As much as I’d love to give you a definitive answer to the question of where to get the best cheesesteak in Philly, there just isn’t one. The argument will never be settled, because it’s truly a matter of personal preference.
Some like the rolls toasted and crispy, while others prefer them soft and chewy. Some like it dripping with grease, while others complain that too much grease makes the roll soggy. Some like the meat diced as thinly as possible, while others prefer slightly larger chunks. Some love fake, yellow Cheez Whiz, while many prefer American or provolone cheese.
Regardless, the one undisputable fact is that cheesesteaks are just not the same anywhere else. Most locals eat them regularly, but we try to keep our consumption in check. Let’s be honest, they’re not exactly health food.
What Makes a Great Cheesesteak
All good cheesesteaks start with a solid roll that is chewy — not airy or tough — and many of the best spots in town use Amoroso’s brand, a Philly tradition since 1904. The meat should always generously fill the roll. Skimping or leaving an inch of meatless roll is a definite no-no.
Fried onions and hot or sweet peppers are common additions, but beyond that, you’re getting into fancy-schmancy territory. Some like to add pizza sauce, making it a pizza steak, or tomato, lettuce, onion, and mayo, making it a cheesesteak hoagie. Others opt for the only slightly healthier chicken cheesesteak, with chicken substituted for the beef.
While all are great, cheesesteak virgins should keep it simple and go for beef with fried onions and the cheese of your choice — I like American.
How to Order
While not everyone is hard-core about ordering correctly, if there is a long line, it’s best to know what you’re doing and keep things moving. First, don’t ever order a “Philly cheesesteak“ — you’re in Philly, so that part goes without saying.
The basic rule of thumb is to minimize the words you need to convey what you want, so don’t bother saying the word “cheesesteak” if that is the main thing they serve. It’s implied, so you can just give the specs: “Whiz wit,” means Cheez Whiz with fried onions, and “prov without” means — yes, you guessed it — provolone cheese without fried onions.
These rules are most strictly observed at Pat’s and Geno’s, the famous dueling spots on 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue in South Philly. Don’t make the mistake John Kerry did and order Swiss cheese; that is blasphemous in cheesesteak land.
Of the two superstars, I have a slight preference for Pat’s, the less neon-decked of the two, but there are far better cheesesteaks in the city. That said, this corner offers a worthwhile cultural experience, and it’s open 24 hours a day. While you wait in line it’s fun to check out the autographed photos of celebs that have come through; everyone from Justin Timberlake to Oprah has been here.
Where to Get the Best
You’re never far from a great cheesesteak in Philly. They’re served in every neighborhood, at diners, out of food trucks and store windows, and in restaurants serving upscale twists on the classics, but here are a few of my faves.
Jim’s on South Street is open until 3 a.m. on weekends, and is also frequented by celebs. It’s Pat’s and Geno’s other biggest rival, and in my opinion, the far superior of the big three.
Others to try are: Sonny’s Famous Steaks in Old City; Tony Luke’s in South Philly or Tony Jr.’s in Rittenhouse; John’s Roast Pork in South Philly; Dalessandro’s or Chubby’s in Roxborough; and McNally’s in Chestnut Hill.
© Karrie Gavin from Moon Philadelphia, 1st Edition