10 Top Spots to Try a Philly Cheesesteak
Who’s got the best cheesesteak? It is a question that nags many a native Philadelphian, particularly when out-of-towners visit. After all, the elemental combo of griddle-cooked beef, gooey cheese and onions (gotta get onions), stuffed into a long roll, is our most-famous culinary export. Attempting to answer, beyond a shadow of a grease-dripping doubt, is a good way to drive yourself crazy, to say nothing of the damage to your waistline. Instead, let’s look at 10 of the area’s most-distinctive cheesesteak makers, all of whom provide a serious napkins-so-necessary experience.
(Note: For the purposes of this feature, we’ve decided to relegate Pat’s and Geno’s, South Philly’s world-famous dueling cheesesteak specialists, to “Hall of Fame” status. Sure, you should try them — but try these, too.)
Check out the full gallery for all 10 ’steak-savvy spots.
There’s a reason locals are so quick to recommend John’s to cheesy thrill-seekers. It’s not the location of this humble 85-year-old operation — next to some rusty old railroad tracks and across the street from an IHOP. And it’s certainly not the decor, though the humble layout of this friendly grill does exude a certain deep-South-Philly charm. It’s all about the sandwiches — monstrous ’steaks, stuffed with 12 ounces of cooked-to-order meat, prepared beautifully and served with genuine warmth. This is a real Philly cheesesteak place.
A cheesesteak institution on par with the Pat’s and Geno’s of the world, Jim’s earns a slot on this list for its prime location — out-of-towners always want to check out South Street — and unmistakable atmosphere. The lively, funny staff knows how to work it from every angle, quickly cranking out food and keeping customers chuckling as they rip through their orders. The steaks are reliably great, but the cheesesteak making is even better. With just a thin pane of glass separating you from some of the quickest griddle jocks in the game, the spectacle is the cheesesteak equivalent of courtside seats.
Self-appointed cheesesteak royalty (”one bite and you’ll be a loyal subject for life!”), Steve Iliescu is a sandwich don with multiple holdings across the kingdom — he’s got two busy shops in Northeast Philly, one in the suburb of Langhorne and a fourth in primo Center City real estate. The purest Steve’s experience, however, can be had at the Bustleton Avenue original, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, when they crank it till 3 in the morning. A proponent of large, uncut hunks of rib eye that envelop the Whiz and onions like a fire blanket, Iliescu offers a cheesesteak style that is distinctly his.
Look through the full gallery and let us know in the comments: What’s your favorite cheesesteak combination?