Eat the Best Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia

The Philly Cheesesteak is a part of Philadelphia’s brotherly love language, and for many locals, that love is monogamous: there is only one right way to make a philly cheesesteak, one “best” place to get it, and suggesting anything to the contrary borders on blasphemy.

For starters, it’s “Philly Cheesesteak” and not “Philly Cheese Steak”. Beyond spelling, the rules on making, ordering, and eating the proper Philly Cheesesteak fall somewhere between personal preference and religious crusade.

We’ll decipher the elements of this lovingly heated debate, share the best places to get an authentic Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia, and patiently wait for the inevitable hoard of Philly locals to angrily denounce the credibility of anything that opposes their personal opinion. Let’s get started!

What’s in a Philly Cheesesteak?

The main ingredients in a Philly Cheesesteak are bread, steak, cheese, and onions. It’s simple. It’s cheap. It’s casual. But it’s also serious business.

The Bread

The bread makes the sandwich, and for Philly Cheesesteaks, it all starts with an Italian roll. Its pillowy soft interior should soak up the delicious oil and juices stuffed inside. It’s crusty, crackled exterior should offer substantial protection from the moisture, making it sog-free and giving each bite a subtle chomp.

For cheesesteak makers, the bread is an ingredient so important to the final product that they often keep their source a complete secret: they’ll never divulge from what local bakery their bread has been procured. Others proudly promote their bread like a badge of honor, with some of the most popular bakeries being Carangi’s, Liscio’s, Aversa’s, and Amoroso’s.

No matter where the bread derives, there’s only one (real) option: an Italian sub roll with a crispy exterior and pillowy soft inside.

The Meat

Philly Cheesesteaks are traditionally made with Rib-eye steak prepared in one of three ways:

  • Finely chopped
  • Pulled or chopped into ribbons
  • Thinly shaved larger pieces

You’ll find some shops deviate from this tradition, putting their own twist on the classic in hopes of carving their own niche, but it’s a deviation from the norm that deserves an asterisk. Some examples: Steve’s Prince of Steaks uses thick shaved rib-eye, Dalessandro’s minces their meat, and Blackbird Pizza makes a vegan philly cheesesteak.

However it’s done, popular consensus suggests that pieces too small dry out and pieces too large don’t soak up enough juices.

The meat is then tossed on the griddle, usually in oil (and sometimes with toppings and other sauces), and fried to perfection before making its way onto the food delivery system (aka bread).

The Cheese

At first there was just the Philly Steak sandwich. No cheese. But a cheesesteak isn’t a cheesesteak without it, so God bless the soul who first endeavored to slap some American cheese on the steak sandwich. The combination quickly rose in popularity in the 1940s, became the defacto standard in the 1950s, finally becoming the household “Philly Cheesesteak” favorite we all know today.

There are three types of cheese commonly found on Philly Cheesesteaks:

  • American cheese: the most popular choice
  • Provolone: the stronger-flavored original
  • Cheez Whiz: local Philly favorite, #bucketlisted

The cheese is typically added to the steak while still on the griddle, melted on top and mixed in, creating a consistent gooey-ness throughout. American cheese is most popular and more subtle, provolone is strong and delicious but overwhelming to some, and Cheez Whiz is a different story altogether.

Invented in 1953, Cheez Whiz is a processed cheese made by Kraft foods that people either love or hate. It has a different texture and consistency than American and Provolone. The liquid-like consistency drips and melds with the steak. There aren’t a lot of places outside Philadelphia that offer Philly Cheesesteaks with cheez whiz, which is exactly why it’s the top option for travelers getting their first Philly Cheesesteak in Philly. Some purveyors even offer homemade whiz of their own.

There isn’t a right or wrong cheese to put on a steak sandwich, but if isn’t American, Provolone, or Whiz, it isn’t a Philly Cheesesteak.

Onions & Toppings

The only optional ingredient in a Philly Cheesesteak is onions (“Cheese” and “Steak” are in the name and the bread makes the sandwich). They’re typically spanish or yellow onions (sometimes white), but all you need to know is with or without. They’ll fry them on the griddle along with the meat and in your Cheesesteak they go.

Putting other ingredients like lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, hot peppers, sweet peppers, mushrooms, hot sauce, ketchup, or mayonnaise on your cheesesteak isn’t against the law, but it definitively morphs your Philly Cheesesteak into something else entirely.

Unique flavors, toppings, and ingredients are brilliant for foodies who want something new, but you can’t check it off your bucket list if you’ve slayed a different beast. If it’s got anything beyond Italian bread, Rib-eye steak, American/Provolone/Whiz cheese, and onions? It’s not a Philly Cheesesteak.

How to order a Philly Cheesesteak

When you’re finally in Philadelphia ready to order a Philly Cheesesteak for the first time, you need only remember two things:

  1. What cheese: American, Provolone, or Whiz
  2. “With” or “without” onions

Combine these two selections into a single word and that’s exactly how you’ll order:

  1. Whiz With (cheez Whiz , with onions)
  2. Whiz Without (cheez Whiz, No onions)
  3. American With (american cheese, with nions)
  4. American Without (american cheese, no onions)
  5. Provolone Without (provolone cheese, with onions)
  6. Provolone Without (provolone cheese, no onions)

Drop the “h” in “with” or “without” to sound like a true local (Whiz Wit for Cheez Whiz without onions).

That’s right: there are only six possible options when ordering an authentic Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia. Make sure you decide before getting in line, or risk enraging the locals who want nothing more than a fast-moving line so they can scarf down their cheesesteak with impunity.

If you’ve never ordered a Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia, you’ll want to order a “Whiz Wit”- even with the iconic food spreading across the globe, Whiz Wit remains a truly unique, local blue-collar delicacy that you need to try at least once. If only to say you did.

The Best Philly Cheesesteak in Philly

This delicate topic could start a brawl in Philadelphia, but since we’re on the internet, we’ve done the brave work of putting together the definitive list of the best places to get a Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia.

Pat’s King of Steaks

If you’ve never had a Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia, the best place to get your first is at Pat’s, where the Philly Cheesesteak was invented.

On an ordinary Philadelphia day in 1930, hot dog stand owner Pat Olivieri got sick of eating his own hot dogs for lunch, and decided to try something new. He had a local butcher slice up some meat, put it on his hot dog grill, and stuffed it in a bun. A taxi driver asked for a bite, loved it, suggested he start selling that instead of hot dogs, and a legend was born.

By 1940, Olivieri was able to expand, renting restaurant space where the hot dog stand once stood. He quickly became his own larger-than-life hype man, seeking out celebrities, giving them free sandwiches, and posing for pictures. It wasn’t until the 1950s that cheese was added, turning Pat’s “steak sandwich” into the “Philly Cheesesteak” we know and love today.

Pat’s doesn’t serve the most delicious cheesesteak, nor is its location particularly inviting in ambiance or attitude, but this hole-in-wall cheesesteak mecca is where it all started. It’s open 24 hours/day, and ready to serve you the Whiz (which is exactly what they recommend).

Geno’s Steaks

In 1966, Joey Vento opened Geno’s Steaks (named after his son) directly across the street from Pat’s King of Steaks: “If you want to sell cheesesteaks, you go to where people buy cheesesteaks,” Vento explained.

He was right: the intersection of 9th Street and Passyunk, home to both Pat’s and Geno’s, sells more combined Cheesesteaks than anywhere else on earth. While Vento admits that “Pat’s invented the Cheesesteak,” he also claims that “Geno’s perfected it.”

It’s a rivalry. Everyone loves a good rivalry. Pat’s calls itself “King of Steaks” so Geno’s calls itself the “Ace of Steaks”. Pat’s dismisses Geno’s completely, often calling them, “the guy across the street.” There is an unbounding pettiness to their one-upsmanship, and people love it.

In 1976, Sylvester Stallone’s character from the movie “Rocky” ate a cheesesteak at Pat’s, catapulting the Cheesesteak war to new heights. People flocked to taste Rocky Balboa’s favorite sandwich, and when they arrived, Geno’s was sitting across the street, ready to serve them, too.

Just like the rivalry between Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa in the movie, the rivalry between Pat’s and Geno’s was built on a novelty. You’ve got the no-nonsense old-school style of Pat’s, and the glitz, glam, neon lights, and showmanship of Geno’s.

Neither Pat’s or Geno’s serve the BEST cheesesteaks, but we recommend them as the #1 and #2 place to get a cheesesteak for good reason: it makes for a great story and people are sentimental. Apollo Creed would agree, which is exactly why Rocky won an Oscar for Best Picture in 1977.

Half the fun of visiting Pat’s and Geno’s is getting one of each and deciding for yourself which is better, but if you’re in it purely for the deliciousness, there are better options.

John’s Roast Pork

John’s Roast Pork makes some of the best sandwiches in the world, and they’ve got the James Beard Foundation Award to prove it. Give it a try for yourself: the JRP Philly Cheesesteak is the Best Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia.

Like Pat’s King of Steaks, John’s opened in 1930 and is family-owned and operated. It attracted its cult-following more recently, but it’s long deserved. And truth be told, it’s namesake roast pork sandwich might be even better than the cheesesteak.

Located at the intersection of Snyder Ave. and Weccacoe Ave in South Philly, you’ll often find the owner behind the counter, shleppin the good stuff onto a Carangi Bakery seeded roll until the sun goes down.

Worth noting: cheez whiz is NOT on the menu here.


This neighborhood joint isn’t near city center, but it’s as authentic as they come, serving up Philly Cheesesteaks from a former corner grocery store since 1960.

The steak is finely chopped, some would even say minced, making it a target for traditionalists. Regardless of how finely it’s severed into bits, the fact remains: it’s damn good.

When coupled with their large, signature chunks of marinated onions? Mmm…. it’s not hard to argue Dalessandro’s should be #1 on the list. It even made an appearance on the Jimmy Fallon show.

Joe’s Steak & Soda Shop

Since 1949, Joe’s has been serving up cheesesteaks and sodas to North Philly customers, and visiting today is like a trip back in time.

Originally named “Chink’s Steaks” for the almond-shaped eyes of its owner (Samuel Sherman), long-time employee Joe Groh finally decided to change the name in 2013. He acquired the business in 1999, fielded racism-related complaints for decades, and finally made the switch. Our only complaint is that it didn’t happen sooner.

Times change, but thankfully little has changed at Joe’s besides the name and ownership: their uber-fresh steak, outrageously delicious milkshakes, and vintage soda fountain make a visit to the original Torresdale Avenue shop an absolute delight.

Steve’s Prince of Steaks

Pat’s is the self-proclaimed King, Geno’s claims to be the Ace, but Steve’s Prince of Steaks may be mightier than both. Is it time for the successor to claim the crown?

First opened in 1980 as a stand near Roosevelt Mall, Steve’s has since expanded the empire to multiple locations, all sporting the true-to-their-roots steel diner vibe.

Although claiming to serve “The Best Cheese Steaks in Philadelphia”, we’d make a couple of side notes: (1) Steve’s steak is served more chunky than most, and (2) It’s “Cheesesteaks” not “Cheese Steaks”, Steve!

Jim’s South Street

Jim’s Steaks opened its original location on 62nd Street in West Philadelphia in 1939 and expanded to a 2nd location on South Street in 1976. The death of its founders in 2011 and 2015 prompted an ownership change, and the locations are now operated separately. Both locations serve up great sandwiches, but the Art Deco inspired South Street location is unmissable.

Despite cooking top round steak instead of rib-eye steak, Jim’s is among the more traditional cheesesteak shops in Philly, worthy of a visit for the tradition alone.

The finely chopped steak is served with oversized onion chunks (should you choose), and although the line can get outrageously long, it’s worth the wait.

Tony Luke’s

If it seems disingenuous and borderline criminal to include a chain restaurant on this list, we feel your pain. It first opened in 1992, spread rapidly in the 2000s, and can now be found in multiple states including at sports arenas, casinos, airports, and retail stores.

That doesn’t exactly sound appetizing, but here’s the thing: the cheesesteaks are consistently great.

They serve a slab-style cheesesteak with thicker slices than your average Philly sandwich, served on Liscio rolls. They’re definitely not the best Philly Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, but they’re good, they’re accessible, and like most chain restaurants- they’re consistent.

Also Worth Trying

There are more shops serving Philly Cheesesteaks in Philly than pixels on the screen you’re using right now. Obviously we can’t include them all. Nevertheless, here are some additional noteworthy options we’d be remiss to not include:

  • Campo’s – near the Liberty Bell, convenient for tourists
  • Tony Luke’s– turned into a chain restaurant but still pretty good
  • Sonny’s Famous Cheesesteaks– Newb friendly staff and ordering since 2000
  • Shank’s Original Pier 40– cheesesteak with a view on Delaware River waterfront
  • Woodrow’s Sandwich Shop– new kid on the block, untraditional but delicious truffle wiz and cherry pepper mayo
  • Ishkabibble’s – pioneer of the chicken cheesesteak and signature “gremlin” drink (grape soda mixed with lemonade)
  • Blackbird Pizza – Vegan cheesesteak with garlic and rosemary seared seitan complete with vegan whiz
  • Max’s Steaks– enormous cheesesteaks featured in the movie “Creed” (Rocky spinoff)
  • Cleavers– modern take on classic cheesesteaks near Rittenhouse Square
  • Philips– Open 24/7 on the West side of Passyunk
  • Chubby’s- all the usual plus a full bar
  • Angelo’s Pizzeria– much more than just Cheesesteaks
  • Jimmy G’s– serves renditions like the Philadelphia Cream Cheesesteak
  • Oh Brother– new Cheesesteak gem in Old Town

If your favorite place doesn’t appear on our list, or if you feel personally offended by our rankings, we invite you to take your battle to social media. Give us the ‘ole Philly swagger and vehemently oppose our opinion without mincing words. We’ll be updating this article regularly based on your feedback, and of course our continued sampling of Philly Cheesesteaks far and wide.

The REAL Best Philly Cheesesteak

Let’s get something straight: a traditional Philly Cheesesteak is steak, cheese, and maybe onions, slapped on a piece of bread. It was invented on a hot dog cart by a hungry guy trying to make a buck. It’s not rocket science.

The most important part of buying a Philly Cheesesteak in Philly is that you’re supporting a small business in Philadelphia. There are thousands of struggling business owners, just starting their story, as Pat’s and Geno’s did in the 1930s and 1960s.

The most authentic Philly Cheesesteaks aren’t just found at restaurants with national exposure. Perhaps the contrary: the Philly Cheesesteak is an embodiment of gritty, hard-working, blue collar startups operating on a shoe-string budget. To buy a cheesesteak from a local no-name hole-in-the-wall is a way of celebrating the Philly Cheesesteak tradition itself.