Your Destination Guide to Philadelphia

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Philly Cheesesteaks

Philly Cheesesteaks
Philly Cheesesteaks

© Jay Reed

The battle has raged for decades – who makes the best cheesesteak in the City of Brotherly Love? The uninitiated might not know where to begin when ordering that first Philly cheesesteak – the choices are staggering, both in ingredient options and establishments. Upon arriving in Philadelphia with a grumbling stomach, you might just go straight to Pat's King of Steaks or rival Geno's, located across the street from one another at 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue. But according to Philadelphia Magazine's annual "best of Philly" polls, neither Pat's nor Geno's have been "where-it's-at" cheesesteak-wise since 2000 and 2001 (respectively). Some locals and frequent day-trippers grumble that the two have become tourist traps, but others still swear by their tried and tested recipe for sandwich success. So who really makes the best cheesesteak in town? Take a tour and let your taste buds decide.

It all started with the hoagie roll, or "hoggie" as it was originally called – freshly baked white Italian bread, slightly crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. Add succulent grilled top-round or rib eye steak, sliced or chopped, dripping with juice on a bed of onions – what could possibly be more mouthwatering? The addition of melted cheese, of course – creamy American or Cheez Whiz, sharp provolone, or even stringy mozzarella. Pat and Harry Oliveri are credited with constructing the first incarnation of the sandwich (sans cheese) in 1930. After opening Pat's King of Steaks, Oliveri added cheese due to popular demand, and the cheesesteak as we know it today was born. It's now part of the menu at hundreds of restaurants nationally, but only in Philly can you get an authentic cheesesteak and savor it surrounded by the city that so lovingly created and consumed it almost 80 years ago. Today, different cuts and styles of meat, cheeses, and rolls are offered, along with toppings like mushrooms, grilled peppers, and more. There are variations on the traditional cheesesteak that include the pizza steak, the chicken cheesesteak, and a myriad of vegetarian and vegan options. There is so much variety available –– and so many locations that do it all so well – that the search for the perfect sandwich can be daunting.

Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's, both in South Philly, are open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Their order process moves fast and you will have a hot sandwich in your hands within minutes, but make sure you know what you want before you arrive to avoid holding up the line -- or be prepared to endure public berating by impatient employees. There's no indoor seating, so these two are perfect if you want to get out and explore with a meal on the go. Jim's Steaks has four locations, and typically visitors enjoy the 5th and South Street restaurant during an afternoon trip to the South Street shops and markets. Jim's rib eye cuts are chopped and placed on top of your choice of cheese in a delicious roll, and seating upstairs is available so you can rest your feet from all that window shopping. The original Jim's Steaks is at North 62nd Street in West Philly.

Cosmi's Deli at the corner of 8th Street and Dickinson was voted best for cheesesteaks by Philadelphia Magazine in 2004 and 2008. They provide generous portions, but take a bit more time to prepare than diners who frequent Pat's, Geno's, or street vendors may be used to. The wait is worth it. Steve's Prince of Steaks serves up rib eye which is grilled whole, not chopped. The Bustleton & St Vincent St. location in North Philly was featured on the Food Network as Philly's best kept secret and they have since opened a new store in 1999 at Comly Road and Roosevelt Boulevard.

Vegetarian or vegan? No problem. Gianna's Grille at 507 South 6th Street offers one menu for meat-eaters, as well as one for vegetarians with selections that can all be "veganized." Make sure to specify that you want the vegan option when ordering, and be specific about your choice of cheese – Gianna's has American, provolone, mozzarella, cheez whiz, and soy cheese all available. Their alternative options include steak, chicken, and sausage sandwiches. Govinda's Vegetarian at South and Broad Streets has fine dining as well as "Gourmet to Go," their take-out sandwich service, which is available 'til midnight on weekends. Philly chicken cheesesteak (grilled soy chicken with peppers, with vegan or cow cheese), and Philly pepper steak sandwich (non-vegan soy steak with cheese and peppers) are both offered.

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