The Philly cheesesteak. There is no more iconic food in America than this tasty dish. Locals will swear by their favorites and it is the #1 thing on most tourists bucket list. Breaking it down, this is the definitive guide to the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia according to a local.
Cheesesteaks in Philly are an absolute institution in the city and one of the classic Philadelphia foods. And while the tastes vary greatly, they are all basically the same thing. First you start with the beef. The best Philly cheesesteak is made from ribeye steak sliced thin and thoroughly worked on a flat-top grill. Some places will use lesser cuts of meat, such as a chuck roast, to save on food costs, but you can taste the difference with ribeye.
Next is the bread. Nothing but a firm Italian roll will do. You need bread that will hold up to the folding and the grease. The roll is the unsung hero of the sandwich and most of the best Philly cheesesteak places will live and die by their rolls. Die-hard steak lovers even have favorite bakeries – Amoroso, Conshohocken Italian Bakery and Sarcone’s Bakery – and will choose their cheesesteak shop based on the bakery.
And then there are the toppings. For die-hard cheesesteak overs, there are really only two choices here. First, we are talking With or Without. And that refers to the fried onions. You are getting your steak with fried onions or without friend onions. Yes, you will see some people ask for peppers, mushrooms or any other cheesesteak toppings their little minds can come up with. Yes, some of these concoctions are even tasty. But they are not authentic Philly cheesesteaks.
And the second question is cheese. There are three acceptable options: American, provolone, and that orange, gooey substance known as cheese whiz. Purists opt for American. The foodies will go for provolone. And if you want a delicious flavor bomb that will blow your mind, go for the cheese whiz. Once you get over the snob factor, there’s really no stopping the cheese whiz.
There’s a culture of ordering here: skip all unnecessary words and even some letters. “Steak prov wit out” for one with provolone cheese and no fried onions. “Steak wiz wit” for one with cheese whiz and fried onions. And remember, most places are cash only – so have your money ready before you order.
The roast pork sandwich is a close cousin to the cheesesteak, but is really quite different. While most places will offer both, some specialize in one or the other. We’ve noted the good roast pork sandwiches, but the focus here is on the cheesesteak.
A final note: unlike other Philadelphia cheesesteak guides on the Internet, we have been to every single one. We’ve sampled the best (and the worst) Philly cheesesteaks. You won’t find some generic article by someone living a thousand miles away using images they’ve found on Internet. We have done the research, so you don’t have to.
And here they are, in order, from best to worst:
1. Dalessandro’s Steaks and Hoagies
Located on Henry Avenue in the Roxborough section of the city, Dalessandro’s has been serving up incredible cheesesteaks and hoagies for over 50 years. They focus on super fresh ingredients and cooked-to-order steaks. Of the classic cheesesteak restaurants in the city, Dalessandro’s is head and shoulders above the rest.
The steaks here come out tender, but not soggy in grease (unlike some other places). They differentiate themselves by using large pieces of fried onion that you can really taste. Wiz wit is the best choice here. Also, marinara dipping sauce is a popular addition for many locals. Located at 600 Wendover Street (corner of Henry Avenue). Learn more.
2. Poe’s Sandwich Joint
Poe’s Sandwiches may be the best sandwich shop in the city. Led by Nikki Allen Poe (N.A. Poe), a community activist with a deep understanding of exactly what constitutes comfort food, continues to bring forth intensively creative…and delicious sandwiches.
Given that kind of concept, it makes sense that Poe’s Joint makes one of the absolute best cheesesteaks in the city. They offer the “Uncle Tony” a more traditional wiz wit and the high- brow “Gary Cooper” with hand sliced ribeye and Cooper Sharp cheese. Both are remarkable, but the Gary Cooper is divine.
Located inside the Human Robot Brewery, the industrial space offers a cool vibe. There are lots of dedicated cheesesteak shops, but Poe’s is completely unique and totally amazing. Located at 1710 N. 5th Street. Learn more.
3. Sonny’s Famous Steaks
Locals tend to look down on Sonny’s for its Old City location and Market Street address. There is nothing about Sonny’s that says this would be a good cheesesteak. And that is where the prevailing local ideology is all wrong.
Sonny’s is not a made-for-tourist spot in Center City. It is a legit shop with actual friendly service (South Philly take note). They serve a delicious steak on an Italian roll with extra-creamy whiz goodness.
That Sonny’s is so often overlooked in the pantheon of Philly cheesesteaks is both a crime and a blessing (shorter lines!). Located at 228 Market Street. Learn more.
4. Barclay Prime
Best known as one of the city’s finest steakhouses, Barclay Prime serves one of the best cheesesteaks in the city…at a price to match. The cheesesteak costs a whopping $140 dollars and it is worth every penny. For the casual cheesesteak connoisseur, this is big financial investment and we’d rank it a bit higher if it were reasonable. For the serious steak lover, this is mandatory eating.
The cheesesteak is made with A6 Japanese Wagyu ribeye, grilled onions, homemade truffle cheese whiz, foie gras on a fresh baked sesame seed roll. The steak is paired with a bottle of champagne. The steak is incredible and is one of the most memorable dining experiences we’ve had in the city in a long time. Put this on your bucket list. Located at 237 S. 18th Street. Learn more.
5. McNally’s Tavern
After the cheesesteak and the roast pork, Philadelphia’s most famous contribution to the sandwich world is the Schmitter. Invented at McNally’s Tavern in the Chestnut Hill section of the city, but served at the sports stadiums and copied by…well…everyone, the Schmitter has been featured on all the food TV shows and is sometimes called the ‘Cousin of the Cheesesteak.’ It’s not. They’re not even in the same family. It is remarkable, but the Schmitter is a whole different article.
McNally’s also does cheesesteaks. Their traditional beef steak is good. But their chicken cheesesteak is a legend and is the best in the city. Delicious breast and thigh meat, moist and tender, worked with ample amounts of cheese on a Conshy long roll. The McNally’s chicken cheesesteak is sublime! Located at 8634 Germantown Avenue in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood. Or learn more.
6. Mama’s Pizzeria
Like we’ve said before, pizza shops can make great cheesesteaks. And despite being called a pizzeria, Mama’s doesn’t make any pizzas. From the outside, the fading sign and cracked parking lot have all the hallmarks of a business that has been around for a long time. Inside, you are immediately hit with the grease perfume endemic to all good steak shops.
Despite being tucked into an obscure corner of Montgomery County and only open for a few hours a week (mostly around late breakfast/early lunch time and never when you actually want a cheesesteak at night), Mama’s is worth the trip. The cheesesteak comes with their own proprietary cheese blend and fat, fried onions. They chop the steak finer than anyone else in the city – it comes out minced (and is an acquired taste). Once the cheese is worked in, it is almost like a cheesy, ground beef. In terms of texture, it is definitely unique in the city. And it’s heavenly to eat!
They also lightly scoop their delicious rolls to fit more in. Yes, I realize scooping is one of those things that divides this city like almost nothing else, but it works here. Their chicken cheesesteak is also exceptional (perhaps #2 in the city behind only McNally’s).
Tip: When they run out of rolls, they close. They post their limited hours online, but often close hours early! Located at 426 Belmont Ave in Bala Cynwyd. Learn more.
7. Pizza Jawn
Perhaps better known for one of the best pizzas in Philadelphia, Manayunk’s Pizza Jawn also serves up the best cheesesteak in the city. While other places are better known and certainly more popular with tourists, locals know that pizza shops can serve up some amazing steaks. And Pizza Jawn delivers the best! The only problem…it’s not on the regular menu and is only available as a special. If it were a regular item, this would be #1 on the list.
They use the highest quality meat and layer it into a delicious sesame seed roll. With whiz and fried onions is the way to go here. The only downside to Pizza Jawn is the extremely limited supply and complex online ordering system. If you can secure a spot, it is well worth the trip to Manayunk to dig into this delicious sandwich. They also have a roast pork, which is less remarkable. Located at 4330 Main Street in Manayunk. Learn more.
8. Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop
Don’t let the throwback 1950s décor and color schemes fool you, this is serious eats. For decades, this was known by the name Chink’s Steaks, after the founder Samuel “Chink” Sherman. After the owner died, the restaurant was taken over by employee Joe Groh, and the offensive name was retired.
But the quality of steak has never deviated from its path to cheesesteak perfection. The steaks are stuffed full of prime ribeye on a hard roll. Add in whiz and onions, and you can’t beat it.
Joe’s operated the original location on Torresdale Avenue in a working-class section of Northeast Philadelphia for decades. However, the original located closed in 2022, but they still operate a decidedly more upscale (and much busier) location in the Fishtown neighborhood. Located at 1 W. Girard Avenue in Fishtown. Learn more.