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Where and How to Order The Best Philly Cheesesteaks
Ask any Philadelphia native what they feel best symbolizes the City of Brotherly Love and you’ll get a number of different answers: The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and Love Park (some of Philadelphia's main attractions) ... AND Cheesesteaks.
If you’re planning a trip to Philly, it’s an absolute must to pry yourself away from its landmark historical sites and get your grub on at one of the city’s myriad cheesesteak joints.
Nearly every corner of The City of Neighborhoods features an eatery slinging the meaty, cheesy delicacy -- but how do you know which one is the best? Better yet, do you know HOW to order a cheesesteak in Philadelphia? (Yes, there’s a right way and a wrong way.) Here are a few tips for ordering a Philly cheesesteak, as well as palate-pleasing recommendations for some of the top steak shops in the city.
Yo! It’s Not a Hoagie: Philadelphia Cheesesteak Etiquette
Depending on which part of the U.S. you call home, you might refer to any sandwich on a long roll as a “hoagie,” “sub,” “submarine sandwich,” “hero,” “wedge, or “grinder.” Everyone has regional differences in lingo and Philly is no different!
Life-long Philadelphians have a particular way of ordering their cheesesteaks. For starters, never ask for a “cheesesteak hoagie.” Chances are, the person taking your food order will give you a strange look if you forget this crucial bit of etiquette. In Philadelphia, a hoagie is a sandwich on a long roll with lettuce and tomato. Unless you like vegetables other than fried onions on your cheesesteak, avoid asking for a cheesesteak hoagie.
Wit’ or Wit’out
Speaking of onions, you might not savor the taste of fried onions on your cheesesteak. That’s okay. Just order “with” or “without.” You don’t have to add in the extraneous verbiage of “onion.” Your server will know what you’re talking about. Trust them. They’re professionals!
Choose Your Cheese… Or not
Many Philly steak shops offer patrons a choice of cheese, although most favor that processed delight, Cheeze Whiz, as the warm, gooey, delicious default topping. However, many steak shops offer other options for customers to gobble up, including American, provolone, or mozzarella, in addition to wiz. If given the option to choose your cheese, brevity is still the order of the day.
If for some blasphemous reason (other than lactose intolerance) that you decide you do not want cheese on your cheesesteak, you would just order “a steak” with or without (onions).
Putting it All Together
Say you want to order a cheesesteak with American cheese and onions. Here’s how you do it without incurring the wrath of the Philly sandwich shop faithful. Just follow this simple template with examples: [Quantity] + [Cheese] + [With or without onion]
If you want to order a single cheesesteak with onions, you would say:
“One American with.”
Perhaps you want a good old fashioned cheesesteak without onions. You’d say:
“One whiz without.”
If you’re ordering for a friend or you’re really hungry and feel like ordering two different types of cheesesteaks, here’s how to do it:
“One whiz with, one provolone without.”
Or, you can keep it simple and order a matching pair of cheesesteaks:
“Two Americans with.”
Where to Go For a Great Philly Cheesesteak
Philly is famous for its rival steak shops -- Pat’s and Geno’s -- that operate directly across the street from one another in South Philly. Each has their own merits, although both shops have devotees that will insist their favorite is the best. Decide for yourself!
Pat’s King of Steaks
If you want some Philly culture mixed with phenomenal eats, start where it all began. The original home of the cheesesteak, Pat’s King of Steaks, is still owned and operated by the Olivieri family. The founder, Pat Olivieri, invented the steak sandwich in 1930, and this joint has since been serving up some of the tastiest cheesesteaks in the city -- if not the world. Whether you’re in the mood for wit’ or wit’out, you’ll be leaving this cozy corner of the city a satisfied customer.
Take ten steps across the street and you find yourself in similar, but very different territory. Often overshadowed by Pat’s veteran reign of cheesesteak triumph, Geno’s is certainly no slouch. Geno’s was founded by Joey Vento in 1966 and has turned this South Philly corner into the home one of the most exciting and appetizing food rivalries in the world. Open 24 hours a day, Geno’s will help you soak in all that the flavors of Philadelphia have to offer. Just make sure to order right or you may find yourself at the back of line.
It’s a tough order to follow legendary cheesesteak spots like Pat’s and Geno’s, but Jim’s certainly has something special to offer. With multiple locations, Jim’s doesn’t supply the Philly vibe mentioned above, but it does serve up some of the city’s best tasting cheesesteaks. Jim’s was started in 1939 at its original location of 431 North 62nd Street on the west side of the city before branching out with several shops scattered throughout Philadelphia. This family-owned-and-run business has deep Philadelphia roots, a well-seasoned grill and a unique spin to one of the city’s most popular treats. (If you like your steaks spicy, ask for Jim’s Mud Sauce!)
South Philly isn’t the only place you can get a great cheesesteak. Northeast Philly is also home to several great steak shops that have rabid followings of their own.
While many steak shops finely chop their steak, Frusco’s (7220 Frankford Ave.) serves up tender, juicy medallions of meat. Options abound at Frusco’s: patrons have a choice of cheeses (go for the American -- which is more of a rich, cheesy sauce than it is slices of melted cheese), and can elect to have their cheesesteak served on a delicious seeded Sarcone roll.
Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop
Formerly known as Chink’s, this Northeast Philly mainstay (6030 Torresdale Ave.) has been in business since 1949. Although they changed their name in early 2013, one thing that hasn’t changed is the full flavor of the shop’s steaks. Rather than chopping up the steak, Joe’s cuts their grilled ribeye into juicy chunks before being doled out onto luscious Liscio’s rolls. Wash it down with a cherry soda or a traditional egg cream.
Steve’s Prince of Steaks
Another fairly “underground” cheesesteak spot is Steve’s Prince of Steaks. Sprinkled all over the City of Brotherly Love and surrounding areas, Steve’s is a sure favorite among locals and has recently garnered the attention of Center City visitors craving a bite. The once-corner store in Northeast Philly has grown, spreading the quality taste and culture to all corners of the city. Founder Steve lliescu used to make the cheesesteak pilgrimage from Philly’s outskirts to taste the likes of Pat’s and Geno’s, sparking what would become a lifelong dedication to the cheesesteak sandwich.
So which is the best Philly cheesesteak in Philly? We guess you’ll have to try them all to find out!