A Guide to Philly Cheesesteaks

As a Philadelphia resident, I’m often asked, “Which is the best cheesesteak? Pat’s or Geno’s?” My answer? Neither. Don’t get me wrong, Pat’s and Geno’s are a good situation after a Phillies game or when you want a steak at 4am. However, I think there are some better options.  In terms of Pat’s v. Geno’s, I think they both taste the same.

So, on that note, here are a few things about cheesesteaks and sandwiches from a Philadelphian that I think everyone should know…

1. Cheese wiz does not make a steak “Philly.” Cheese wiz is actually gross and it will make your steak gross. I don’t know where this “tradition” began, but it’s not tasty. Try getting your steak with provolone or cheddar. “Wiz wit” is the popular phrase people say at Pat’s and Geno’s, and it means “cheese wiz with onions.” I’m thinking provolone, with. That’s a good steak.

2. Pat’s and Geno’s are not the only option for cheesesteaks. They are just popular and open all night. A few places I like better are Tony Luke’s, John’s Roast Pork, Jim’s on South Street, Johnny’s Hots, and even Slack’s Hoagie Shack. Abbaye in Northern Liberties has a gourmet cheesesteak, and it’s awesome. Anthony’s Cafe on Girard Avenue has a surprisingly good steak. I’m sure I’m missing many good options, but my point is that Pat’s and Geno’s are not the only place to get a good steak in Philadelphia (though it’s hard to go wrong with any form of cheese, steak, and bread). If you come into town and want to try and an authentic Philly cheesesteak, we probably will not be going to Pat’s or Geno’s. My go to steak option is Tony Luke’s on Oregon Avenue; there’s parking and a sit down restaurant.

3. A Philly cheesesteak does not use ground meat. Instead, the meat is more like a Steak Umm. A Philly cheesesteak uses sliced meat. The signature of a Philly cheesesteak is sliced meat on high quality bread. The bread is the real key to the steak.  The best steak shops have the bread specially made, usually in South Philly.  

4. A Philly cheesesteak never has lettuce and tomato on it. Putting lettuce and tomato on a cheesesteak makes it a “cheesesteak hoagie*.” Which I’m sure is perfectly fine if you’re John Kerry, I guess. But it ain’t a Philly cheesesteak. You can, however, add things like broccoli raab, long hots, mushrooms, etc. to a Philly cheesesteak. Personally, I like mine with raab, mushroom, onion, and hots. (*A “hoagie” is what New Yorkers and other parts of the country blasphemously call a ‘hero’, ‘wedge’, or ‘submarine’.)

5. Cheesesteaks are not the only great Philadelphia sandwich. Philly is also known for its roast pork sandwiches. My favorite can be found right in my neighborhood at the Memphis Tap. Philadelphia also offers some great other meals like hots (my favorite are found at Johnny’s Hots), hoagies, and other delicious Amish cuisine found at Reading Terminal Market.  

So there you go, people.  Next time you’re in Philadelphia and want a good sandwich, consider expanding your horizon beyond Pat’s and Geno’s.  Whatever you do, do not put lettuce, tomato, or wiz on your steak.  Now go forth and eat!  

Holly Eats has a great writeup about all things food and Philly.  

10 Responses to A Guide to Philly Cheesesteaks

  1. Steven Freedman says:

    Good rundown, but true connoisseurs know Wiz wit is the correct answer to the question.

    Best South Philly spot? No disrespect to the fine list of establishments on your post, but Philip’s on 23rd and Passyunk is the cat’s nuts – which could be the secret ingredient.

  2. Another South Philly place I like is Talk of the Town. It’s right around Broad and Oregon.

    Never tried Philip’s. I’ll have to check it out.

    • Leo M. Mulvihill, Jr. says:

      My pop used to take me to a place in his old neighborhood in SW Philly that had the best steaks I’d ever tasted. I remember that the owner, after having been robbed a few times, took to open-carrying behind the counter. Sadly, I think he closed the shop a few years ago.

  3. […] about awesome and profitable topics like eating the local neighborhood pig, Jopseph Rakofsky, and cheesesteaks). Hence, to get some attention, I choose to Tweet about Adrianos Facchetti, the bobo brand Marc […]

  4. Boss Martin says:

    Up till this month, I had only experience Philly Cheese Steak everywhere else but Philly. Finally tried Jim and Pat’s and became aware that no matter where I have them, they taste the same. Flavorless. Not a fan of Philly Cheese Steak, and I cannot understand the attraction other then the history of them.

    I would rather have Portillos Italian Beef in Chicago where they actually put flavor in their beef. Philly Cheese Steak is nasty

  5. Great guide!! I was going to head to Gino’s, but Tony Luke’s it is for me! Heading to Philly for just three days – thanks for your “local” perspective!

  6. jesterfied says:

    Philly born and raised. It is pronounced “Raab” but spelled rabe. And yes, the bread is important when getting a cheesesteak. I personally hate Wiz too…real cheesesteaks DO have provolone or American🙂 But you seem to know what the locals know…where to go for a good one.
    Also, we Philadelphians ALWAYS say hoagie. Anything substitution will get you a weird look and an “outsider” label. I can tell you are not originally from here just by your dislike of the word.

  7. jtjarzemsky says:

    Came by here because as a Texas transplant to NYC, I’m outraged whenever the default option is for lettuce and tomato. Also, I have never heard anybody in NYC call it a hoagie, always a hero.

  8. […] do I write about? Whatever I feel like writing about. Sometimes I write about cats. Sometimes I write about cheesesteaks. Sometimes I write about law stuff. I don’t wake up in the morning and say “I should […]

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