Visitors to Philadelphia usually come with a few very specific goals in mind: the Liberty Bell, the Rocky Statue and losing their face in the best Philly cheesesteak in Philadelphia. While mainstays like Pat’s and Geno’s aka “Cheesesteak Vegas” are certainly among the Philadelphia attractions that aren’t to be missed, you shouldn’t limit yourself to a cheesesteak there. Below are 10 of the best renditions of sliced-up beef with queso and/or onions you’re going to find in a city overrun with cheesesteak options. And while you’re eating your way through the city, keep your eyes peeled for some of the best bakeries Philadelphia has to offer. Our Italian desserts are out of this world.
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Best Philly cheesesteak in Philadelphia
If you ask a South Philly local to direct you to a solid steak and their instructions feature any combination of the phrases “near Ikea,” “line out the door” or “anthropomorphized pig in a bib,” they’re trying to get you to John’s. A Delaware riverfront institution since 1930, John Bucci Jr.’s operation preps each of its steaks—12 hefty ounces of meat stuffed into chewy Carangi rolls—to order, so waits are a little longer than at some of his turn-and-burn counterparts. It’s worth it. Use the time wisely and familiarize yourself with the roast pork, the local specialty John’s is actually named after—it’s a juicy, garlicky triumph accessorized bitter spinach and gooey provolone. As for whether to order one of these or a steak? Always. Get. Both.
One of a handful of cheesesteak mavens with multiple locations, Steve Iliescu’s eponymous shops are cherished among locals, especially those with Northeast Philly roots. In addition to the Bustleton Avenue mothership, this regal mini-chain boasts three additional locations, including Center CIty. They all stay open late on Friday and Saturday nights, making piled-high ribeye and cheese fries a post-last-call imperative.
Beloved by Roxborough natives and the greater cheesesteak cognoscenti alike, Dalessandro’s Steaks is a stalwart of Philly’s northwesterly neighborhoods. (Fans of Chubby’s, directly across Henry Avenue from Delly’s, will be quick to let you know their spot is beloved, too.) The big distinction here, outside the nicely stocked fridge filled with craft beer: These grill jockeys, somewhat controversially, chop up their ribeye to a much finer consistency than most shops—with excellent results. Might sound trivial to a non-native, but this is the type of detail that makes or breaks lifelong cheesesteak loyalties.
It’s not the only meatless cheesesteak in Philadelphia, but Rich Landau’s rendition at his vegan fast fooderie Wiz Kid might be the best. The chef and co-owner of vegan destinations Vedge and V Street combines marinated maitake and trumpet mushrooms with shredded seitan to make up his crisp, hearty filling, which hits the flat-top grill with onions to order. The most intoxicating element of this alterna-steak, however, might be its “Wiz,” a savory, tangy rutabaga-and-tofu fondue that convincingly mimics the tang and consistency of conventional cheese sauce.
Fishtown’s finest cheesesteak can be found at the always-humming corner of Girard and Frankford avenues, where longtime steak man Joe Groh has set up a ’50s-style soda shop that speaks fluent meat. An offshoot of Groh’s original Torresdale location, this shop also accommodates vegetarians (with meatless faux steaks), gluten avoiders (with GF rolls) and milkshake fanatics (try the black-and-white).
An unconventional approach to capitalization isn’t the only thing that makes Josh Kim’s SpOt stand out. The vibrant restaurant, which takes its can’t-miss-it color cues from Heinz and French’s, started as a tiny street cart on Drexel’s campus before moving into the Brewerytown digs he runs today. The food’s the real hook. The specialty burgers are a considerable draw, but SpOt’s HQ steaks, made with half a pound of seared sirloin that’s butchered in small batches on the premises, delight return customers.
Self-styled cheesesteak sherpas might confidently name-drop Delly’s and Chubby’s as the best steak in the Manayunk/East Falls/Roxborough area, but Barry’s is a bit of a deeper cut. Around since ’89, this friendly neighborhood shop slings its steaks along a long luncheonette-style counter, working burgers, wings, dogs and other crowd-pleasers into the equation. There’s also a cold case filled with Barry’s own brand of soft drink, in flavors ranging from root beer to raspberry lime rickey.
It’s mostly known as an East African restaurant and low-key neighborhood bar, but West Philly mainstay Gojjo is also the site of some inspired cheesesteak-centric cultural synergy. In addition to traditional Ethiopian fare ( kitfo, shiro wot, several types of tibs), they do steaks—including one done up in berbere, the fiery crimson spice blend essential to Ethiopian cuisine. The place fits right into the fabric of Cedar Park, a diverse and slightly left-of-center neighborhood in a diverse and slightly left-of-center city.
While East Passyunk Avenue gets gobs of attention for its ever-growing culinary scene, West Passyunk, the portion of the thoroughfare on the opposite side of Broad Street, is no slouch. Westsiders will gladly direct you to Philip’s, the sandwich shop with the outdoor standing counter that always seems to be feeding someone each time you drive by. What they lack in name recognition and grease-stained pomp and circumstance they make up for in simple, solid steaks, including only-at-Phil’s signatures like the “Old Fashioned,” dressed with grilled tomatoes and long hots. Don’t forget that it’s cash only.
Packed with school kids and history-geek tourists by day and wacky partiers by night, Old City can be a bit a of bear to handle regardless of what your watch reads. Mercifully, Sonny’s is there for you at most hours. This remarkably friendly restaurant—no totalitarian ordering rules here, just tell ‘em what you want—does its steaks right, tossing fresh-sliced ribeye on the requisite griddle-crisped Amoroso’s roll with whatever toppings you choose. They do this well and they do this fast, and on weekend nights they do this until 3 in the morning, when we need this life-saving service the most.