Best Spots In Philadelphia For A Philly Cheesesteak

If you ask five Philadelphians where to grab the best cheesesteak in town, you'll probably get five different answers followed by an hour-long debate involving roll density, meat width, and cheese consistency. Residents take their Philly cheesesteaks seriously, as they should. Philadelphia is a great sandwich hub and the inventor of three iconic sandwiches. Before the Philly cheesesteak was born, the city had already created the hoagie and the roast pork sandwich. 

Most agree that Pat and Harry Olivieri invented the Philly cheesesteak in the 1930s while running a hotdog stand. One day, wanting to eat something other than hotdogs presumably, Pat sent his brother to the butcher, where his brother grabbed some chopped beef. Pat Olivieri grilled it and added the thin, griddled beef to an Italian roll with onions. A cab driver asked for the same thing, and soon after, Pat Olivieri opened Pat's King of Steaks, which still stands today.

As the story goes, in the 1940s, a boozed-up manager at Pat's King of Steaks named "Cocky Joe" Lorenza then added provolone to his steak sandwiches, creating the first-ever Philly cheesesteak. Today, a traditional Philly cheesesteak consists of sliced or chopped ribeye beef, melted provolone, white cheddar, or Cheese Whiz (simply referred to as whiz), and sauteed onions. Sweet or Italian peppers, or "long hots," are also acceptable toppings for a traditional Philly cheesesteak. But whether you want classic or creative, most agree that these spots pile up some of the best Philly cheesesteaks in town.

John's Roast Pork

Although the roast pork sandwich can trace its roots to Italy, Philadelphia's Italian immigrants introduced it to America. Domenic Bucci began selling roast pork sandwiches to South Philly in 1930, and that eatery is now named after his son, John. Previously known as John's Lunch, The Snyder Avenue Lunch Bar, and The Shack, John's Roast Pork in Pennsport is a James Beard award-winning establishment and a Philadelphia institution of sandwich history.

Although roast pork sandwiches may have been its bread and butter, its cheesesteak has been a favorite of dock and construction workers in South Philly for decades. Nowadays, John's Roast Pork is an agreed-upon destination for some of the best Philly cheesesteaks you'll have in Philadelphia. Inside a hollow Carangi's Bakery seeded roll, you'll find a well-constructed meat medley of seasoned beef and cheese. And cheese is an important consideration, as whiz is shunned at the luncheonette. We suggest the sharp provolone.

Dalessandro's Steaks and Hoagies

In the 1960s, Geno's opened across the street from Pat's King of Steaks. You may've heard about the rivalry between Geno's and Pat's in Passyunk. It's quite possibly the most endearing and popular restaurant rivalry in America, but it's definitely not the only one in Philadelphia's cheesesteak scene.

In the restaurant, an inside joke is as follows: When someone visits Philadelphia and asks, "Should I go to Geno's or Pat's?" The local's answer is Dalessandro's. Opened in 1960, the Roxborough establishment is known for its finely-chopped ribeye, which is piled high, and chunky onions. Unlike John's Roast Pork, Dalessandro's offers the whiz, as well as provolone and American. They're also well-known for their cheese mix, which invites all the cheesy flavors to the party.

But to throw our hat out of the ring, Dalessandro's has its own rivalry in Roxborough with Chubby's, and while it doesn't get as much press as Geno's and Pat's, the rivalry is alive and well. To play it safe on our end, Chubby's cheesesteaks feature thicker cuts of beef packed inside Liscio's Italian Bakery rolls, and they're unapologetically pro-wiz. If you're in Northwest Philly, we recommend trying them and making your own decision.

Sonny's Famous Cheesesteaks

In 2014, GQ Magazine ranked Sonny's Famous Cheesesteaks as the best cheesesteak in Philly. Whether they were right or wrong, who knows, their opinion is stylish nonetheless, but Sonny's does make a mean cheesesteak. Sonny's is a particularly good choice for visitors to Philadelphia who are taking in the sites. Located in Old City, the restaurant is only a few blocks from the Liberty Bell and National Consitution Center.

While restaurants around these tourist areas can be ripe with tourist traps, Sonny's does a good job of balancing heritage with convenience. You'll feel like you're in an old-school establishment, and in the march of time, it's getting closer. Opened in 1999, Sonny's Famous Cheesesteaks made quick inroads into the Philly cheesesteak conversation.

While you can imagine the suspicion from locals and other sandwich makers opening shop in a well-trodden tourist area, good is good. And what's neat about Sonny's, besides really good Philly's, is that they explain the history of cheesesteaks, how to order correctly, etc. So, if you're dropping into Philadelphia and want to learn about Philly cheesesteaks while eating one, Sonny's is a great choice.

Angelo's Pizzeria

If you want a good Philly cheesesteak outside of Philadelphia, your best bet is to order one from a pizzeria. And it's no different in Philly. Some of the best cheesesteaks you'll find in town are at neighborhood pizza joints. We don't completely understand the connection between good pizza and good cheesesteaks. Still, it's an undeniable fact, and while Angelo's Pizzeria may not be the genesis of this connection, we can't dismiss the theory, either.

Constructed in a seeded Sarcone's Bakery roll, their cheesesteaks ooze with either Cooper Sharp, American, provolone, or whiz. Choosing to thinly slice versus chop, Angelo's steak features some seasoning only known to neighborhood pizzerias. Maybe that's the secret. But regardless, that pizzeria-esque kick gives their cheesesteaks something special, and their award-winning pizza is pretty excellent as well. As a classic, old-school establishment, Angelo's only takes cash, and it's take-out only.

Woodrow's Sandwich Shop

So far, we've kept it pretty traditional, but we'd be amiss not to mention the evolution of Philly cheesesteaks in the city. Woodrow's Sandwich Shop on South Street is acclaimed for its nuances of the traditional.

For instance, they create their own four-cheese, truffle-infused whiz daily. While some may think this is too hoity-toity, it's also incredibly delicious. If you order the signature Woodrow's Whiz Wit, you'll be served a sandwich of shaved ribeye, caramelized onions (new taste dimension from skillet-fried onions), and a homemade cherry-pepper mayo topped with their truffle-infused whiz. The sandwich is perhaps a bit sweeter than usual (caramelized onions), but the Philly is balanced spectacularly with the seasoned steak.

While Woodrow's may be pushing the gooey goodness future forward, we'd be amiss, not to mention both Pat's and Geno's. Yes, they're both tourist attractions, but they're OGs nonetheless, and finding those neon lights after a night out in Philadelphia for a late-night cheesesteak is as Philly as it gets. But we suggest also trying a few other places in the daylight.