*There is an alphabetical list of links to all of my cheesesteak posts at the bottom of this post.
While I’ve always lived in the Philadelphia region, I didn’t start eating cheesesteaks at the rate of a little over one per week until roughly a year ago. It was at that point that circumstances and happenstance merged to create the opportunity and desire to engage in what would become a major project for me: sampling the area’s steak sandwiches to determine which are the best.
I first accepted a voluntary buyout offer from my longtime employer for reasons that had nothing to do with a desire to write about food. That left me with free time on my hands while I took a breath and decided how to proceed with my life, which is now well into its fifties. During the early days of my freedom, I decided to take a piece of advice I had been given by several people over the years – I started a mostly food-themed blog.
I had been writing about what I eat for years as part of a community of similarly preoccupied foodies on the roadfood.com message board. But that had been dwindling in popularity and was finally taken down altogether during the year leading up to the creation of my blog. With its disappearance, I lost all of the detailed posts I had written on close to a decade’s worth of vacations and what I had eaten during those trips. Recreating those old posts became one of the prime reasons for starting a blog.
Coincidentally, right around the time that I left my job and started the blog, I made two discoveries online that ramped up my interest in cheesesteaks from just being in the mix with all of the other things I enjoy eating to becoming a near obsession.
First, I came across a blog called Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure that belonged to James Pappas, who has incredibly eaten well over 1,000 steaks in the past few years. That blog no longer exists in the same form, but has morphed into a Youtube page.
Around that same time, I discovered a Facebook group called Cheesesteak Gurus and joined it. There are tens of thousands of people in this group – around 70,000 at this point – and many of them enjoy sharing photos of their most recent steaks. As soon as I started following the group’s scroll, I was deluged by a seemingly never-ending wave of mouth-watering cheesesteak photos with accompanying commentary every time I went onto Facebook. Most normal people would have probably found it to be too much and stopped following the group. But I went in the opposite direction.
There could have been no stronger inducement for me to go out and eat more cheesesteaks myself. On top of that, I had a new blog and needed to start adding content to it. There were the old trip reports that I intended to – and gradually did – rewrite. But that wasn’t going to be nearly enough over the long haul.
So I started going out to try cheesesteaks and posting my impressions of them. I had no long-term strategy initially. I just went to whichever steak shops came to mind. But after a couple months of weekly outings and the continued flood of photos and recommendations online, a plan began to form. I decided to do my own survey of the Philly region’s cheesesteaks.
There are simply way too many sandwich shops, pizzerias, and other restaurants serving cheesesteaks in the Philly region for me to seriously consider trying all of them. So I decided to maintain a list of all of the places that are raved about by the Cheesesteak Gurus along with any others from James Pappas’ blog that appeared to have potential and work primarily off that. I also added in places with long-standing good reputations in my general suburban area and a few others that had been on my radar over the years. After getting through all of the steaks I needed to try, I would post a list of my ten favorites.
And now I’ve come to the end of that survey. If you read both a sampling of the early ones and some of the more recent posts from those linked to below, you’ll see how I progressed in my analysis. I thought I knew a decent amount about cheesesteaks at the start of the process, but I was wrong about that. And as I learned more, I tried to make my reviews more detailed rather than just giving each steak a rating.
There are aspects of these sandwiches that had never occurred to me before this project began, but which are crucial to me now – how well the cheese is blended in with the meat for example. I’ve discovered a general preference for seeded rolls over seedless. Cooper Sharp has become my cheese of choice. I had probably never had it on a steak before a year ago.
To say I have a much deeper love for this sandwich than I did before I started writing about them would be an understatement. I have no intention of giving them up or even taking an extended break from them. But after a year of having at least one cheesesteak just about every week, I would like to dial it back a bit – to perhaps an average of one or two per month. At least that’s my thinking at this point. But who knows? I could wind up missing their more frequent presence and eating more than I expect to.
Of course, there are also the potential health consequences of eating so many steaks to think about.
In addition to feeling the need to eat fewer cheesesteaks, I also want to return to the many foods I’ve given up or eaten rarely over the past year for no other reason than I can only eat so many heavy meals per week, and most of the slots were being taken by cheesesteaks.
I can’t remember the last time I had a regular steak – the kind you eat with a knife and fork. Until a year ago, I ate more burgers than cheesesteaks. I doubt I’ve had more than two or three in the past twelve months. I’d also like to spend more time exploring the Philly region’s pizza. That desire has been kindled in no small part by the excellent pies I got to sample while out eating cheesesteaks, as many places serve both.
If you’ve enjoyed reading about my cheesesteak escapades I hope you’ll stick with me and continue to check out what I’m eating – including my future cheesesteaks.
Over the next few days, I’ll be releasing not only my Top 10 list of the Philadelphia region’s best cheesesteaks, but also Top 5 lists of the best steak rolls and pizza I’ve had while out on the cheesesteak trail. I’ll begin with the rolls tomorrow.
I understand that there will be people who think I omitted a steak shop that should have been included. If that’s the case, please leave your suggestion in the comments section. If it looks valid, I’ll do my best to visit it in the coming months. As I’ve already indicated, I will continue to eat and write about cheesesteaks. I intend to update my rankings at least once a year, perhaps more often if new places that clearly belong there come to my attention much sooner.
I explained why I didn’t go to Geno’s Steaks here. Jim’s Steaks on South Street is similarly famous, but also has many detractors. Yet I suspect I’d have gone there using the same logic that drove me to visit Pat’s – and almost Geno’s. Unfortunately, Jim’s suffered a fire in late July and is going to be out of commission for a while. I’ll try to get there at some point, assuming they reopen.
I’ve been to Geno’s, Pat’s, and Jim’s in the past – many times in the case of Jim’s – but with the exception of the one I had last week at Pat’s, I haven’t tried a steak from them in many years.
Joe’s Steaks & Soda Shop of Philadelphia, which is another of the better-known purveyors of cheesesteaks in the city, was also not included. I had several steaks from them during the last couple years before Covid hit and found them to be inconsistent. They also don’t blend the cheese and onions in with the meat. Rather than demonstrating what I already knew to be the case, I decided to bypass revisiting them for the sake of writing a post.
Tony’s of West Reading was not in the running, as it’s outside of the Philadelphia region. Their cheesesteaks are, however, very good and would have at least garnered consideration for the Top 10 list if they were geographically eligible.
Everyone is also obviously welcome to share any disagreements with my lists in the comments. I only request that you do so without being personally nasty or profane. I never mind honest differences of opinion.
As always, thanks for reading.
- The top photo is of the cheesesteak I had at Wolf’s Superior Sandwiches in Aspen, PA.
Here is an alphabetical list of links for all of the cheesesteaks I wrote about. While I went to many places once, there were some that I visited multiple times. This was done to refresh my memory of their steaks, because the steak shop happened to be close to where I live, or for some other reason detailed within the post.
Angelo’s Pizzeria (Philadelphia)
Anna’s Sandwich Shop (Folsom, PA)
Avenue Steaks (Philadelphia)
Big Al’s Eatery (Media, PA)
Brynn Bradley (Woodbury, NJ)
Cafe Carmela (first visit) (Philadelphia)
Cafe Carmela (second visit) (Philadelphia)
Centrella’s Deli & Italian Market (Havertown, PA)
Cocco’s Pizza (Primos, PA)
Cockadoodle Dan’s (Palmyra, NJ)
Collegeville Italian Bakery (first visit) (Collegeville, PA)
Collegeville Italian Bakery (second visit) (Collegeville, PA)
Curly’s Creations (first visit) (Levittown, PA)
Curly’s Creations (second visit) (Levittown, PA)
Da Vinci’s Brick Oven Pizzeria (first visit) Feasterville, PA)
Da Vinci’s Brick Oven Pizzeria (second visit) (Feasterville, PA)
Da Vinci’s Brick Oven Pizzeria (third visit) (Feasterville, PA)
Delco’s Original Steaks & Hoagies (Chadds Ford, PA)
Delco Steaks (first visit) (Broomall, PA)
Delco Steaks (second visit) (Folsom, PA)
Delco Steaks (third visit) (Folsom, PA)
Delco Steaks (fourth visit) (Folsom, PA)
Dino’s Pizza (Warminster, PA)
Donkey’s Place (Camden, NJ)
Farm & Fisherman (Horsham, PA)
Goomba’s Pizza (Colmar, PA)
Goomba’s Pizza (second visit, Colmar, PA)
Guido’s Steaks (Bensalem, PA)
Heritage Hoagies (Huntingdon Valley, PA)
Jaxx Steaks Taproom (first visit) (formerly Charlie’s Roast Pork; Philadelphia)
Jax Steaks Taproom (second visit) (formerly Charlie’s Roast Pork; Philadelphia)
Jaxx Steaks Taproom (third visit) (formerly Charlie’s Roast Pork; Philadelphia)
Joey’s Pizza (Thorndale, PA)
Johnny Paisano’s (first visit) (Springfield, PA)
Johnny Paisano’s (second visit) (Springfield, PA)
Johnny Paisano’s (third visit) (Springfield, PA)
John’s Roast Pork (Philadelphia)
Joseph’s Pizza (Philadelphia)
LaSpada’s Original Steaks & Hoagies (Milmont Park, PA)
Lillo’s Tomato Pies (Hainesport, NJ)
Lorenzo’s Steaks & Hoagies (West Chester, PA)
Mama’s Meatballs (Pennsauken Twp., NJ)
Mama’s Pizzeria (Bala Cynwyd, PA)
Meatheadz (Lawrence Twp., NJ)
Michael’s Sandwich Shop (Woodlyn, PA)
Oh Brother (Philadelphia)
Old School Burgers (Willow Grove, PA)
The Original Thunderbird (Broomall, PA)
Pat’s King of Steaks (Philadelphia)
Phil & Jim’s (Brookhaven, PA)
Pompei’s State Street Sandwiches (Media, PA)
Raceway Bagels (Berlin, NJ)
The Rook (Philadelphia)
Rock’s Italian Deli (Rockledge, PA)
Semolina Pizza (Southampton, PA)
Sofie’s Steaks (Morton, PA)
Steve’s Prince of Steaks (Philadelphia)
Stoli’s Steaks (Philadelphia)
Tonelli’s Pizza Pub (Horsham, PA)
Tony’s (West Reading, PA)
Walt’s Pizza & Grille (Clifton Heights, PA)
Wolf’s Superior Sandwiches (Aston, PA)
- I’d like to thank the friends and family who joined me on select outings. Their presence, in addition to providing welcome company, also enabled me to sample more than one steak during a single outing or to try a shop’s pizza in addition to their cheesesteak. I’m referring to my wife and parents, John, Jim, Robert, Kent, Andy, Mike, George, Virginia, Kamala, Helene, Pete & Pete, Joe & Joe, Lorenzo, and Dan. If I’ve overlooked anyone, I apologize. Please don’t hesitate to drop me a reminder.