Where to find Philly’s Best Cheesesteaks… Reimagined
When it comes to fans of cheesesteaks, we all have a favorite spot. This writer’s personal preference is the cheesesteak diavolo (long hots and pepper jack) from Cosmi’s at 8th and Dickinson. Of course, there are also those times when I get hit with a cheesesteak craving, yet want something a little different.
To that end, I’ve compiled a list of places that scratch both of those itches, in no particular order. This is not your ordinary list, and these are not your ordinary cheesesteaks. The 12 places below are serving up elevated versions of Philly’s staple sandwich, and each is worthy of your attention.
This bad boy is served on a house-made pretzel roll, only the protein is not beef. It’s black pepper sausage (sans casing), which is also made in-house, and then topped with caramelized onions and a “spicy beer cheese” made of cream cheese, asiago, cayenne, and Allagash White. ($14)
Lately on weekend nights, you can find the Grubaholics truck posted up at Frankford and Girard until 3 a.m. serving the hungry bar crowd. The jerk chicken cheesesteak ($9) is easily one of their top sellers, and for good reason – just look at that thing. During the week, Grubaholics heads west to University City.
Rocco’s is a small stand with a few locations. My dad, a contractor, swears by the sandwiches at the South Philly one which, naturally, is located right next to The Home Depot off Columbus Boulevard. I’ve only ever had their sausages, which are terrific, but the cheesesteaks also recently got some love from Zagat. Served on Conshohocken Italian Bakery rolls — everyone knows the roll is crucial — cheesesteak options include everything from baja chipotle, to cajun, to teriyaki, garlic, bourbon chicken and more. ($6.50 small; $8 large 12-inch steak)
Chef Peter McAndrews’ renowned sandwich shop has locations in the Italian Market, Northern Liberties and Lincoln Financial Field. Personally, I’ve never been disappointed by any of the creative menu selections, and I’ve had just about all of them ($7-$10). They even offer gluten-free rolls. McAndrews was recently featured on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and whipped up a special pork scrapple cheesesteak with sweet roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions and peppers, sharp provolone and a fried egg. If you’ve never been to Paesano’s, start with the namesake sandwich, made of beef brisket, horseradish mayo, roasted tomatoes, pepperoncino, sharp provolone and a fried egg.
Obviously, we can skip the introduction for Pat’s. But Philadelphia’s cheesesteak originator has rolled out something new for 2016. Every few weeks, owner Frank Olivieri is hosting a guest-chef series, with all proceeds going to select charities. It debuted on Jan. 7 with health coach Sally Eisenberg, who created a vegetarian cheesesteak to benefit the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. Next up: critically-acclaimed Italian chef Marc Vetri, who owns the aforementioned Alla Spina among his half-dozen Philly restaurants. According to philly.com’s Michael Klein, Vetri settled on what he’s calling an Italian Cubano sandwich, consisting of beef topped with Taleggio cheese and fried mortadella from Di Bruno Bros., cherry peppers and onions on Aversa rolls ($10, whiz optional). All proceeds will go to the Vetri Community Partnership.
The reviews for the Philly chicken cheesesteak at Govinda’s are virtually unanimous among the vegan/vegetarian community: it is bomb. This sandwich comes on a seeded roll with soy chicken and rainbow peppers, grilled in olive oil and hing spice with cheese (vegan or cow cheese, your choice, for $7.95). Govinda’s also offers a pepper (soy) steak version, which is not vegan, but does come slathered in their special gravy.
I happen to be partial to the cheesesteak egg rolls at Stephen Starr’s Continental (which comes with bell peppers, mushrooms, onions and sriracha ketchup for $14), and I was also a fan of the carne asada spring rolls at the former Public House. However, it’s simply impossible to ignore the swelling buzz surrounding the cheesesteak spring rolls at Davio’s. This Northern Italian steakhouse plates its flavorful spring rolls with a combination of spicy homemade ketchup and spicy mayo, stacked high with crispy fried onions. It’s still bar food, but with just the right touch of elegance. ($11 for four halves)
Another one from Starr Restaurants, although I can’t count myself among those who have actually tried this sandwich. With a price tag of $120, the Barclay Prime cheesesteak uses wagyu ribeye and comes with foie gras and truffled cheese whiz on a fresh baked sesame roll. Since you’re doling out that kind of coin, it also is served with a half-bottle of champagne, which at last check was Perrier-Joet Grand Brut.
Leave it to Chickie’s and Pete’s to pioneer this most Philly-esque surf-n-turf on a roll. Accompanying the sliced beef sirloin are chunks of fresh seasoned lobster meat and, of course, Chickie’s creamy cheese sauce (i.e. melted American cheese). Full disclosure: while my interest has long been piqued by this one, I’ve never quite been able to pull the trigger and actually order it, although I have heard mostly positive reviews. ($15)
Santucci’s claim to fame is as the home of the original square pizza in the Italian Market. But another menu item that’s been making waves is the garlic bread cheesesteak. It’s just like it sounds: sliced ribeye served on garlic bread in lieu of the traditional Italian roll. Simple, but effective.
Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop (formerly Chink’s)
The name may have changed, but Joe’s is still slinging the same 66-year-old recipe that made Chink’s famous in Northeast Philadelphia, even opening a shiny new Fishtown location this past year. If brunch is your thing, try the steak and eggs sandwich, which is only available at the original Torresdale location, and only on Sundays ($6 small; $8.50 large). A few months back, Joe’s also partnered with Philly Pretzel Factory to bring together two of the city’s great culinary staples on one plate.
Side note: my 2016 diet is coming along swimmingly.