists might say, there are countless variations on the classic sandwich to choose from. Even Geno's Steaks, one of the restaurants involved in the city's longest-running cheesesteak rivalries, offers mushrooms and peppers on their sandwiches. Philadelphia Magazine's ranking of the city's best cheesesteaks highlights Gojjo, which offers an Ethiopian-spiced version of the hoagie, and Beck's Cajun Cafe, whose cheesesteaks are served on a French baguette and include both andouille sausage and salami.