The 10 Best Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia
August 20, 2015
Steak, cheese, and bread is a magical combination
The 10 Best Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia
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.
#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.
#8 George’s Sandwich Shop
Since 1936, the under-the-radar George’s has been quietly serving some stellar cheesesteaks in the Ninth Street Italian Market in Bella Vista. The roast pork, sautéed ground veal, Italian sausage, meatball, and even the tripe sandwiches are all to die for, but the cheesesteak is really something else. The coarsely chopped meat is tender and juicy, and the cheese is gooey and coats every last bit of meat. The bun is soft and moist. It’s simple perfection.
A tiny little shop with a handful of stools, a takeout window, and a small amount of outdoor seating, George’s is about as old-school as it gets. Some might say that is doesn’t have much ambiance, but if you’re looking for that classic sandwich shop experience, it doesn’t get more traditional than George’s.
Don’t expect anyone to hold your hand at Campo’s, an Old City deli that’s been making cheesesteaks the same exact way for more than 40 years. You might get served a side of attitude along with your steak (don’t ask for extra napkins!), but the cheesesteak is definitely worth it. They start with a crunchy and airy long Italian roll from Liscio’s Bakery (with seeds or without), and load it with a huge amount of ribeye that’s been freshly griddled and lightly chopped. Added to that is your choice of American, provolone, or Whiz and onions that might be chopped a little too large, although nobody seems to mind.
Campo’s is crowded and not particularly comfortable, but again, people don’t line up here for the charm. They come to this family-run shop for that old-school Philly experience… and one heck of a cheesesteak.
When a Philadelphian travels all the way to Roxborough for a cheesesteak, you know it’s good. And at Dalessandro’s, they’ve got the cheesesteak formula down to a science.
These beauties start with crusty rolls from local legend Amoroso’s, as well as thinly sliced ribeye that this place chops up on the griddle more than just about any other cheesesteak shop in town. It’s then allowed to slowly brown in its own fat and juices, with the fine chop ensuring that it doesn’t dry out (in fact, its juices might find themselves running down your arm while you eat it). Your choice of American, provolone, or Whiz is fully incorporated into the meat, binding it all together. Fried onions top it off, but don’t miss their selection of pickled or roasted peppers; a sprinkling of hot pepper relish cuts through the richness perfectly.
A South Street institution since 1979, Ishkabibble’s is a hole in the wall with a few seats at the counter inside and a walk-up window facing the shaded sidewalk. While they pride themselves on being the inventor of the increasingly ubiquitous “chicken cheesesteak” (made with chicken tenders instead of steak), you should still order their cheesesteak. A fresh loaf of bread is lightly toasted and piled with steak that’s grilled with onions and chopped to order. While purists can stick with the Whiz, a combination of both Whiz and provolone takes this sandwich to the cheesesteak stratosphere.
Make sure you get a side order of onion rings or their perfect fries, which are both super-crispy, and wash it all down with a “gremlin,” or a mix of grape soda and lemonade.
#4 Steve’s Prince of Steaks
Steve’s got its start more than 30 years ago on Bustleton Avenue in Philly’s Great Northeast neighborhood, which kept it off the radar for a while. But now there are four locations, including one in Center City, so it’s finally getting the recognition it deserves, with lines typically out the door and around the corner on weekends. And it deserves plenty of recognition: These steaks are long and thin (some might even call them dainty), made with hand-sliced ribeye that’s not chopped up on the griddle.
Opt for Whiz and it’ll come right out of the can and onto your sandwich — and will most likely get all over the place as you try to eat it (which isn’t a bad thing). Other cheese options include American, provolone, and mozzarella, and you’re also given the option to go double-meat. We’ve heard their burgers and chicken parm sandwiches are good, too, but when you’re at Steve’s, you get a steak.
Sonny’s Famous Steaks, located on Market Street in Old City, offers a quintessential Philly cheesesteak experience. Old-school and with lines sometimes out the door, this sparse yet welcoming shop knows the right way to make a cheesesteak: They use whole slices of ribeye, tossed on the griddle to order and roughly chopped into big chunks during the cooking process.
A surprisingly large number of cheesesteaks are made with beef that’s been pre-cooked and left to steam (and get tough) on the grill, but you won’t find any of those shenanigans here; this meat is juicy and beefy to the max. The bread is soft as can be, and when that beef is mixed together with perfectly soft onions and just the right amount of Whiz, you can definitely understand why GQ Magazine named it the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia.
#2 Jim’s Steaks
Jim’s Steaks opened in 1939 and has been a staple of the community ever since. With more than 75 years of experience and three locations, Jim’s is regarded as one of the best Philly cheesesteaks you’ll find in the city that made them famous. The shop has a wall of fame covered in photos of celebrities who’ve visited, and windows into the kitchen so you can watch the action.
Their most popular sandwich is, of course, the cheesesteak, made with top round. They offer two variations: one with Cheese Whiz and another with your choice of American or provolone. Their cheesesteak has won Philadelphia Magazine’s “Best of Philly” award five times and was named Zagat’s “must have” sandwich for Philadelphia. Breakfast sandwiches, burgers, and Italian hoagies are also on offer, but if you get one thing, make it a cheesesteak.
#1 John’s Roast Pork
Since 1930, the corner of Weccacoe and Snyder Avenues has been home to John’s Roast Pork, a South Philly institution if ever there was one. Their roast pork sandwiches — made with an old family recipe and house-roasted daily — are the stuff of legend. But their cheesesteak is every bit as good as the roast pork, and arguably better.
John’s cheesesteak toiled in relative obscurity until 2002, when the Philadelphia Inquirer’s restaurant critic Craig LaBan hailed it as the city’s best. And it is essentially a perfect cheesesteak. It starts with a soft and crusty seeded roll delivered fresh from nearby Carangi Baking Company every morning, which has some of its insides scooped out before being loaded with a full 12 ounces of thin-sliced loin tail (which has less gristle than the usual ribeye). Meat is grilled to order atop diced Spanish onions and allowed to brown on one side before being flipped and separated, but not chopped. Five slices of American cheese are then added (sharp and mild provolone are also available) and folded in as the cheesesteak continues to cook; this way, every bite of the sandwich is loaded with meat, onions, and cheese. Fried Italian long hot peppers and ketchup are optional, but certainly don’t detract from this cheesesteak’s perfection.