Our hearts go out to everyone affected by restaurant closures, and we look forward to frequenting these destinations in better times.
What is this Philly cheesesteak sandwich?
Among all of the wonderful things that have come out of the city of brotherly love, the city’s famous Philly cheesesteak sandwiches rank just below the birth of our nation in terms of popularity, and for good reason: their delicious combination of a crunchy roll, seared slices of ribeye and cheese (preferably Cheeze Whiz - although American and provolone are acceptable substitutions) is a uniquely satisfying meal that you can find anywhere from the city’s numerous and beloved Wawa convenience stores to many of its higher-end restaurants. Onions are the most popular topping (ordering an “ American with” means “American cheese with onions”), but mushrooms, fried onions and bell peppers are nearly always available, too.
The origin story
Most origin stories begin with “Legend has it…”, but not this one. In 1930, Philly hot-dog vendor Pat Olivieri decided to throw some slices of ribeye on his grill, and a passerby thought it smelled so good that he asked Pat to make him a steak sandwich and, voila, a primitive version of the classic sandwich was born. The sandwich became so popular that Mr. Olivieri closed down the hot-dog stand and opened Pat’s King of Steaks on 9th St and. Passyunk Ave. In 1966, Joe Vento opened a shop across the street – Geno’s – where many claim that he had the ingenious idea of adding cheese to the mix, creating the version of the Philly Cheese Steak that we know and love today.
Where to get a Philly cheesesteak in the some of the top neighborhoods in Philadelphia
41 S. 16th Street
A place that locals swear by for its chewy yet crunchy rolls and sliced, not chopped, ribeye, Steve’s is held in high regard in Philly. All of the standard cheeses and toppings are available, and the place is open until midnight. Come prepared, though: Steve’s is cash-only.
1823 Sansom St
American cheese, fried onions, and … Worcestershire? Yep. It adds a bit of brightness, plus a bit of that savory umami flavor that makes everything it touches just a little more mouthwatering. In the mood to watch a game? This sports bar is home to 20 TVs, and a large selection of beers plus a large cocktail menu add to the jovial atmosphere.
108 S 18th St
Founded in 2016 by a family that’s been operating a cheesesteak manufacturing company for over 35 years, Cleavers prides itself on offering the highest quality American beef and chicken. Are you a diner of the vegetarian persuasion who would like to enjoy a cheesesteak, too? Try their delicious portobello cheesesteak. And consider washing it down with one of their signature boozy milkshakes, made with locally produced Bassetts ice cream.
121 S 16th St
This Philly chain may have started out as a burger joint, but they do a nice job with their cheesesteaks, too. Marathon makes its own version of Cheez Whiz for its beef or chicken cheesesteaks, and both come with caramelized onions and roasted peppers. Dine in and enjoy city views out of the establishment’s enormous walls of windows – or enjoy your delicious cheesesteak sandwich on one of Marathon’s outdoor tables.
33 S 16th St
This beloved East Coast convenience store chain offers a variety of sandwiches at all hours of the day or night - and cheesesteaks are among the most popular offerings. Perfectly salty and cheesy, they’ve been the salvation of many a late-night reveler. Gas up your car, grab that tube of toothpaste you forgot to throw in your suitcase, and get a delicious sandwich, all under one roof. It’s really no wonder that Wawa has such a large place in the hearts of all Philadelphians.
1300 Chestnut St
We’ve talked about this place. Isn’t it nice to know that you’ve got a familiar purveyor of cheesesteaks – plus gas for your car and maybe even some Tums – in all of the top neighborhoods in Philadelphia? Philadelphia loves you, Wawa.
1310 Drury St
Philadelphia’s oldest continuously operating tavern opened its doors and its taps in 1860 – long before cheesesteaks were invented. But they’re not above changing with the times. Their reasonably priced cheesesteak sandwich comes with sliced sirloin and provolone. Like so many of Philly’s businesses, McGillin’s Olde Ale House resides in a gorgeous historic brick building. And, Drury Street itself is more of a narrow path than a road – which adds to the historic charm.
118 S 12th St
“Pub fare with an Irish spin” is the word at Finn McCools Ale House. And if you were wondering if Philly’s signature dish could find a home under that heading, you’re in luck. You’re likely to find a soccer match on the TV here – and you’re also likely to notice that they offer 17 beers on tap, plus a nice selection of bottled beers as well as a full bar.
228 Market St
Offering classic as well as gluten-free cheesesteaks, plus meat that’s not fried in oil, you could almost say that Sonny’s offers a health-food cheesesteak. But that might be stretching things a bit. What they do offer, though, is high quality ingredients and friendly service. And as it happens, they also earned the rank of “best cheesesteak in Philly” in a 2014 GQ article.
114 Market St
When in Philly, it’s fairly safe to assume that any business with “steaks” in its name is making reference to the city’s signature sandwich. Philly’s Gourmet Steaks serves ‘em up right, with fresh-made rolls, ribeye that’s shaved on-site, and melty, melty cheese. The establishment is located in a charming brick Old City building that features plenty of outdoor seating if the weather is right.
214 Market Street
In operation – and serving up delicious cheesesteaks – since 1947, Campo’s Philly Cheesesteaks must be doing something right. Theirs is the cheesesteak that you’ll find at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies, and their Old Town shop is located in a gorgeous brick building on a lively street. Their Market Street location serves gluten-free options, and they’ve got a nice selection of beers that pair nicely with a good cheesesteak sandwich.
206 Market St
Like the other Old City purveyors of cheesesteak described here, Oh Brother Philly resides in a charming, old brick building on a street lined with many more of the same. Unlike most of the places on the list, though, this is a BYOB establishment, which means you can bring a bottle of any alcoholic beverage you can think of and pair it with a classic sandwich. What wine does pair best wit whiz, we wonder?
35 S 2nd St
This diner with an old-west flair has a pleasantly rustic interior, a full bar and a classic cheesesteak sandwich with a house-made provolone sauce. They also offer a different take on a classic: cheesesteak egg rolls, served with their provolone sauce and house-made ketchup.
2040 Hamilton Street
1707 Arch St
Perhaps our love of this convenience store runs too strong. But how could that be possible. This New England juggernaut makes delicious cheesesteak sandwiches easily available – at all hours – in all of Philadelphia’s top neighborhoods. We admire their day-in, day-out dedication to improving the lives of each and every Philadelphian.
103 N 15th St
An old-school neighborhood kind of place that, thankfully, lacks the touristy vibe of South Philly’s more famous cheesesteak purveyors, the quality of the fare at Bubby’s is said by locals to “blow those other joints out of the water.” In fact, Bubby’s Brisket is so old-school that they don’t have a website. Come to think of it, we probably shouldn’t even be mentioning them online. The place is frequented by a large number of city employees, which kind of says a lot, doesn’t it?
2995 Market Street
Milk House may specialize in ice cream and grilled cheese sandwiches, but cheesesteaks are also on the menu, and they come with American cheese, sliced ribeye, caramelized onions and a sourdough roll. Enjoy your cheesesteak sandwich with a side of fries or tater tots, and then treat yourself to a scoop or two of ice cream for dessert.
1700 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy
The cheesesteaks at this Irish eatery feature sliced sirloin, sauteed onions and American cheese on a fresh-baked hoagie roll. The history of the cheesesteak sandwich might have more of an Italian origin than in Irish one… but the Philadelphia-ness of any establishment trumps all. Cheesesteak sandwiches in an Irish bar is a beautiful thing.
1219 South 9th St
Located directly across the street from rival Pat’s King of Steaks, Geno’s has been in operation since 1971 and is considered one of the city’s venerable cheesesteak institutions.
1237 East Passyunk Ave
The original, founded by Pat and Harry Oliviery – the inventors of Philly’s signature sandwich – in 1930. As opposed to its rival across the street, a cheesesteak here comes with chopped ribeye as opposed to sliced. It’s the little differences. Whether or not the original home of the cheesesteak sandwich is the best is a debate that any Philadelphian would happily engage in, but that very fact that Pat’s King of Steaks has been in operation for 90 years and counting means that it’s doing something right. Plus, it inspired many other Philly restaurants to follow in its footsteps, and for that we can all give thanks.
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