The Philly cheesesteak. There is no more iconic food in America than this tasty dish. Locals will swear by their favorites and it is the #1 thing on most tourists bucket list. Breaking it down, this is the definitive guide to the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia according to a local.
Cheesesteaks in Philly are an absolute institution in the city and one of the classic Philadelphia foods. And while the tastes vary greatly, they are all basically the same thing. First you start with the beef. The best Philly cheesesteak is made from ribeye steak sliced thin and thoroughly worked on a flat-top grill. Some places will use lesser cuts of meat, such as a chuck roast, to save on food costs, but you can taste the difference with ribeye.
Next is the bread. Nothing but a firm Italian roll will do. You need bread that will hold up to the folding and the grease. The roll is the unsung hero of the sandwich and most of the best Philly cheesesteak places will live and die by their rolls. Die-hard steak lovers even have favorite bakeries – Amoroso, Conshohocken Italian Bakery and Sarcone’s Bakery – and will choose their cheesesteak shop based on the bakery.
And then there are the toppings. For die-hard cheesesteak overs, there are really only two choices here. First, we are talking With or Without. And that refers to the fried onions. You are getting your steak with fried onions or without friend onions. Yes, you will see some people ask for peppers, mushrooms or any other cheesesteak toppings their little minds can come up with. Yes, some of these concoctions are even tasty. But they are not authentic Philly cheesesteaks.
And the second question is cheese. There are three acceptable options: American, provolone, and that orange, gooey substance known as cheese whiz. Purists opt for American. The foodies will go for provolone. And if you want a delicious flavor bomb that will blow your mind, go for the cheese whiz. Once you get over the snob factor, there’s really no stopping the cheese whiz.
There’s a culture of ordering here: skip all unnecessary words and even some letters. “Steak prov wit out” for one with provolone cheese and no fried onions. “Steak wiz wit” for one with cheese whiz and fried onions. And remember, most places are cash only – so have your money ready before you order.
The roast pork sandwich is a close cousin to the cheesesteak, but is really quite different. While most places will offer both, some specialize in one or the other. We’ve noted the good roast pork sandwiches, but the focus here is on the cheesesteak.
A final note: unlike other Philadelphia cheesesteak guides on the Internet, we have been to every single one. We’ve sampled the best (and the worst) Philly cheesesteaks. You won’t find some generic article by someone living a thousand miles away using images they’ve found on Internet. We have done the research, so you don’t have to.
And here they are, in order, from best to worst:
Perhaps better known for one of the best pizzas in Philadelphia, Manayunk’s Pizza Jawn also serves up the best cheesesteak in the city. While other places are better known and certainly more popular with tourists, locals know that pizza shops can serve up some amazing steaks. And Pizza Jawn delivers the best!
They use the highest quality meat and layer it into a delicious sesame seed roll. With whiz and fried onions is the way to go here. The only downside to Pizza Jawn is the extremely limited supply and complex online ordering system. If you can secure a spot, it is well worth the trip to Manayunk to dig into this delicious sandwich. They also have a roast pork, which is less remarkable. Located at 4330 Main Street in Manayunk.
Dalessandro’s Steaks and Hoagies
Located on Henry Avenue in the Roxborough section of the city, Dalessandro’s has been serving up incredible cheesesteaks and hoagies for over 50 years. They focus on super fresh ingredients and cooked-to-order steaks. Of the classic cheesesteak restaurants in the city, Dalessandro’s is head and shoulders above the rest.
The steaks here come out tender, but not soggy in grease (unlike some other places). They differentiate themselves by using large pieces of fried onion that you can really taste. Wiz wit is the best choice here. Also, marinara dipping sauce is a popular addition for many locals. Located at 600 Wendover Street (corner of Henry Avenue).
Sonny’s Famous Steaks
Locals tend to look down on Sonny’s for its Old City location and Market Street address. There is nothing about Sonny’s that says this would be a good cheesesteak. And that is where the prevailing local ideology is all wrong.
Sonny’s is not a made-for-tourist spot in Center City. It is a legit shop with actual friendly service (South Philly take note). They serve a delicious steak on an Italian roll with extra-creamy whiz goodness. That Sonny’s is so often overlooked in the pantheon of Philly cheesesteaks is both a crime and a blessing (shorter lines!). Located at 228 Market Street.
Frizwit at Musi BYO
One of the best cheesesteaks in Philly is also entirely virtual. Since 2015, Frizwit has been serving bespoke steaks to those in the know. This is a pop up as well as takeout and delivery option from their Pennsport kitchen. They also do collaborations with local breweries where you can have a brew and steak, and they will deliver to you at the brewery.
What sets Frizwit apart is the lack of industrial or commercial ingredients. You’ll find no orange, gooey cheese-like product on these rolls. Instead, they source their ingredients from local and artisanal producers, and you can taste the difference. They dish out frizzled steak with charred onions and their own, homemade real beer cheese sauce. The moment you take a bite, you know this is something special. Located at 100 Morris Street.
Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop
Don’t let the throwback 1950s décor and color schemes fool you, this is serious eats. For decades, this was known by the name Chink’s Steaks, after the founder Samuel “Chink” Sherman. After the owner died, the restaurant was taken over by employee Joe Groh, and the offensive name was retired.
But the quality of steak has never deviated from its path to cheesesteak perfection. The steaks are stuffed full of prime ribeye on a hard roll. Add in whiz and onions, and you can’t beat it.
Joe’s still operates the original location on Torresdale Avenue in a working-class section of Northeast Philadelphia. It’s worth it to make the extra drive to this temple of culinary goodness. However, if you’re feeling lazy, you can line up at the decidedly more upscale (and much busier) location in Fishtown. Located at 6030 Torresdale Avenue in the Northeast or at 1 W. Girard Avenue in Fishtown.
Jim’s South St.
People have a love it or hate it feeling about South Street. From the lack of parking to the constant party vibe, there is a lot for people to overcome to come down here for a cheesesteak. But come they do. The constant line around the black building is a testament to how good these steaks can be. Don’t worry, the line moves quickly.
Jim’s has the perfect mix of big, perfectly fried onions and provolone. The only downside is that the roll is a bit thinner and narrower than other cheesesteak places. While some people prefer this, it is less authentic. But when it comes to the big-name steak shops, Jim’s sets a high bar for their competition. Located at 400 South Street.
Imagine an iconic cheesesteak rivalry. No, not Pat’s and Geno’s. Imagine an iconic cheesesteak rivalry with great food. That’s the Dalessandro’s vs. Chubby’s rivalry. Located across Henry Avenue from each other, these two shops battle it out daily. Yes, the long lines across the street attest to the winner of the battle, but don’t overlook the scrappy upstart.
Chubby’s suffers by comparison. Yes, it has only been in business for half the time. Yes, it is not as good as Dalessandro’s. But…in any other section of the city, we would be talking about Chubby’s. And we would be loving it. So why the hate? They are simply a victim of comparison.
Chubby’s offers a very good, frizzled steak, large onions and creamy whiz on really tasty roll. Service is fast and the prices are cheap. And if they were located anywhere else in Philly, there’d be a line down the block. This Roxborough cheesesteak rivalry is much better than anything you’ll find in South Philly. Located at 5826 Henry Avenue.
John’s Roast Pork
Not far from those other places in South Philly, John’s Roast Pork (or JRP to the die-hards), has legions of fans and long lines. And it is well worth the wait. At first glance, it doesn’t look like much. It’s a shack with some storage buildings next to some abandoned railroad tracks and across the street from an unremarkable strip mall. It doesn’t inspire confidence.
However, this lowly little establishment has climbed the mountain of culinary delights and won a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for their efforts. Since 1930, John’s Roast Pork has been perfecting the craft. And we dare say, they have perfected it…for their roast pork sandwich.
While roast pork shares some traits with the cheesesteak, they are different beasts entirely. Their roast pork is, at worst, incredible. At best, it is a transcendental experience that will change your life.
The cheesesteaks at John’s? Very good. In fact, probably top half in the city. But they are nowhere near as remarkable as their roast pork. Located at 14 Snyder Avenue.
Since 1979, Ishkabibble’s on South Street has been serving up some fine steaks. They have a friendly cross-street rivalry with Jim’s. But they focus on very different segments of the sandwich-loving population. At Ishkabibble’s, the focus is on the different, rather than the traditional.
The go-to here is the chicken cheesesteak, which they actually invented. Using fresh chicken tenders, the chicken is then chopped up and lovingly placed into the roll. The chicken is best with whiz and onions. Be sure to pair the sandwich with the gremlin drink, also one of their own creations: a soda made from mixing grape and lemonade. It is both delicious and addictive. If you crave a traditional beef steak, don’t worry, they have that too. Located at 337 South Street.
Campo’s Philly Cheesesteaks
Campo’s has been turning out steaks since 1947. While they do a classic version, most people come here for their specialty: The Heater. It is a cheesesteak with a hot pepper cheddar cheese, spicy hot peppers, and liberal doses of hot sauce. It’s an acquired taste but has legions of devoted fans.
While the Market Street location has been around for 20 years, more people experience their Campo’s at the sports stadiums. The steaks are the same at all locations. Located at 214 Market Street, and also locations at Citizen’s Bank Park and the Wells Fargo Center.
DiNic’s Pork & Beef
DiNic’s is primarily a roast pork establishment. The brainchild of cousins Frank DiClaudio and Tommy Nicolosi (hence the DiNic), these guys serve up hot and delicious pork. The cousins broke up the business and DiClaudio runs the Navy Yard and Montgomeryville locations, while Nicolosi runs the Reading Terminal Market location. Whichever one you visit, you’re getting the best sandwich in America according to the Travel Channel. And while we still love JRP, the pork here is excellent.
The cheesesteaks, on the other hand, are passable but unremarkable. Service is quick and friendly with no lines. But the sandwiches tend to be too heavy on the grease to taste the meat. Skip the steak and get the pork instead. Located at 1511 Kitty Hawk Avenue in the Navy Yard and also at 411 Doylestown Road in Montgomeryville.
Long before we ever visited, we’d heard about Max’s. The steaks are supposed to be so good that a vegetarian friend swore this would be his last meal. And Max’s has gone Hollywood, being featured in the Rocky spin-offs Creed I and Creed II, as well as on the small screen in the popular tv-show This Is Us. That’s a lot to live up to. Our visit? Not so much.
We found the perfunctory roll, some meat, a little cheese, and onions. But not much else to enjoy. The whole steak was just so soggy in grease that we couldn’t taste either the steak or the cheese. After hearing friends rave about Max’s, we were left wondering why. Either we visited on an off day, or Max’s has gone the way of other famous steak shops: a relic of history, but not a contemporary favorite.
We probably need to try it again before we write it off forever but can’t imagine paying another $10 for such a mediocre steak when there are so many good cheesesteaks in Philly. Located at 3653 Germantown Avenue.
When it comes to South Philly cheesesteaks, you can’t miss Geno’s. There’s so many signs and neon lights that you can actually see it from space. Locals like to say Geno’s is for tourists. After all these years, that is probably overstating the case, but visitors flock here in droves. You only need look at the large number of cars with out-of-state plates to see this is true.
Geno’s is best known for its rivalry with Pat’s across the street. The marketing battle hasn’t necessarily translated into the food. The cheesesteak is serviceable, the steak often cooked in far advance and can become dry. Located at 1219 South 9th Street in South Philly or a location in the Philadelphia International Airport.
Pat’s King of Steaks
Most tourists start their Philadelphia cheesesteak trail at Pat’s King of Steaks, named for the self-proclaimed inventor of the cheesesteak Pat Olivieri. The small white shack at the corner of 9th and Passyunk could be hollowed ground for those who love their steaks. Yet Pat’s is more of a throwback than a contemporary favorite.
Pat’s has a good fried onion, but the steaks tend to be greasy and get the roll soggy. It is nice to have a steak here with Pat’s claims of inventing it, but there are better in the city. Located at 1237 East Passyunk Avenue in South Philly.