Where to Eat Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia: The Ultimate Guide
In a city that distinguishes itself by its ’steaks, which sandwiches truly tower over the rest?
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Yeah, yeah. We wrote a whole thing about quitting cheap meat and being more conscientious in our consumption. And those arguments are all valid and important ones to consider as we go slowly forward into whatever kind of restaurant industry exists in the future.
But cheesesteaks are important to Philadelphia. They’re a part of our identity as a city and as a dining class. They ground us in the convenience and approachability that have long been hallmarks of our scene, and they’re one of the signifiers of our unshakeable blue-collar roots. Though cheesesteaks have been politicized, argued over and gussied up over the years, Philadelphians have never turned our backs on them. And we’re certainly not going to do that now.
Should they cost a little more? Absolutely. Can they be a lever used to shift the path of an exploitative industrial food system in dire need of change? Maybe. But a cheap sandwich built for the working class is revolutionary in its own right. Don’t eat them every day is all we’re saying. Be thoughtful about your choices. Make every cheesesteak count.
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The crown jewel cheesesteak: pastured beef from Primal Supply Meats; whiz made with Philabundance Abundantly Good cheddar and Ambler Beer Co.’s Belgian Pale Ale.; the roll made by Merzbacher’s Bakery in Germantown. And only $5 more than a sandwich at Pat’s. Available for pick-up
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Delco Steaks, Broomall
Two-foot cheesesteaks AND pancakes on the menu? What more do you need? Oh, you want your steaks made with Pennsylvania-raised, hormone and antibiotic-free beef? Done. You want your two-foot cheesesteak made with Cooper sharp? Done. You also want to be able to pick up some steaks for the grill from the butcher counter? Done. Delco Steaks has got you covered. Available for pickup or local delivery
John’s Roast Pork, Pennsport
There are a thousand places claiming to be Philly’s best. Many of them are lying. But John’s? Man, they might be lying less than the rest. This place — with its seeded rolls, muffuletta-style hollowing, sweet onions, Whiz-shunning, and almost architectural construction — has brought a scientific rigor to the cheesesteak that shows in every sandwich that comes off the line. Go with the sharp provolone, and if you like a little kick, ask for long hots. 14 East Snyder Avenue, Pennsport.
Woodrow’s Sandwich Shop, South Street
The artisanal mind-set has chefs thinking everything is better if you make it yourself. Much of the time, this leads to disaster. But at Woodrow’s, the kitchen set about building the cheese-steak back up again from scratch, shaving their own rib eye, gimmicking up truffled Whiz, even making cherry pepper mayo. And it works, because they’re not reinventing a classic, just adding a little polish to a tried-and-true combination. 630 South Street, Bella Vista.
Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop, multiple locations
This place started as a hole-in-the-wall called Chink’s that did only one thing: steak sandwiches, with or without onions. Today, the menu is longer (15 sandwiches, including a vegan cheesesteak), the name has changed, and the inside looks like a quilted-aluminum neighborhood luncheonette. But owner Joe Groh is still using the same recipe from 60-some years ago and knocking out sliced-steak sandwiches on soft rolls, with or without onions, slorked with a generous shot of Whiz. 1 West Girard Avenue, Fishtown, and 6030 Torresdale Avenue, Northeast Philly.
Jimmy G’s, Fairmount
Jimmy G’s is the type of neighborhood spot that still fulfills the original purpose of a cheesesteak: a good, filling meal for cheap at all hours of the day and night. It’s always there for you, no matter what. 695 North Broad Street.
Charlie’s Roast Pork, Pennsport
The crew from Pennsport Beer Boutique redid a space behind the neighborhood favorite beer bar and turned it into an all-day sandwich joint that pushes the roast pork, but also does a fine cheesesteak–including a locals-only version with long hots. Yeah, you can get beers out front and bring them back to drink with your cheesesteaks (or roast pork sandwiches, if you swing that way). And yes, you can get a steak in the back and bring it into the beer garden. 1301 South 3rd Street, Pennsport
Mike’s BBQ, East Passyunk
The purists might say that a cheesesteak must be made with chopped (or sliced) rib eye and that to even think about using something like the slow-smoked, tender and incredibly flavorful brisket served up daily by the pit crew at Mike’s is sheer sacrilege. But those people are idiots, because a brisket cheesesteak with Cooper sharp whiz and fried onions is one thing and one thing only: Absolutely goddamn delicious. 1703 South 11th Street, East Passyunk
When faced with the classic Pat’s-vs.-Geno’s question, most Philadelphians will answer with “Dalessandro’s.” Why? Because it’s the rarest of things: a cheesesteak joint worth leaving your neighborhood for. The basic model here is a work of art — the benchmark against which all other cheesesteaks in Philly (and the world) ought to be judged. But this is also a place to come if your tastes (mushrooms, peppers, pizza steaks) run to the more eclectic. 600 Wendover Street, Roxborough.
One Pound Cheesesteaks, Kensington
It’s 3 a.m. Do you know where to score a two-foot cheesesteak for $11? Now you do. Just walk up to the window and ask. What you’ll walk away with is a marvel of late-night eating — a massive roll stuffed with meat, cheese, chopped onions, and ketchup on demand. 2661 Kensington Avenue, Kensington.
Gooey Looie’s Deli, Pennsport
It’s a small place that’s super simple — just a lunch counter inside a grocery store. But it’s worth seeking out, because the ’steaks are made to order and somehow, impossibly, come on bread that’s both crispy and soft. Really, it’s a magic trick that sets this sandwich apart. Plus, the meat has an excellent flavor, as though haunted by generations of onions passing across the grill. 231 McClellan Street, Pennsport.
Hog Island Steaks, Phoenixville
The menu offers a thousand sandwiches, banking on the history of Hog Island and its tie to the “hoggie.” But the cheesesteak? It gets its own special section, with more than a dozen varieties centered on fresh beef, chopped, thrown on the grill, and turned into a hot-sandwich beauty mixed up with American cheese. There’s also a loaded option with mushrooms, peppers and onions, which tastes like a good version of all the completely wrong “Philly-style” cheesesteaks done everywhere else. 785 Starr Street, Phoenixville.
Spot Gourmet Burgers, Brewerytown
Want to try something wild? Order the Jawn, a dream-team combo of Philly’s, Camden’s and Pittsburgh’s best ideas, with a little Schmitter thrown in. It’s sliced rib eye and Whiz on a round roll with two kinds of onion (raw red and grilled white), french fries and burger sauce. 2821 West Girard Avenue, Brewerytown.
Donkey’s Place, Camden
Bourdain declared it the best cheesesteak around, and if you’ve made the trek across the bridge, you know that this thing is a contender. It has most of the expected elements — sliced beef, onions off the flat grill, American cheese — but the big difference is that Donkey’s serves its ’steaks on a round, seeded kaiser roll. So you gotta ask yourself: What makes a cheesesteak a cheesesteak? Is it the ingredients? The bread? The shape? Or, really, is it something more ineffable — a sense of working-class, eat-it-standing convenience and no-bullshit simplicity? If it’s that, then Donkey’s absolutely serves one of the best cheesesteaks out there. 1223 Haddon Avenue, Camden.
Cosmi’s Deli, East Passyunk
A neighborhood grocery store opened in 1932 by an Italian stonemason that became one of the best spots in town for cheesesteaks and hoagies? That’s the kind of story Philadelphia loves. And seriously, this place (which caught fire almost 20 years ago and was rebuilt as a bigger, better sandwich shop) knocks out some shockingly good options, mounted on the house’s own rolls, made from the best ingredients they can get their hands on. Better still, they offer two kinds of rolls (seeded and plain) and eight kinds of cheese, including Cooper sharp, which is a little fancy but makes for a fine sandwich. 1501 South 8th Street, East Passyunk.
Saad’s, University City
That an all-halal Middle Eastern restaurant — one crawling with Penn kids — slings one of the best ’steaks around proves there are many sides to our city. The cooks here bang out a big, dumb, satisfying cheesesteak like nobody’s business, but they really shine on the poultry side of things, doing a chicken cheesesteak that can make even purists reconsider their position. 4500 Walnut Street, University City.
Mama’s Pizzeria, Bala Cynwyd
Massive, gut-busting sandwiches that run heavy on the cheese (a specialty combo they blend in-house) — that’s the draw. The obvious one, anyway. Because really, it’s the care that goes into the ’steaks that makes the difference. Not pulled from a mountain of chopped meat, these individually made gooey monsters are mounted on squishy rolls. Bring an appetite — or a friend. 426 Belmont Avenue, Bala Cynwyd.
Steve’s Prince of Steaks, Northeast Philly
Forget the other locations. The original Steve’s has been providing the Northeast with quality ’steaks (and Texas Tommies and chocolate soda) for decades. The sandwiches are big and delicious, and there’s a line of toppings to grab along the stainless by the order windows. There’s not much in the way of seating, and the place remains cash-only, but we wouldn’t want anything to change here anyway. 7200 Bustleton Avenue, Northeast Philly
Geno’s Steaks, East Passyunk
A theory: Geno’s has all that neon so that no matter how rough a night you’ve had, you can still find it at last call. Like, even if you’ve had the kind of night where you’ve stolen a helicopter and are just looking for a place to land it. The inside is filled with headshots and memorabilia, the grills run 24 hours a day, the steaks are sliced not chopped (the big difference between Geno’s and Pat’s across the street), and the crowds are enough to teach you everything you need to know about Philly (and its tourists) in one night. 1219 South 9th Street, East Passyunk.
Pat’s King of Steaks, East PassyunkPat’s is fast. Pat’s is famous. Pat’s is open every day, all of the time, except on Thanksgiving and Christmas. It slops on the Whiz (when you ask for it) and has been making cheesesteaks since 1930. Plus, this is the cheesesteak Rocky ate. What, you think you’re better than Rocky? 1237 East Passyunk Avenue, East Passyunk.
Chubby’s Steaks, Roxborough
Easy on the Whiz, heavy on the meat, on a soft roll that sponges up the grease from the grill. Chubby’s is a busy joint, full of friends and neighbors — and even though the crowds can stack up deep near the register, it’s all cool, because Chubby’s has a bar right there with a TV that’s always tuned to whatever game is on. 5826 Henry Avenue, Roxborough.
Little Sicily Pizza II, Pennsport
Yes, it’s a neighborhood Italian restaurant run by an Indian family. But they’ve got this extra menu — their “Spicy Food Menu” — and on it lives the spicy chicken cheesesteak, which is a unique thing in this ’steak-obsessed town. It’s chopped chicken, hit with Indian spices and packed into an Amoroso’s roll. It’s a fantastic sandwich that’s unique in a city where so many sandwiches are pretty much indistinguishable. Order the masala cheese fries, too. 1600 South Columbus Avenue, Pennsport.
Barclay Prime, Rittenhouse
It’s a stunt sandwich — a $120 wagyu rib-eye, foie gras and truffled Whiz concoction that comes with a half bottle of champagne — but since someone has to set the top bar for this kind of thing, better Barclay than some lesser contender. The sandwich is good but ridiculously rich. And not for nothing: Rendered foie fat just isn’t as good for soaking down a roll as old-fashioned beef grease. If someone else is picking up the bill, you should absolutely try it. But bear in mind that you could get something like 13 Dalessandro’s cheese-steaks (plus a small soda) for the same price. 237 South 18th Street, Rittenhouse.
Tony Luke’s, multiple locations
At this point, Tony Luke Jr. is Philly’s cheese-steak ambassador. Like Johnny Appleseed, he walks the land, planting shops in the strangest of places and bringing cheese-steaks to the far corners. He’s got operators in malls, at a bowling alley, even one at the Pentagon. But Tony Luke’s original location is still slinging the best ’steaks on its home turf, with chopped onions, sliced rib eye and lots of cheese (Whiz or otherwise), until midnight. 39 East Oregon Avenue, South Philly.
Oregon Steaks, South Philly
The pizza fries look good at 2 a.m., but stay strong. The cheesesteak — all grease and salt and spongy bread — was designed by the sandwich gods to rebalance the body’s humors after a night of beers and shots. It’s a summation of poor life choices in sandwich form, and Oregon Steaks knows that. That’s why they’re there. And that’s why you are, too. 2654 South 10th Street, South Philly.
Phillip’s Steaks, South Philly
The red-and-white-checkerboard design makes it look old-timey. The slightly run-down, boxy building makes it seem a bit forlorn. And the location — far from 9th and Passyunk — would make you think you’d be lonely here on a late-night run. But you’d be wrong, because this place always has a crowd. The standard-issue option is good (though light on the cheese, no matter your preferred variety), but the real draw here is the Old Fashioned — a sliced-steak sandwich with provolone, grilled tomatoes, peppers, and a shake of oregano. 2234 West Passyunk Avenue, South Philly.
Barry’s Steaks, Roxborough
Honestly speaking, the Battle of Roxborough (Dalessandro’s, Chubby’s and Barry’s) is way more interesting than the Pat’s-vs.-Geno’s rivalry. And Barry’s is a shop with a few surprises of its own. They do some solid ’steaks — juicy, greasy and made to order. They’ve got about 30 years’ experience. They bottle their own sodas. (The root beer is excellent.) And when you walk in and the conversation across the counter is an argument over Eagles ticket prices between a guy in a Vets Stadium t-shirt and another whose legs are covered in Liberty Bell and Spirit of ’76 tattoos, you know you’ve found a place that’s gonna respect the Philly history that the humble cheesesteak represents. 471 Leverington Avenue, Roxborough.
Gojjo, University City
Want to know something that every other ’steak shop in town could learn from the Ethiopian cheesesteak at Gojjo? That neither chopped nor sliced steak is best. What’s best (texture-wise and in terms of maximizing beef-to-cheese cohesion) is to cut the beef into tiny strips that curl and cup when cooked on the grill. That’s what Gojjo does. That’s why these ’steaks are so good. Well, that and the Ethiopian spice that’s all sharp, smoky heat and makes the onion seem almost sweet in comparison. 4540 Baltimore Avenue, University City.
McNally’s Tavern, Chestnut Hill
Like the Trainwreck (below), the Schmitter is a kind of deviant — a round, stacked and juicy mutant that takes the beef/onion/cheese formula and mad-sciences in some wild hoagie DNA with the addition of sliced tomato and grilled salami. The result is a killer sandwich that is both descended from Philly’s most famous sandwich and wholly its own delicious creature. 8634 Germantown Avenue, Chestnut Hill.
Beck’s Cajun Cafe, Market East
Look, it would take a lot to improve on a cheesesteak. But if you were going to try, you’d be wise to first check out Beck’s, where they’ve been serving an upgraded model for years now. The Trainwreck is a standard cheesesteak mounted on a French baguette, smeared with Creole mayo, then jumped up with chopped salami and Andouille sausage, onions and cheese. It’s a killer sandwich, made even better with a couple tots of hot sauce. Reading Terminal Market, Market East.
Jim’s Steaks, Springfield
Black-and-white tile, polished stainless, beef steaming on the grill: There are some things about the Springfield location that make it feel a lot like the others — those that are still around, anyhow. (A note about that: The West Philly Jim’s is currently closed for renovations; the South Street one has a different owner entirely.) But this youngest family member has a parking lot and shorter lines while still serving a classic ’steak any way you want it. 469 Baltimore Pike, Springfield.