Here in Philly, cheesesteaks are more than just sustenance: They’re civic icons, tourist draws and — let’s own it — cultural obsessions.
We want to help you find the best cheesesteaks in Philadelphia because, while often imitated around the world, the authentic Philly cheesesteak is rarely duplicated successfully outside of Philadelphia. (Sorry, we had to say it.)
So, What Is A Cheesesteak?
A cheesesteak — always one word — consists of a long, crusty roll filled with thinly sliced, freshly sautéed ribeye beef and melted cheese. The art of cheesesteak preparation lies in the balance of flavors, textures and what is often referred to as the drip factor.
For many dedicated cheesesteak consumers, the definitive cheese of choice is Cheez Whiz, referred to as, simply, Whiz, but American and provolone are widely accepted alternatives. Other common toppings include sautéed onions, ketchup and sweet or hot — “long hots” — peppers.
There are lots of creative takes out there on this region’s specialty sandwich, too, but here we focus mostly on where to get the classic Philly cheesesteak. (That said, there are a few worthy contenders that stray slightly from the tried-and-true fashion, in a seriously delicious way.)
Below, our picks for notable spots dishing Philly cheesesteaks are organized by area, so you can sample more than one cheesesteak on any neighborhood outing.
Here’s the lowdown on where to find some of the best cheesesteaks in Philadelphia.
Click for Cheesesteak Pro Tips
How to Order a Cheesesteak
Nearly every pizza or sandwich shop on any corner of every Philly neighborhood serves up the casual delicacy. One important thing to keep in mind: At many spots, there’s a specific way to order a cheesesteak.
Those who crave a cheesesteak must first consider two critical questions:
- What kind of cheese?
- Onions or no onions?
Those who want Cheez Whiz and onions can ask for a “Whiz Wit.” Those who want provolone without onions can ask for a “Provolone Witout.”
The origin of the cheesesteak dates back to 1930, when, during one fateful lunch hour, South Philly hot dog vendor Pat Olivieri slapped some beef from the butcher on his grill. A cabbie driving by sniffed something delicious, leaned out his window and requested his own. It didn’t take long for news of the creation to spread. Other taxi drivers came to Olivieri demanding their own steak sandwiches.
Soon after, the vendor opened a permanent shop on 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, Pat’s King of Steaks, to sell his invention to the masses. Pat’s grills now sizzle 24 hours a day. So do the grills at Geno’s Steaks, Pat’s across-the-street-rival that opened in 1966. The late owner of Geno’s claims to have first added cheese to the sandwich.
For more than half a century, Pat’s and Geno’s have waged a (mostly) friendly competition, with visitors often ordering from both shops to see which they deem the winner.
Our suggestion? Don’t stop the taste-testing at Pat’s and Geno’s. A visit to Philadelphia would be incomplete without digging in to several of the best cheesesteaks in Philly.