Cheesesteaks. Is there a word that is more Philly? No, we don’t think so.
There are lots of opinions around who’s got the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia and, truly, it’s hard to pick just one. So we have 13.
Here’s our guide to Philly’s best cheesesteaks.
Looking for the city’s most popular and famous versions? Dig into those sandwiches, and their history, here.
John’s is the rare treasure that does several specialties at the highest level. In fact, the Bucci family has long made some of the best cheesesteaks and roast pork sandwiches in the city, all wrapped up inside a crusty Carangi’s roll. What to order? You can’t miss with the classic flow of American with onions. But we also love the sharp provolone and spinach for its South Philly swagger. Bonus: The popular spot just got a major renovation and has even more outdoor seating.
Owner Joe Groh has a larger spot in Fishtown, but there’s a special savor to the house-cut rib-eye steaks expertly grilled (with deeply caramelized onions) in the front window of the Wissinoming original, which still feels like the 1949 soda shop Groh bought from mentor Samuel Sherman. Nonetheless, whether you visit the Fishtown location or the original, the classic cheesesteak is a sure bet.
The world got wind of Max’s Steaks after its feature in Creed, but Philadelphia has long-known what this iconic North Philly steak corner is all about: hefty 22-inchers stuffed with 1.5 pounds of gristle-free sirloin. Add sweet peppers and onions to your cheesesteak, and order a slushy of “Philly’s biggest cocktail” from the Eagle Bar next door for the full experience.
There may be more onions than anything else on the onion-mopped kaiser steak, the signature indulgence at this classic Camden tavern (with an announced Mount Holly location coming soon), but it all comes together like French onion soup on a poppy-seeded bun — the saucy onions, the molten cheese, and yes, plenty of beef stacked high. House-fermented hot sauces are a plus, as is Donkey’s embrace of Jersey craft brewers like Tonewood, brewed just minutes away in Oaklyn.
Nick and Maria Miglino’s ran Felicia’s at 11th and Ellsworth Streets for two-decades until closing up shop in 2007. Now they’re back with sandwich shop Dolores’ 2Street, with some of the city’s most irresistible sandwiches, including a pizza steak that can compete with the best of them. The classic pizza steak was popularized by Anthony Milano in the 1950s in the South 11th Street space currently occupied by Mike’s BBQ. Unlike most of its modern-day descendants, the original pizza steak did not ladle on rivers of red sauce, Nick says, but instead cushioned the meat with medallions of grilled plum tomatoes. At Dolores’, those ripe tomatoes are dusted with hand-pinched Sicilian oregano and a few finishing drizzles of extra-virgin olive oil, the beef cooked from whole pads of tender, prime-grade L. Halteman’s beef with molten mild provolone. There are no onions, but it’s pure harmony when you take a bite, the tomatoes adding to its juicy savor.
Head to this almost 100-year-old tavern in Chestnut Hill where the fourth-generation McNallys use high-quality ingredients to carry on the classic version of their cheesesteak variation, the Schmitter — with fried salami, grilled tomato, and signature sauce on a kaiser roll — conceived in 1964 for a regular who liked his Schmidt’s beer.
When the pandemic hit, Ari Miller’s Frizwit pop-up turned into a weekly shop within the space of his current BYOB Musi. Now, Musi is open again and Frizwit at Musi is back to a once-a-month pop-up that takes place on the last Monday of the month — and it’s certainly worth stopping by. Here, Miller simply and effectively upgrades the classic cheesesteak with better ingredients: Primal Supply beef, a Merzbacher’s hoagie roll, a creamy beer cheese sauce, and onions.
The crusty, sesame-speckled house-baked rolls are key for all the sandwiches at this Italian Market pizzeria. And, for the cheesesteaks, so is the chewy, but not too chewy, high-quality rib eye.
Nothing at this East Passyunk barbecue spot certifies owner Mike Strauss’ status as a uniquely Philadelphian pitmaster quite like his brisket cheesesteak. He uses all the trappings of the South Philly classic: seeded rolls, caramelized diced onions, and a creamy house Whiz made from Cooper Sharp (the lesser-known American cheese with century-old Philly roots). It’s the brisket, though, that gives this sandwich magnetic powers. A high-grade slab of beef is cured for a couple of days, then smoked over wood for up to 14 hours.
The “upgraded meat” crowd too often falls short when the beef is cut wrong, usually too thick, messing with textures so the sandwich doesn’t eat right. Brewerytown’s SpOt Gourmet Burgers is an exception, where Josh Kim butchers his own meat, a half-pound of ribeye to be exact, for a steak with long savor.
Anna Marie and Joe Maglio’s cheerful Italian makeover for the Holme Circle space once occupied by the Blue Duck Sandwich Co. opened barely a month before the pandemic. But Joe’s got deep roots in local Italian restaurants and he happens to make one of the best new cheesesteaks in town, a house-sliced ribeye beautifully incorporated with melty Cooper Sharp cheese on a Carangi roll. The sandwich is modeled after John’s Roast Pork, but named after Joey’s dad, Francesco Maglio, a.k.a. “Don Cheech.” Indoor dining, limited outdoor dining, and pickup are available.
At its two South Street locations, Ishkabibble’s keeps it classic with a big-as-your-face cheesesteak with your choice of cheese. And as much as the shop is known for its cheesesteaks, it’s also popular for its “Gremlin” drink, a concoction made up of lemonade and grape juice.
Near the 76 entrance off of West Passyunk Avenue is unassuming Philip’s Steaks, a small, streetside stand where the “Old Fashion” cheesesteak — with grilled tomatoes, long hots, onions, oregano, and provolone — shines.
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