The Best Cheesesteak in Philadelphia.
*The views expressed reflect the writer of this article and not the views or opinions of Penn Jersey Paper*
The argument over “Who makes The Best Cheesesteak in Philadelphia?” is timeless. Friends and families argue, coworkers from different sides of town bicker, and everyone is convinced that they know better. It’s not uncommon for a Philly foodie to prattle on about their favorite steak to stir up clicks, but I’m no ordinary foodie. Before the luxurious life of blog writing, I worked in kitchens throughout Philadelphia and Bucks County making cheesesteaks. Before we get into the specifics of what makes a great steak or where to get the best steak, let’s talk about where this delicacy comes from.
The History of the Cheesesteak
French toast did not come from France, the Moscow Mule did not come from Russia, but the Philly Cheesesteak is Philadelphia born and raised. All fingers point to Pat Oliveri, owner of Pat’s King of Steaks creating the steak sandwich in 1930. Philadelphia Magazine has an incredibly detailed account of the History of the Cheesesteak.
In 1930, Pat’s King of Steaks was originally a hotdog cart. The first steak sandwich came from Pat growing tired of eating hotdogs. Following the request of a cab driver who tasted an early steak sandwich, Pat changed his business to focus on his new creation. The second steak sandwich shop to open was Jim’s in West Philly, which popped up in 1939.
Pat’s steak sandwich did not formally become a cheesesteak until the 1940’s. A historically drunk manager at Pat’s on Ridge Avenue known as Cocky Joe Lorenza put provolone cheese on a steak sandwich. That’s right, the cheesesteak was invented by a man who was likely inebriated.
In 1966, Geno’s Steaks arrives across the street from Pat’s inciting a media frenzy and a rivalry that would live on for decades. This narrative of rivalry has fueled interest in Philly Cheesesteaks for more than 50 years. The rivalry was (and is) centered around authenticity and the antics of Geno’s owner Joey Vento.
He (Pat) claims he invented the steak sandwich. I’ll give him that. He claims he invented the Whiz. Okay. I’ll give him that. All I did was come along and perfect it.Joey Vento about Pat’s to Philadelphia Magazine – 2008
That was then and this is now. We live in the internet culture of reviews, preferences, and opinions. What is the supreme steak of the present? There are hundreds of places to get a cheesesteak in Philadelphia. Who does it best?
What is a Philly Cheesesteak?
First, let’s define the Philly Cheesesteak. Much like a defining the characteristics of a nuclear element, there are rules to defining the cheesesteak. For a sandwich to be a Philly Cheesesteak it requires three things; cheese, steak, and bread. The cheese must be provolone, American, and/or Cheese Whiz. The only acceptable addition to the Cheesesteak are fried onions. However, if you wish to add condiments after the sandwich is handed to you, that is your right.
Grilled peppers should never come standard on a Philly Cheesesteak.
If there is lettuce, tomato, and raw onions on your cheesesteak, it is called a “Cheesesteak Hoagie” not a Cheesesteak.
There are variations of the cheesesteak; the pizza-steak, bacon cheesesteak, and cheesesteaks smothered in mushrooms. Although, these are offered throughout Philadelphia they are not to be considered a classic Philly Cheesesteak.
The Best Cheesesteak in Philly?
We asked across all social media platforms, where is the best cheesesteak in Philly and why? We received 135 votes. People wrote in 35 different locations, of which I have personally eaten at 24.
Many people simply commented the names of their favorite steak places, others went deep into detail about their preferences. To the untrained eye, one might assume that all cheesesteaks are the same. However, there is a world of difference between a Wawa Cheesesteak, a Pat’s Cheesesteak, and a Steve’s Prince of Steak Cheesesteak.
Let’s talk about Bread.
The long roll a steak is served on can make or break an experience. The bread is the primary reason that cheesesteaks don’t hold their value when microwaved. The lifespan of a cheesesteak is no greater than 20 minutes. It’s important that the bread is strong enough to absorb cheese without falling apart, but soft enough to bite through effortlessly. Gooey Looies, Cleavers, and the Steak and Hoagie Factory all had people comment on their bread quality.
Steak – To Chop or Not to Chop
This argument is the most pervasive argument about the structure of a Cheesesteak. Do you prefer that your cheesesteak is made up of chopped meat or slabs of cooked steak. This argument sits at the heart of the Geno’s vs. Pat’s rivalry, to Joey Vento of Geno’s an authentic Philly Cheesesteak should not be made of chopped steak.
I’ve never changed my sandwich. So even with that guy across the street, I think I’m more authentic than he is. He changed. His meat’s different now. He’s into the chopped-meat thing. But the Philly steak needs to be really thinly sliced rib eye. That’s how it started out.Joey Vento about Pat’s to Philadelphia Magazine – 2008
As someone who has made hundreds of cheesesteaks, chopping the meat is more efficient but sacrifices a bit of quality. When cooking cheesesteaks in bulk, it’s easiest to chop the steak up finely atop the grill – similar to cooking scrambled eggs. So, cheesesteaks are always a little worse from large chains, stadiums, or Wawa, because finely cut steak cooked in bulk dries out over time. However, at revered spots like Dallessandro’s or Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop, the steak is chopped but not left out to dry. The best “chopped steak” cheesesteak places, make sure not to cut the meat too finely. Serving thicker cuts leaves the steak intact allowing it to hold onto its flavor. There is no right or wrong answer as to whether you should chop your steak. The key is to serve quality meat.
These is no use in arguing about which cheese should go on your steak, that’s up to personal preference. On the other hand, it is important to note good cheese versus bad cheese. There are few greater disappointments than cold cheese on a cheesesteak. Cold cheese on your cheesesteak means that the steak is not hot enough to melt your cheese. Unfortunately, the birthplace of the cheesesteak (Pat’s) is notorious for this.
The cheese atop a cheesesteak should be melted in some capacity. Some places go as far as keeping melted cheese in fondue pots to be ladled onto sandwiches. At the very least, the heat of the meat should weaken the cheese.
A word on whiz. Cheese Whiz is going out of style worldwide but lives on in the cheesesteak niche. The secret to great whiz is to make it your own. It’s no secret that Cheese Whiz comes in something that resembles a paint can and doesn’t have the most glamorous reputation. Cheese Whiz can be a versatile base, but when unheated, unseasoned, or unedited is a bland and absurd product. Most places heat up the canned cheese whiz, then add various spices and other types of cheese. Geno’s and Joe’s Steak + Soda have two of the better Whiz options.
Best Cheesesteak in Philadelphia
The people voted and the results are in. 135 people wrote to PJP about their favorite cheesesteaks and below are the top 10.
- 1. Steve’s Prince of Steaks – 4 locations
- 2. Dalessandro’s – 600 Wendover St. (Roxborough)
- 3. Jim’s Steak – 400 South St. (South Street)
- 4t. John’s Roast Pork – 14 Snyder Ave. (South Philadelphia)
- 4t. Joe’s Steak + Soda Shop – 2 locations
- 6. Tony Luke’s – 8 locations
- 7. Pat’s – 1237 E Passyunk Ave (South Philadelphia)
- 8t. Gooey Looies – 231 McClellan St. (South Philadelphia)
- 8t. Phillip’s – 2234 W Passyunk Ave (South Philadelphia)
- 10. Ishkabibble’s – 337 South St. (South Street)
Steve Prince of Steak’s received the most votes far and away. It brought me great joy to see that Steve’s took first place by more than ten votes. I did not count myself as part of the 135 votes, but I agree with the masses. Steve’s Prince of Steaks makes the perfect cheesesteak. The meat is not chopped, there is always warm American Cheese and Whiz available, perfectly diced onions, and the perfect roll.
Think of this list as a Cheesesteak Hall of Fame, you can’t go wrong with any of the listed options. The Philadelphia Cheesesteak is the superior regional delicacy, better than Chicago deep dish, Tennessee barbecue, or Boston chowder.
The Philly Cheesesteak is simple and efficient. It’s a blue collar sandwich for a blue collar city. It’s messy and unhealthy, but by god it’s undeniable. For hundreds of years, people ate bread, cheese, and steak, but it took a special circumstance in a special place to create a truly special sandwich.