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?