In a city that’s known for its cheesesteaks, naturally there’s no lack of options to try. And just like Pat’s versus Geno’s (versus Jim’s, Dalessandro’s, and beyond) there are plenty of restaurants vying to make the best version of the iconic Philly sandwich — only without any meat.
We’ve rounded up nearly a dozen places where you can try vegan cheesesteaks. We’ve also asked chefs to weigh in on what makes a memorable plant-based version. The secrets, they say, aren’t all that different than for meatier counterparts.
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What makes a good vegan cheesesteak?
“Whether it’s meat[-based] or vegan, there are a few things that make a cheesesteak either really good or kind of blah, and that’s good bread, meaning bread that has substance but isn’t overly chewy, quality protein, fried onions, and a gooey cheese,” says Ryan Pasquale, the menu director at Tattooed Mom.
The protein, or the filling, in a vegan cheesesteak can range from soy-based “beef” to mushrooms to Beyond Meat crumbles, but the most common ingredient is seitan, made from gluten, the protein in wheat. It has a chewy texture that can mock that of steak. But to make it a convincing substitute, says Pasquale, it must be sliced very thin.
“You want to put it on the flattop, and then sear and chop, sear and chop, until it reaches that right consistency with those nice crispy bits,” says Pasquale.
Attention to texture must also be coupled with attention to flavor. Seitan on its own is bland and contains very little fat. Many chefs add herbs and/or spices, like at Triangle Tavern, where every batch of seitan gets tossed with a classic Montreal steak seasoning.
“Sietan doesn’t render out like animal protein does, so adding fat and seasoning becomes really important,” says Triangle Tavern chef Mike Schwartz.
A cheesesteak done right, whether meat-filled or not, can easily garner a cult following. Vegan cheesesteaks rank among the top menu items and both Tattooed Mom and Triangle Tavern, a fact echoed by many of the restaurants on this list.
Here’s where to find them:
Local seitan from Blackbird Foods and fried onions are at the heart of this popular cheesesteak, along with fresh baked rolls from South Philly’s Carangi Baking Company. Layered on top and bottom of the filling is a house Whiz, made of Daiya vegan cheddar cheese, Tofutti cream cheese, miso, nutritional yeast, and seasonings, like garlic powder, onion powder, and Worcestershire sauce. “I really, really love Cheez Whiz, so it was important to me to emulate that creaminess and tang,” Schwartz.
Tattooed Mom recently partnered with a bunch of local vendors to revamp its cheesesteak and make it even more “Philly.” At the base is thinly sliced seitan from Levittown-based Temple Foods, fried onions, and Follow Your Heart smoked “gouda.” It all gets sandwiched between vegan long rolls from Merzbacher’s of Germantown. “To me, the key to a great vegan cheesesteak is to keep it simple and not get weird with it, so we keep ours very traditional,” says owner Robert Perry. All orders include tater tots or fries.
Blackbird sells at least 500 vegan cheesesteaks a week, outselling every other sandwich on the menu by five to one. The cheesesteak has been the restaurant’s signature item since day one, featuring its own Blackbird Foods seitan, sliced paper thin on a meat slicer and marinated with rosemary and garlic. It’s paired with grilled onions and loaded on a Carangi Baking Company hoagie roll, along with a house Whiz sauce made from two types of vegan cheese, nutritional yeast, and miso. You can also choose from a sizable list of toppings, including pickles, tomatoes, hot peppers, sweet peppers, mushrooms, extra onion, and extra Whiz.
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Local ingredients are at the center of Musi’s vegan cheesesteak, featuring a rotating blend of mushrooms (think royal trumpet, chestnut, oyster, and popino mushrooms) from Philly-based Mycopolitan Mushrooms, charred onions, and a Merzbacher’s hoagie roll. Plus, there’s the house Whiz, combining nutritional yeast with locally made tofu, beer from Two Local Brewing Company, and canola oil from Susquehanna Mills. “The goal was to make a vegan sandwich that would get you just as excited as your friend eating the cheesesteak on the other side of the table, so we’re using the best local ingredients we can find,” says Miller, who also makes a popular steak-based version. “We now have people who order the vegan sauce on their cheesesteak, and we have people who eat meat order the vegan sandwich just because they love mushrooms and it’s delicious.”
Nourish gives its cheesesteak a Carribean-inspired flare, using a signature jerk seasoning to flavor seitan that’s sautéed with onions, peppers, portobello mushrooms, and oregano. It comes slathered with Daiya “mozzarella” cheese, served on a whole wheat roll. “I wanted it to be a traditional Philly cheesesteak, but at the same time I want to stand true to our purpose of providing healthier options, and I’m not trying to use white flour for anything,” says owner Sarah Scandone. But, she says, it’s still pure comfort food.
Price: $12 ($12.50 to “make it BBQ”)
This South Philly vegan diner makes its own seitan, which gets thinly sliced on a meat slicer, grilled to order on a flattop, and paired with caramelized onions and melted Teese “mozzarella.” It’s all packaged inside steak rolls from nearby Sarcone’s Bakery, with an option to “make it BBQ.” “The BBQ cheesesteak is for all the saucy people out there,” says co-owner Sofia Baltopoulos. “It’s our classic cheesesteak filling, doused in BBQ sauce on the grill and topped with more BBQ sauce.”
Equally as popular as its plant-based burgers, HipCityVeg’s vegan cheesesteak uses a soy-and-grain-based “beef” seasoned with fresh garlic and herbs, and sautéed with mushrooms and onions. Layered throughout is a potato-based “cheese,” creating a hearty filling that’s served on a toasted long roll with ketchup.
“Cheesesteaks are made to be big, indulgent, and a little sloppy, and that’s what we’ve created,” says owner Nicole Marquis, who adds, “I think ketchup is essential to the real cheesesteak experience.”
This northeast Philly spot offers three kinds of vegan cheesesteaks — a Korean BBQ version paired with sautéed veggies, a spicy Buffalo chicken cheesesteak topped with vegan blue “cheese” and avocado, and the best-selling classic, featuring soy-based “beef,” fried onion, ketchup, plant-based mayo, and mozzarella-style “cheese.” You can order the cheesesteak as a bowl, too, swapping the hoagie roll with jasmine rice, or as a fried spring roll, a menu item more popular than all the sandwich options combined, says owner Byron Mathis.
Algorithm’s cheesesteak gets a signature spicy twist thanks to its secret Calabrian Chili Whiz sauce. The hearty sandwich starts with a filling of local Blackbird Foods seitan, seasoned with black pepper, crushed red pepper, garlic, and onion, and added to a mix of portobello and shiitake mushrooms from Berks County’s Primordia Farms. Order it as is, or opt for the Wake and Steak, an all-day-breakfast version that adds a layer of tofu-based “eggs” and hash browns.
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