Does the Best Cheesesteak In Philly Cost $3?


This morning, a reader sent over a link to “I Found The Best Cheesesteak In Philly In The Last Place I Ever Expected“, an article that ran on Sunday on The New York-based author, Mandi Woodruff, spent the weekend in Philadelphia eating cheesesteaks and recapped her experience for all the world to see.

She appears to have skipped Pat’s and Geno’s altogether, citing long lines and the fact that Geno’s “looks like a bad Vegas strip joint.” Although Jim’s on South Street “smelled excellent” while she waited in line for her steak, the result was an “Utter. Disappointment. It tasted like a bad cafeteria sandwich,” she writes.

Ishkabibble’s yielded much better results. Her review: “The meat was juicy, the bread actually tasted fine on its own, and the cheese was on point.”

Woodruff was then going to go to Tony Luke’s but decided not to due to a shortage of “time, stomach space, and funds.” The idea was to spend less than $100 on her Philadelphia weekend.

So she wound up at some random grocery in South Philadelphia, where she had a $3 cheesesteak that she rated a 9 out of 10, deeming it the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia.

Skeptical, we decided to try this $3 cheesesteak out for ourselves. Woodruff didn’t include any contact information for the producer of this $3 cheesesteak in her article, so all we had to go on was a location of South Philly and the name Martinez, as she posted a photo of the grocery store.


We couldn’t find a listing for a Martinez grocery store in South Philadelphia. So we tried to blow up her photo to get a phone number off of the awning, but it was too low res. Finally, we went to the Health Department’s inspection database (delis and grocery stores are included in that), and we located the Martinez Grocery at 2000 South Beechwood Street, just off of 22nd and McKean.

I hopped in a cab and went to Martinez in search of this amazing $3 cheesesteak. But the guy behind the counter told me I was out of luck. “No cheesesteaks,” he told me. “Oh, you’re all out?” I asked, thinking, Wow, these cheesesteaks MUST be good. After all, it was only noon. Pretty early to run out. But no. “We don’t sell cheesesteaks,” he said, explaining that it was the guy a half block away who sells the cheesesteaks.

He brought me outside and pointed to Zorrilla Deli Grocery at 2101 McKean Street. This is it here:


My cabbie looked impatient. I hurried down to Zorrilla and was pleased to find not only $3 cheesesteaks but also $1 cheesesteak pastelillos, aka empanadas.


With exactly $8 in my pocket, I bought an American with, a provolone with, and one pastelillos, leaving a buck for William, who cooked my steaks.

This is what William looks like, only he’s a little less blurry.


I rushed back to the office and we dug in. Foobooz founder Art and I agree that this $3 cheesesteak is a very good cheesesteak: just greasy enough and a perfect bread/meat/cheese ratio, although Art found the meat slightly underseasoned.


But if you’re going to factor in the cost of this $3 cheesesteak–well under half that of most popular cheesesteaks in the city and approaching a third of the cost in some cases–it is easily one of the best cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. And as for the cheesesteak pastelillos, it was pretty much what you’d expect it to be, and not bad at all. And a buck.

After we did all this, er, work, stuffing ourselves with $3 cheesesteaks, I received an email from Woodruff, whom I had contacted at the outset of this mission in an attempt to locate Martinez Grocery. She explained that she had made a mistake and that Martinez wasn’t the right place. (Duh, we already knew that.)

But it wasn’t Zorrilla that she went to. Woodruff tried a $3 cheesesteak at Ranacaro Grocery Store at 1901 South Bonsall Street, about two-tenths of a mile from Zorrilla. (She’s since updated her post, explaining her error.) So this has all of us wondering: Just how many good $3 cheesesteaks are there in Philadelphia? And when are we going to find the time to eat all of them?

Around The Web

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • Mitch

    There are a lot. Check the chinese spot at 18th and Washington and Christian Food Market at 23rd and Christian

    • marc su

      I thought Chink’s was in NE? they moved to S Philly?

  • DaveyP215

    What kind of wrtier is this woman who you followed? I mean she had the wrong picture, wrong name, etc. She sounds more like a scifi writer then someone i would follow around a city.

    • Elle

      Worse. Than. Hitler.

      (alternatively: Worse. Than. Foobooz.)

    • Wario Batali

      Based on her professional journalism skills it sounds like she would be right at home writing for Foobooz. I think Victor found his literary soul mate.

      • Elle

        I give this blog mad props for taking the abuse and rolling with it. It takes some cojones.

        • vfiorillo

          We’re having too much fun.

  • Corner store on 17th and Diamond Street has the best cheesesteak/chicken cheesesteak platters and they’re $4.75.

  • dano

    well, it’s sooo easy to make a perfect

    cheesesteak at home $2-3 ea. real steak. great roll. perfect every time. let me know if u want a few tricks for the perfect one.

  • Frenchy Le Fudge

    She spent all weekend eating cheesesteaks?! That’s going to be some poo.

  • Dan

    The best cheesesteak is always the one right around the corner (especially after a few drinks!), it’s not really a food I’d travel for.

  • So she based her survey on “Best cheesesteaks you don’t have to wait in line for”.

    Impressive. I vote for the homeless guy on the corner as “Best drummer you don’t have to buy a ticket to see”.

  • Fattyfatman

    Great post Victor

  • no

    I’d rather pay double than risk getting shot in Point Breeze.

  • barrygster

    Corner sandwich and pizza shops have always had good cheesesteaks and hoagies, by and large.

  • Miguel

    Lee’s on 36th and Spring Garden has one of my favorite cheesesteaks in the city. Just like Will Smith said on Fresh Prince, it ain’t a real cheesesteak unless there’s grease stains at the bottom of the bag.

  • Shani Ferguson

    If you only bought one, it was a pastelillo. Pastelillos is the plural.

  • Delcopa

    Three dollars for a cheesesteak is crazy! When I lived in Philly I could buy a cheesesteak, milkshake, and French fries for $1.00. Wow things have changed since 1956.