Yelp / John K
The cheesesteak is one of those perfect foods. There’s something about the combination of griddled thin-sliced steak, melted processed cheese, diced onions, and a soft Italian roll that hits us on a level that only the most decadent meals do. If there’s one city that’s synonymous with this legendary sandwich, it’s Philadelphia, so we tracked down the 10 best spots in the city to get your hands on one.
A cheesesteak is more than just a sandwich, and it has a lot more variations that you might realize. While the vast majority of shops use thin-sliced ribeye, some use top round and other cuts, and one popular shop will even let you upgrade to filet mignon tips. As for cheese, canned Cheez Whiz is the most popular option, but you can also usually get American, provolone, and occasionally mozzarella and other cheeses. The only vegetable that graces most cheesesteaks is diced onion, but peppers, mushrooms, and even lettuce and tomato are occasionally present. Pizza steak, with mozzarella and marinara sauce, is another common option.
While there’s still some debate about who actually invented the cheesesteak, legend has it that brothers Pat and Harry Oliveri created a sandwich made with chopped steak and grilled onions for their Philadelphia hot dog stand in the early 1930s. Pat went on to open an eponymous shop selling the famous sandwich (which originally had no cheese), and when a manager named Joe Lorenza added provolone to it one day it caught on like wildfire.
In order to assemble our list, we started by doing due diligence, combing through existing rankings both in print and online to supplement our editorial team’s personal experiences. (One of the first things you’ll find is that several shops are on just about every list.) We then reviewed and cross-referenced rankings on several popular review sites and consulted with Philadelphia natives. The end result is a list of shops that are worthy of some serious praise.
While today cheesesteaks can be found at hundreds, if not thousands, of restaurants across the country, just like bagels in New York, there’s something about a cheesesteak in Philadelphia that makes it better than anywhere else. A great Philly cheesesteak needs to be on a roll from a local bakery like Amoroso or Liscio’s, the cheese needs to be completely melted and well-incorporated in the sandwich, and while the meat should be thin it shouldn’t be dry.
But not all cheesesteak shops in Philadelphia are created equal; read on for 10 that really stand out from the pack. And whatever you do, don’t call it a Philly cheesesteak in Philadelphia!
#10 Pat’s King of Steaks
On the intersection of South Ninth Street, Wharton Street, and East Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia are two cheesesteak giants: Pat’s and Geno’s. They both have a fiercely loyal clientele, each of which will tell you that their favorite is superior. Pat’s claims to have invented the cheesesteak as we know it: As the story goes, in May 1933 brothers Pat and Harry Olivieri, who owned a hot dog stand on the corner, thinly sliced a steak and fried it with onions, and a legend was born.
Pat’s and Geno’s serve a similar product (with both using thinly sliced ribeye steak), but there’s one main difference: Pat’s chops up its meat while it’s on the grill, and Geno’s keeps its slices whole. Which one you order comes down to personal preference, but the only way to find out is to try them both. Just make sure you learn the lingo first — “wit” means with onions, “wit-out” means without onions — and know which kind of cheese you want (Cheez Whiz, provolone, American, mozzarella, or none) before you start your order.
Holding down the corner with longtime rival Pat’s, Geno’s Steaks was founded in 1966 by Joey Vento, who was a regular fixture there until he passed away in 2011 (His son, Geno, who was named after the restaurant, now runs it). The walls and even the roof are decorated with memorabilia and framed photos of celebrities who have dined there, and the seating areas are utilitarian at best, but really, it’s all about the cheesesteak.
As opposed to Pat’s, where thin-sliced ribeye is chopped up on the grill, at Geno’s the sliced steak stays whole. Vento was always in favor of provolone, but you get your choice of Cheez Whiz, provolone, or American. You can also order a pepper, mushroom, or pizza steak, or a roast pork sandwich. Save the roast pork for the third or fourth visit, though; a cheesesteak from Geno’s, whether it’s with onions or without, or with provolone or Whiz, is something that every Philly visitor should experience.