These hoagie recommendations are excerpted from Craig LaBan’s 2018 Ultimate Dining guide.
A great hoagie is all about the details: a fresh-baked crusty loaf, quality Italian meats, and provolone sliced to-order (even better sliced directly onto the bread), and the perfect amount of shredded veggies — all assembled with the precision balance of a master architect who knows that a finishing splash of vinaigrette and a shake of oregano is what turns on the lights.
You won’t get that kind of finesse ordering on a touch screen at a convenience store.
South Philadelphia has been Philly’s hoagie mecca since the Italian shipbuilders of Hog Island (now the airport) toted their overloaded “hoggie” subs to work during World War I. And it remains a prime hunting ground for some of the most enduring classics: go to Pastificio Deli (1528 Packer Ave.), Cosmi’s Deli (1501 S. Eighth St.), and Antonio’s Deli (1014 Federal St.), the successor to Chickie’s, where the eggplant-rich veggie is still my pick. Lately, I’ve also mined South Philly hoagie gold at Mi-Pals Deli (2300 S. 16th St.), where the Italian gets its “Inferno” heat from a layer of long hots (the cutlet hoagies are also superb). The spicy Italian, flush with well-marbled slices of “gabagool,” at P&S Ravioli (1722 W. Oregon Ave.) makes this branch of the famous fresh pasta producer one of Philly’s more unexpected hoagie havens.
But the great hoagies of the Northeast should not be overlooked, either. Try the subtly layered Italian at DeNofa’s (6944 Torresdale Ave.); the Italian with olive spread and crumbled sparks of sharp provolone at the original Fink’s Hoagies (4633 Princeton Ave.); and the “Main Event” with marinated artichokes and peppers at Dattilo’s (8000 Horrocks St.) that’s practically an antipasto platter on a roll. Just a bit farther south, Dan’s Fresh Meats (2000 Frankford Ave.) will remind you — in the very best way — of Fishtown’s blue-collar heritage.
And then, of course, there is the historic “Zep” of Norristown, which is like a hoagie — but it’s not. The roll’s a little longer and wider (yup, like a zeppelin); you don’t mix meats; and the onion and tomato are cut extra thick. And sometimes those vegetables are cut with a butter knife (“so you don’t lose any juice”) at my favorite, Eve’s Lunch (318 Johnson Highway, Norristown), where the zesty hot-pepper relish is smeared on thick and there’s never a shred of lettuce in sight. “Not allowed on the premises,” says Anthony Mashett, whose mother, Eve (Scirica) Mashett, bought their sandwich shop in 1965. “Because then you’re getting into hoagie territory.”
For a new-school sandwich, the Phoagie at Middle Child (248 S. 11th St.) is very much a sign of our multi-culti health-conscious times, a vegan masterpiece of hoisin-roasted eggplant rounds layered with chili paste, crispy onions, cilantro, Thai basil, and a schmear of vegan mayo scented with five spice and the singe of burnt onions and ginger. Essentially, it’s a bowl of vegetarian pho as a sandwich.