When someone says Philadelphia, you think: Liberty Bell, Rocky, and cheesesteaks. The cheesesteak is a distinctly Philadelphian food item—no city does it quite like us, and all imitations are just that, imitations. We rounded up some of the most popular cheesesteak spots to solve the city’s biggest question: who makes the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia? In order to do this we ordered the same thing at each restaurant: cheesesteak with onions (“wit”) and American cheese (because wiz is gross; sorry to be un–Philadelphian, but it’s true).
We started the day in Roxborough, a neighborhood in the Northwest section of Philadelphia. Across Henry Ave there are two dueling cheesesteak joints: Chubby’s and Dalessandro’s Steaks. Each is just a small restaurant filled with a huge griddle and tons of kids wearing hoodies from the various Philadelphia schools: Saint Joe’s, La Salle, and local high schools.
The cheesesteak from Dalessandro’s Steaks had visibly more melted cheese mixed throughout the chopped–not–sliced–meat. The onions were in chunks, perfectly caramelized to create the ideal cheese to onions to meat ratio. The bread was soft and chewy, served on Amoroso’s rolls—a classic Philadelphia bakery for rolls. In fact, this cheesesteak was the cheesiest one out of the round up because the piping hot meat melted all the cheese.
The steak at Chubby’s had a more distinct beef flavor than the one at Dalessandro’s, but I was disappointed that there wasn’t more cheese on the steak. If I went back I would probably ask for extra cheese, which would have made it the perfect cheesesteak. The steak was chopped, but not as finely as Dalessandro’s, and the bread was also chewy, but a little crispier on the outside.
Next was South Philadelphia, ground zero for good cheesesteaks,—near the stadiums and the Italian Market, a place that vibrates with the sound of “jawns” and “South Phill–eh.” My first cheesesteak was at Tony Luke’s. I was wary about this one because of the commercialization of the restaurants—they take credit cards and have electronic monitors as menus. Oh was I wrong. This was hands down one of my favorites. The steak had great flavor and was chopped, though not too finely. The steak also wasn’t greasy, so the bread stayed firm and not soggy. The onions were diced and evenly dispersed throughout the steak—they were so perfect, I even wanted more. Although the bread here was less chewy than at the other places, we actually enjoyed it.
After this amazing cheesesteak, I set off on a pilgrimage to the two biggies: Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks. As Philadelphia natives, we hesitated to try such an over–hyped spot. But we went, for the sake of reporting. Perhaps our initial feelings were correct. At Pat’s, the steak was chopped, but greasy and cold. At Geno’s, the cheese was two slices of American slapped on some grease–soaked bread. The steak was in slabs, and hard to eat. The onions and the steak were watery and flavorless. Honestly, the best part of the experience was probably taking an Instagram in front of the signs.
Finally, we arrived at South Street. Among the tattoo and piercing shops is Jim’s Steaks, a true gem filled with the scent of fried onions and seared beef wafting through it’s open doors. After a subpar experience at Pat’s and Geno’s, Jim’s had pieces of steak that were perfectly grilled and onions that were sweetly caramelized and nestled wonderfully among the melted cheese. Jim’s Steaks puts their cheese on top, ensuring that every single bite had cheesy goodness. The bread? Perfect, golden, flakey, and still somehow magically chewy. This was what we had been waiting for: the light at the end of the tunnel, the holy grail of cheesesteaks.
Our Final Rankings:
- Jim’s Steaks
- Tony Luke’s
- Dalessandro’s Steaks
- Pat’s King of Steaks
TL;DR: When it comes to cheesesteaks, stick to South Street.
Jim’s Steaks: 400 South Street
Tony Luke’s: 39 E Oregon Avenue
Dalessandro’s Steaks: 600 Wendover Street
Chubby’s Steaks: 5826 Henry Avenue
Pat’s King of Steaks: 1237 E Passyunk Avenue
Geno’s Steaks: 1219 S 9th Street
Price Range: $