21 Best Cheesesteaks in Philly: New & Old School

21 Best Cheesesteaks in Philly: New & Old School

21 Best Cheesesteaks in Philly: New & Old School

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Philadelphia, PA'Best In Class' Cheesesteak List - Philadelphians love cheesesteaks because they trigger happy memories. I'm Jim Pappas, and I have eaten over 1,000 cheesesteaks in the last five years.  When I ask people about their favorite Cheesesteak, I hear about my dad's favorite place, eating in the back of mom's station wagon and waiting in line for a cheesesteak after a night out with friends.

The 21 Best In Class Cheesesteak List

I made a 21 'Best in Class' cheesesteak list because not all cheesesteaks are the same, and we eat them for different occasions.  If I made a 20 'best cheesesteaks' list, it would have 15 of the usual suspects and five new ones to make it my own. People would see the list, have the same old argument about who makes the best Cheesesteak, and then return to eating their favorite Cheesesteak. This is the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure. This is about sharing our favorite cheesesteak memories while making new ones.

1. Old School Cheesesteak

Steve's Prince of Steaks - 7200 Bustleton Ave., Philadelphia, PA

This was the most challenging category to pick a Best of. Why? I grew up in the suburbs. In the suburbs, we got our cheesesteaks from the local pizza shop. They chopped the steak and melted the cheese (usually American) onto the meat. In the City of Philadelphia, the original cheesesteaks were slices of steak cooked flat, aka slab or ribbon. They would smear cheese whiz on the roll. You would usually be standing on the sidewalk ordering through a window. The window may be in a structure that someone built off the side or front of their house. The most famous of these places are Pat's & Geno's. Suppose you watch a TV show or movie based in Philadelphia. In that case, you will eventually see Pat's and Geno's in the background. I like Steve's because they use mini slabs of meat. They cook more evenly and are easy to eat. They melt the cheese and pour it over the meat. https://youtu.be/lG4OI-ukt9I

2. Be Part Of Philadelphia's History Cheesesteak

McGillin's Olde Ale House - 1310 Drury St., Philadelphia, PA

McGillin's is Philadelphia's oldest continuous-use pub. McGillin's opened in 1860. 1860, let that sink in. Abraham Lincoln was president. The Civil War had not started. McGillin's has a sign from 1860 still hanging on a wall today (it's by the steps and free postcards). While immersed in Philadelphia's history, McGillin regularly makes new history by being Philadelphia's most popular place for wedding proposals. Make sure to check out McGillin's wedding guest book. The book contains stories of couples who met, got engaged, celebrated before/after their wedding ceremony, and regularly returned to McGillin's. They make their Cheesesteak with Provolone cheese, and the cheese is melted on top.   The provolone on top makes this a hardy cheesesteak. There is a sneaky good amount of well-seasoned meat under the provolone cheese. https://youtu.be/EI1lLz7FLRU

3. Enjoying Philadelphia's History Cheesesteak

Oh Brother - 206 Market St., Philadelphia, PA

I think everyone is pretty well versed in Philadelphia's role in history. Growing up in this area, we had our annual elementary school field trips to Congress Hall, the Liberty Bell (we used to be able to walk up and touch the Liberty Bell), and Betsey Ross' house. Living in an area, you take things for granted. My Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure has excited me about Philadelphia and its history again. One day, while eating a cheesesteak in Olde City, I came across the original post office. If I had been there before, I had forgotten it was there. It has the original floors. I walked on the same floors as Ben Franklin, and YOU can. It is a functioning post office, and they hand stamp each mail. You can mail a hand-stamped letter from the original post office (remember, McGillin's has free postcards).   I have a fun sidebar about this trip that I will save another time. https://youtu.be/aQdQzxlt05o

4. Soaking Up Philadelphia's Delaware River History Cheesesteak

Shank's Original - 901 S Christopher Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia, PA

Like all colonial cities, Philadelphia was a very active seaport. My four favorite historical things on the river are: 1. I love that the Navy Yard has become a new, vibrant business area while paying great respect to the buildings and history of the Navy Yard.   2. USS New Jersey BB-62; America's most decorated battleship. 3. The Cruiser Olympia: she was the Flagship during the Battle of Manila Bay and helped establish the US as a Naval Power. 4. The SS United States is the largest ocean liner constructed entirely in the United States and the fastest to cross the Atlantic in either direction. No matter how you explore the river, walk, bike, or car, you can pull right into Shanks. It is a road, driveway, Shank's, and Delaware River. They have outside sitting. I've made myself hungry for a great view. https://youtu.be/hR-OtbANINc

5. Not Talked About Cheesesteak

By George! - In the Reading Terminal Market

Reading Terminal Market is Philadelphia's indoor version of the outdoor market in an exotic, faraway city that we see in the movies and on TV. It is the kind of place where a CIA operative meets her contact; locals eat that excellent double-secret local food, and tourists block the aisles while trying to figure out where to eat. I think the Reading Terminal Market doesn't get more local love because everyone not within walking distance to the market thinks parking is complex and/or expensive. I am here to tell you that Reading Terminal Market is home to one of the best Cheesesteaks in the city (ByGeorge won the 2021 March Cheesesteak Madness' People's Bracket) AND the best parking deal in the city, 2 hours of parking for $5. Spend $10 at a Reading Terminal Market vendor and have them validate your parking ticket. https://youtu.be/bNyrZi9YgEs

6. Date Cheesesteak

The Rook Manayunk - 4001 Cresson St, Philadelphia, PA

Cheesesteaks are the perfect date meal for two reasons. 1. You can't have a bad time if you have a great cheesesteak. 2. Cheesesteaks are great conversation starters. Everyone in Philadelphia has a cheesesteak story. The Rook is a great place to take a date with or without the Cheesesteak. It has a fancy restaurant decor with a fun place vibe. You can eat in the dining area, bar, or outside. The Rook is a few blocks off Main St. If your date goes well, you can continue the fun on Main St. If the date doesn't go well, you can drown your sorrows and find your next date on Main St.   The Cheesesteak is meticulously prepared and comes with French fries. https://youtu.be/U1vRlmfBmE8

7. Popi Corner Store Cheesesteak

Fat Mom's Deli & Luncheonette - 2600 Ann St., Philadelphia, PA

This category has a lot of great places. When I ask City dwellers about their favorite Cheesesteak, over 70% of the time, they will mention their Popi/corner store. Early in the adventure, Derek Timm of Bluejeanfood.com told me I would find some of the best cheesesteaks in corner/popi stores. My two favorite things about Corner/popi store cheesesteaks are: 1. They are under $8. In most corner/popi stores, you can add every extra (meat, cheese) to your Cheesesteak, which will still be under $8. 2. They are usually seasoned very well, including mayonnaise. I can never order mayonnaise on my Cheesesteak, but I will happily eat a cheesesteak with mayonnaise on it. Fat Mom's Deli is my favorite because of the outstanding young man at the grill. He got his love for cooking from his grandmother. She has diabetes. He is always looking to make food taste better without using sweeteners. He's doing a great job. https://youtu.be/lQ5zOzBn04k

8. Power lunch Cheesesteak

The Capital Grille - 1338 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA

I want to thank Philly Style Magazine for this category. They put out a list of top cheesesteaks; half were from upscale (I like to refer to them as 'linen napkin') restaurants. After eating 1,000 different cheesesteaks in the last four years, people will often ask if they all start to taste the same. I, and everyone who eats with me, are surprised at how different each Cheesesteak tastes. The Cheesesteak is a steak sandwich. The Capital Grille is unique, and their Cheesesteak is special. The first thing to greet you in the entry vestibule is a 'proper attire' sign. Amigo Dan was wearing sneakers, but they let us stay. Once inside, it is all awesomeness. The hostess was cheerful, the bartender was wearing a tie, and the sweet aroma of power lunches smacked you in the face. I miss the days when I had a big expense account and could eat there regularly. https://youtu.be/1ipnDP0rBIA

9. Make Family Memories Cheesesteak

Cocco’s Pizza - 540 Oak Ave, Primos, PA

The centerpiece of most Philadelphia area childhood memories is a cheesesteak. When I ask people about their favorite Cheesesteak, I hear about my dad's favorite place and the back of Mom's station wagon. My dad's favorite cheesesteak place was essential to my early years. I distinctly remember the two times he took us to get cheesesteaks from different places. Cocco's Pizza is a family operation and a great place to make childhood memories. At their original location in Primos, they have a separate dining room. There is an electric train on an elevated track and Coca-Cola memorabilia (behind glass) to keep the kids busy while they wait for their cheesesteaks. The Cheesesteak comes on a Cocco-made made roll. Cocco makes ice cream and cookies for kids that behaved (or needed a reason to behave). https://youtu.be/YcZa7fdr57Y

10. Brunch Cheesesteak

Cleaver's - 108 S 18th St. Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphians love Sunday brunch almost as much as we love cheesesteaks. When I am brunching as an average person, I can damage a brunch buffet, and I like Jack Daniel's in my Orange Juice. Cleaver's is my spot when I am brunching at the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure. It's not as fancy as Eggs Benedict and Mimosas at the Country Club with Grand Ma Ma. Still, when you taste the sauteed fresh mushrooms and creamy American cheese, you will know it is a fancy cheesesteak. The day I went, it was hot, so I got a boozy milkshake. Cleavers is in Center City on 18th St. I was able to park on 18th St and sit outside. One of the good things about brunching in the center city on a Sunday is that it is relatively empty. https://youtu.be/OTgEOPFSWpU

11. Not a Cheesesteak Cheesesteak

Wilson's Secret Sauce - 265 E Township Line Rd., Upper Darby, PA

Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love. The Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure is all about love and inclusion. There are a lot of great people making great cheesesteak'esque sandwiches. The chicken cheesesteak is the Cheesesteak's closest cousin. - sidebar - why isn't it called a cheese chicken? - I kept this category to chicken cheesesteaks. Wilson's Chicken Cheesesteak is my favorite. I love their chicken cheesesteak, but I love the Wilson's more. They give a ton back to the community. They are closed on Monday and Tuesday. Every Sunday night, they provide whatever won't be fresh on Wednesday to different police, fire, and/or first responder groups. Whenever WMMR's Preston & Steve seek food donations (Philabundance, camp out for hunger), they can count on the Wilson's to be the first and one of the biggest gifters. https://youtu.be/HTGRiuyU5nc

12. It's not a Cheesesteak Cheesesteak

Donkey's Place - 1223 Haddon Ave., Camden, NJ

Philadelphia's number one cheesesteak debate is 'Who makes the best Cheesesteak? The 2nd most debated cheesesteak topic is; 'Does Donkey's Place serve a real cheesesteak?' I understand the debate because my 1st trip to Donkey's Place didn't make me a fan of the Cheesesteak. My biggest problem is that I have crooked teeth, and donkey's Cheesesteak comes on a poppy seed roll. It's a round roll which adds to the confusion for the rest of the cheesesteak world. After a few trips to Donkey's and getting to know the Donkey's story, I am a huge Donkey's fan. I tell people to go at non-peak hours so they can sit in the back. Everything in Donkey's tells part of the Donkey's story. Donkey was real, and there is a picture of him on the wall with Jim Thorpe. You know there is a story about that picture. A customer painted the mural on the opposite wall. Each animal in the mural represents a family member. The place is rich in history. Is it a cheesesteak? Yes. Is it a good cheesesteak? Yes. The Cheesesteak Rob made for the 2nd round of 2021 March Cheesesteak Madness was one of the best cheesesteaks I ever ate. Is the donkey's story captivating? Absolutely! I would love to see a Donkey board game. https://youtu.be/SYHgioRP06A 

13. Adaptation Of A Cheesesteak To The Chef's Culinary Roots

Gilben's Bakery and Specialty Sandwiches - 7405 Stenton Ave., Philadelphia, PA

Jim Morrison took his bandmates out to the desert. They experimented with herbs, expanded their minds, and created beautiful music. The Gilben's went into the kitchen. They experimented with some of their hometown (Louisiana) herbs, expanded their minds, and made their beautiful interpretation of a cheesesteak. The Gilbens are bakers and marketing geniuses because you have to walk by the cakes and donuts to order your Cheesesteak. They make their own garlic bread roll. It is much softer than a traditional cheesesteak roll. It reminds me of a split top roll. The Cheesesteak is heavily seasoned. Go to Gilben's hungry. I already told you they have cake and donuts. Two doors down, they have a Bar-B-Que place. The garlic mashed potatoes were screaming my name. If you have a healthy eating friend, Gilben's has a smoothie shop between the Bar-B-Que and Bakery. https://youtu.be/bteAwYoSGRs

14. Cheesesteak Topping

Ugly Oyster Drafthaus - 21 S 5th St., Reading, PA

A call-in radio show host told me I had no cheesesteak credit for saying I liked peanuts on a cheesesteak. Luckily, The History Channel has taught me that it may take several generations before people recognize the genius of peanuts on cheesesteaks and me. My visit to the Ugly Oyster was among my top five memories from eating over 1,000 cheesesteaks in the last five years. It started with 'free parking courtesy of reading Parking Authority.' It almost ended when I thought the bartender gave me a fake menu. I saw 'cheesesteak toppings; peanuts - $.75' and thought this couldn't be real. She convinced me it was real. I got peanuts on my Cheesesteak. I had a life-changing experience at the Ugly Oyster. Many people do, according to the comments on my original Ugly Oyster post. https://youtu.be/YpgA6l8ZIIE

15. Cheesesteak And A Show Cheesesteak

Zoagies New Jersey - 2901 Marne Highway, Mt Laurel, NJ

When I started my Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure, I was told I was wasting my time because cheesesteaks were all the same: a roll, meat, and cheese. You are glad I didn't listen. Chef Zoagie and his cheesesteaks are entirely different and unique! Excuse me; they are Zompletely Zifferent and Amazing! When you visit Zoagies, you have to speak Zoagie. 'Good Morning' in Zoagie is 'Zood Zorning.' Chef Zoagie is a showman who needs a TV show but may be too big for TV. One of the 2021 March Cheesesteak Madness judges compared visiting Zoagies to a religious experience. He is an excellent following on Instagram. What makes Zoagies different? He deep fries the roll. You read correctly. He deep fries the roll. He also adds his special Zoagies seasoning to the Cheesesteak and french fries. https://youtu.be/ltYtFd7-_es

16. Beer Pairing Cheesesteaks

Double Nickel Brewing Company - 1585 NJ 72, Pennsauken, NJ

One of my five categories (20 points each for 100 points) cheesesteak scoring system is 'overall experience.' It would help to have a great place to eat a cheesesteak. At Double Nickel Brewing, you can sit inside or out, upstairs or downstairs, by the taps or TV, at a high-top or regular table.   They have a great selection of beers. Someone correctly identified my beer when I posted a picture of my beer and Cheesesteak. - Sidebar - Double Nickel, please always have Dot Matrix on tap - All of these things contribute to Double Nickel's greatness, but their greatest attribute is their location. Yes, they are easy to get to on Route 73. But, More importantly, they are 1.5 miles south of Cockadoodle Dan's and 1.5 miles north of Mama's Meatballs. The Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure recognizes that you don't have to eat a cheesesteak for every meal. Still, you should be able to drink a beer. Double Nickel will provide the beer. Cockadoodle Dan's has amazing wings and their signature Tiger Chicken Cheesesteak. Mama's Meatballs has Pizza and award-winning meatballs. The Balboa Meatball won the best Philly Meatball. Big Mama won Best of NJ. https://youtu.be/yt_twcaA4Ck

17. Best Use Of Everyone's Talents Cheesesteak

Work Horse Brewing - 250 King Manor Dr., King of Prussia, PA

I like beer. I like cheesesteaks. I like drinking beer while eating cheesesteaks. This is one of those moments I wish I hadn't flunked 11th-grade English so I could eloquently describe how much I love eating cheesesteaks at craft beer breweries. I love eating cheesesteaks at craft beer breweries; it is the best I can do. Workhorse Brewing was one of my favorite places to eat cheesesteaks. They have a big, open, fun space with a great selection of beers, and everyone who works there is professional and helpful. It was very dark when they told me they had a dedicated food truck and were not allowing outside food. Yes, darker than when I found out I flunked 11th-grade English. True to Workhorse Brewing's awesomeness, they started making their beer cheese with their dedicated food truck!! Their beer cheese is incredible!! The beer cheese on their Cheesesteak is fantastic!! https://youtu.be/lEoE91eb-QM

18. Rookie Of The Year Cheesesteak

Lillo's Tomato Pies - 2503 Marne Highway, Hainesport, NJ

I love it when great people make great cheesesteaks, and I get to tell everyone about them. Lillo's is a family operation. Cooking with friends has become a business; we are glad it did. Let's deal with the elephant in the 'Tomato Pies.' Their Tomato Pies are amazing. Amigo Dan thinks they are worth the hour-plus drive to get one. The Lillo's are from Trenton, and I need to point out two non-Philly things on the menu. 1. Mustard Pizza has a mildly entertaining origin story, but it's mustard on Pizza. There is a reason no one puts mustard on a pizza. 2. I ordered The Italian Cheesesteak the 1st time I went to Lillo's.   I was thinking it would have Broccoli Rabe and Provolone. No, they believe in Italian Hot dogs and make them with Potatoes and Green Peppers. I know, but don't worry, there is a happy ending. The following day I took the potatoes and peppers off my leftover Cheesesteak, mixed them with a fried egg, and put them on a fresh roll. That was a good sandwich. Cheesesteak, not so much. Sr Lillo wasn't happy when I told him I wasn't fond of my Italian Cheesesteak. I think it makes for a great 'how we met story. The Lillo's were making great food from the start and only improving. https://youtu.be/OkBtgAc7opk

19. Traditional Cheesesteak

Delco Steaks - 2567 West Chester Pike, Broomall, PA

Delco Steaks opened its first location in March 2020. Opening a new business at the beginning of a worldwide pandemic within blocks of 3 well-established and respected competitors does not sound like a recipe for a successful business. But the son of a gun, that's what Delco Steaks did, and they are killing it. I just looked online, and they have 6 locations. One is in the Wells Fargo center. They recently purchased my favorite bakery, so I can count on the good rolls. For the 1st round of 2022 March Cheesesteak Madness, they may have made the perfect Cheesesteak. The judges and I were in love from the second I unwrapped it. They have the business model and ingredients; it is up to their Grill people to keep the dream alive. I regularly get asked what makes a great cheesesteak. My answer is the grill person! The meat has to be kept moist. The fat/gristle has to be separated from the meat. The cheese has to be melted thoroughly and distributed evenly. I want to acknowledge and thank all of the great people standing beside a 400+ degree grill to make us cheesesteaks!! https://youtu.be/2_UluRUpyzo

20. The Greatest Cheesesteak

John's Roast Pork - 14 Snyder Ave., Philadelphia, PA

The greatest Cheesesteak comes from John's Roast Pork and has very little to do with the Cheesesteak. One day, I met a man who said, 'John's Roast Pork is one of my top three favorite cheesesteaks. Why do you give it a low grade?' I asked him, 'Why is John's Roast Pork among your top three favorite cheesesteaks?' I could see the emotion and memory come out of him as he said, 'When I was little, the first time my dad and I did something together, we went to a car show in South Philly and then went to get cheesesteaks at John's.' I said,' You probably stood in line between that same metal chain.' He said, 'Yes, and it was great. It was crowded so my dad was holding my hand and keeping me close to him.' I said, 'My dad didn't wait in lines. If there was a line, we went somewhere else.' We then talked about Dad for several minutes. I love that story at least once a week. https://youtu.be/393SgpUJet8

21. Lifetime Achievement Award

Claymont Steak Shop - 3526 Philadelphia Pike, Claymont, De

The Greatest cheesesteak I ever ate was from Claymont Steak Shop. I ate my first official Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure cheesesteak there on May 16, 2018. That Cheesesteak has a funny side story, but the greatest Cheesesteak was from 1979. I cut school with cousin John to get a cheesesteak from Claymont Steaks. We got caught because my Uncle Tom was there eating his lunch. To ensure it was a memorable cheesesteak, the bank next door to Claymont Steaks was getting robbed, and a woman in the parking lot entrusted me to call the police. I love that story so much that I made a video about it. The video includes two great lines from Uncle Tom. https://youtu.be/fgCvrqYq2g0

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Jim PappasThe Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure -   Hi, Jim Pappas and I have eaten hundreds of cheesesteaks in the last year. A year ago, on May 16, 2018, I started my Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure to find the ultimate cheesesteak.

Philadelphians love Cheesesteaks because they trigger happy memories!! The Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure has been a lot of fun. I have met a lot of great people and heard a lot of great memories. Thank you for reading! I hope you go out and make a memory!  Dr. Jim Pappas

Chief Executive Eater at Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure

YouTube channel - Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure

Instagram - Jim "The Cheesesteak Guy" Pappas

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