Updated to include Larry’s Steaks in the rankings (11/30/22)
Updates: Rankings, Added RTM, Poe’s and updated Tony Luke’s to new name/writeup (11/2/2022)
Updated to include Cosmi’s deli in the rankings (11/30/21)
Updated to include new cheeseteak option at WFC (11/22/21)
Updated to include Oh Brother Philly in the rankings (11/3/21)
This is it. After reading this list you will never have to look at another cheesesteak ranking in your life. Bookmark it, share the link with your friends, or heck, print it out and put it in your neighbors’ mailboxes. After years of research and developing a specific scientific method on evaluating our beloved cholesterol-busting monstrosity, a definitive ranking of the best cheesesteaks in the Philadelphia area has been completed. Grading a cheesesteak, you must break it down into the following components in this specific order:
1. Quality of the bread
2. Quality/flavor of the steak
3. Distribution of cheese/onions
I tend to order my cheesesteaks the same way wherever I go, which is with American cheese and fried onions. While I don’t think there should be any specific “rules” for how a cheesesteak can be enjoyed, as a “connoisseur” this is what I use as my base test. You can substitute another cheese (provolone and wiz are acceptable choices). Fried onions are a must. I don’t hate, but I understand folks that enjoy bell peppers (I do this at home occasionally) and mushrooms. Regardless of the toppings they MUST be incorporated into the meat. None of that laying it on the top crap. Lastly, you want to make sure the roll is crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. Props to the establishment if they scoop out the extra breading inside to ensure maximum meat capacity.
If you must complain about the order of this ranking (you are wrong), please do so below in the comments and I will respond accordingly with swift passive-aggressive remarks. Now, let’s get started...
Dishonorable Mention: Reading Terminal Market
Is this cheating? Maybe! However, this is my list and I’ll be damned if this doesn’t stop me from posting my extremely opinionated thoughts. The iconic Reading Terminal Market (RTM) houses some legendary eateries such as DiNic’s Roast Pork, Termini Bakery, and Beiler’s Donuts. It would be only natural for it to feature the ultimate representation of the cheesesteak, Philly’s signature sandwich. RTM features three vendors where you can obtain a classic cheesesteak in Carmen’s, Spataro’s and By George. One of these three was the worst cheesesteak I’ve ever had in my life. It was a soggy roll with frozen meat that they cook in front of you. I was appalled that this is what tourists will see and eat when they visit Philadelphia. The other two weren’t as bad, but still made me sad. Sandwiches shouldn’t do that to any person.
20. Tie: Pat’s King of Steak/Geno’s Steaks
Keep in mind, both of these establishments are poor examples of a cheesesteak. They exist because of the history between them. Pat’s has the “claim” of inventing the cheesesteak and Geno’s across the street has ... a gaudy exterior? An awful (previous) owner? I’m not going to lie, if you are visiting Philly and want to do a cheesesteak trail, you have to come here just for the sheer experience of seeing this fake rivalry and tourist trap in its full glory. The cheesesteaks themselves feature disappointing rolls, not enough meat and miserable employees. The major selling point is buying one of each and deciding which one is better, I guess? Want to know the true winner? It’s not you.
19. Campo’s Philly Cheesesteaks
This ranking pains me a little bit, because 10 years ago I was a HUGE fan. What happened since then, I’m not quite sure. This ranking isn’t limited to a particular location as both the Old City and Citizens Bank Park location are equally disappointing. There is just no flavor anymore with what little steak there is slopped on the soggy roll. If you are in Old City and MUST have a cheesesteak, go to Sonny’s a block up Market.
18. Chubby’s Steaks
Poor Chubby’s ... and aptly named to boot. The sandwich is packed with the meats, but has one thing going against it. It’s cross-street Roxborough rival Dalessandro’s Steaks is just so, so much better. Chubby’s doesn’t produce a bad sandwich by any stretch, but when you have a bone-in ribeye or a chuck roast in front of you ... you are choosing the ribeye. Nothing is more evident of Dalessandro’s superiority than seeing the line out the door when you walk up and seeing no wait at Chubby’s. Want a better proximity-based cheesesteak throwdown than that South Philly abomination? Do Chubby’s/Delessandro’s instead.
17. Larry’s Steaks
I wanted to like Larry’s so bad. Tucked away on Girard and a favorite of the late-great Kobe Bryant, it felt like it had the makings to be an underrated gem. As you can tell, this was not the case. I ordered this via delivery and unfortunately the roll (if it was any good to begin with) did not hold up. Wrapped in both plastic AND inside a Styrofoam container gave the bread the texture of a half-soaked sponge. This leads me to believe that a crustier roll would have held up to the 10 min transit time from the restaurant to my place of business. This wasn’t the last disappointment however because the “fried” onions were barely translucent and had too much crunch. With that out of the way, it was ALL bad. The steak was flavorful and the cheese (American) and aforementioned onions were incorporated quite well. I would ask the establishment to please honor your biggest fan and get better bread.
16. Tony and Nick’s Steaks (formerly The Original Tony Luke’s)
It’s kind of funny because if we were ranking their different food options (there are a lot), it would be higher up. Their breakfast offerings, chicken cutlet sandwiches and roast pork are actually pretty good! Why does their cheesesteak not follow similar high standards? Last time I went I clearly saw frozen beef being used and there is no pet peeve bigger than that being used in my cheesesteak. Perhaps they’ve gotten better in the years I’ve avoided this place? The Original location on Oregon Ave remains under Tony Luke Sr. and Nicky’s ownership with Tony Luke Jr. having parted ways a few years back. With better options available and closer by, not sure why you would bother going other than to cross another one off the list.
UPDATE! I went here following the name change from Tony Luke’s to Tony & Nick’s Steaks (after Sr. and his son, Nick) and hoping for some better results! I can confirm nor deny that they used frozen beef because they now completely block the griddle from the public eyes (HmMmMmM). Sadly, it didn’t make a profound difference. The sandwich was a mess with a weak distribution of toppings and the overall flavor profile lacking. I’ll give this one Two Tax Frauds out of Five.
15. Shank’s Original Pier 40
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You’ve probably driven by this place on the way to another cheesesteak establishment and/or a sporting event and never gave it any notice. It’s right there off Columbus Avenue on the banks of the river. You get not only a great sandwich, but a terrific view as well. The last time I had a cheesesteak from here I recall being very inebriated (day-drinking) and believing it was one of the best I ever had. On a repeat offering (sober), I found the sandwich to be good, not great. There isn’t truly anything that sets it apart from the rest.
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I have to admit the roll isn’t great, but it’s serviceable. A place known more for some other items on the menu like their fries (try the “Spanish” fries, which have peppers, onions and cheese), the Gremlin (half grape soda, half lemonade) or their chicken cheesesteaks. Ishkabibble’s has a certain charm about it (with less of a wait than its cross-street rival Jim’s Steaks), it’s easily accessible, and it offers a quick bite while you are standing in line at the TLA. Paired with some of the aforementioned extras it might place higher, but alas we are judging it on the sandwich alone.
13. Poe’s Sandwich Joint
The newest addition on the list. I’ve seen this on some “best of” lists for cheesesteaks, but only just recently sampled their offering. I got it via a food delivery service, so even though it went through transit, the integrity of the sandwich still held its own. While the roll wasn’t seeded, it was crusty and fresh which allowed it to hold up to all the meat and cheese. Generally I get American cheese, but I was intrigued by their house smoked whiz which didn’t disappoint. My only qualm about the sandwich and why it didn’t place any higher was the meat itself. The “shaved” ribeye was actually pretty darn thick and made some pieces a bit tough to chew. You do not want that in a cheesesteak, even if it was seasoned quite well.
12. Jim’s Steaks
I’m not sure I get the obsession with Jim’s, to be honest? I’ve only been to their South Street location and not the original West Philly. So if there is a discernible difference, please yell at me. Anyway, Jim’s does produce a quality sandwich that is filled with flavorful steak and packed to the brim. Some days the meat can get a little dry, but on busy days (most days) this isn’t an issue. The bread is fine if unremarkable. A couple little things I love about Jim’s is both the ability to buy adult beverages there and the ample seating (tables downstairs and an entire dining area upstairs). Even though it’s busy, you will almost always find a seat. Plus ... beer!
11. Cosmi’s Deli
Cosmi’s came in with rave reviews from fellow cheesesteak enthusiasts. Tucked away in South Philly (and conveniently right next to the extraordinary Termini Bakery), this is definitely a neighborhood joint. They first get a big kudos for offering a seeded roll, though mine was not as “crusty” as I would like, but it was certainly fresh. The sandwich was packed with meat and was of the very finely chopped variety which I’m very “meh” on. It has a good amount of cheese and onions and it was overall a very solid sandwich. Very much of a the “good, not great” variety. If you are in the area, skip Pat’s/Geno’s and go here instead.
10. Philip’s Steaks
I saw this place make it No. 1 on some other hotly-debated cheesesteak ranking and was honestly taken aback. Was I missing something? It certainly wasn’t on the generic Pat’s/Tony Luke’s level, but it wasn’t terribly different from anything else I’ve had. Maybe because it was the 8th different cheesesteak I had that day. I’ll never know. But what I do know that it wasn’t bad either and the staff was very friendly. This place had a very neighborhood feel to it, and I can appreciate the nostalgic appeal of a place like this that serves good (not great!) cheesesteaks.
9. Sonny’s Famous Steaks
I’m not sure I’ve seen a bigger turnaround in either direction than Sonny’s and Campo’s. As the latter went trending downward, Sonny’s has seized their moment of Old City supremacy in the cheesesteak department. Not only are they open after hours (Campo’s closes at 10 p.m.), they serve consistently good sandwiches. Usually I’m not a fan of Amaroso rolls, but they make it work with superbly flavored meat and incorporated toppings. I also LOVE their wiz here, which is weird because I almost always get American.
8. Oh Brother Philly
Oh Brother’s has only been opened for a few years, but as of 2021 I’m just finally getting around to trying it. Certainly not on the same level as some other new kids (see: Woodrow’s and Angelo’s below), but this was a damn fine cheesesteak. Props for a seeded roll and the proper distribution of cheese and onions (why do so many places get this aspect wrong?). The sandwich had the correct meat to bread ratio. The onions weren’t sliced or diced...but rather petaled (if that is even a term) and sadly they were undercooked. A proper fried onion should melt in your mouth and not crunch. Either way, this is the best cheesesteak you can get in Old City, which is not an easy feat.
7. Steve’s Prince of Steaks
Ah, the self-proclaimed cheesesteak royalty of the Northeast. I’ve eaten at their Center City location a bunch, but never their original until a year or so ago. It’s located in a very nondescript area of the city, but was plenty busy when I arrived. I was impressed with this location’s offering because it was much better than what I previously had in the city. Steve’s sandwich is unique (in a good way) in that it is largely unchopped. So you are essentially getting slabs of steak, which makes it a different textural eating experience than others. It is a really good cheesesteak, but not the best in the Northeast by a long shot. They do have a pepper bar if you are into that.
6. Woodrow’s Sandwich Shop
Woodrow’s is one of the new kids on the block and has already gained a cult following. I’m not going to lie, you won’t find a better cheesesteak on actual South Street. The roll is outstanding and the truffle wiz is SUPERB. The most unique thing about the sandwich is without a doubt the cherry pepper mayo. I didn’t think it would work in a cheesesteak, but it blends just right with the rich wiz and sweet caramelized onions. To top it all off their fries are dope and the best you’ll find anywhere on this list. Looking for something different on your visit to Philly and/or South Street? Skip Jims and Ishkabibbles ... Woodrow’s is your new king.
5. Joe’s Steak + Soda Shop
Here is the true King (Prince) of the Northeast. It had gone by another name up until 2013 and thankfully lost that moniker. Regardless of the name, the shop is still serving up some of the best cheesesteaks and shakes in the city. Nothing like ordering your sandwiches and waiting outside watching them work their magic on the grill. It feels as nostalgic and old-school as you can get. Nothing is lost on the quality of the ingredients and care that it is to make a sandwich like this. You may not want to, but it’s worth the trip up 95 to visit.
4. Dalessandro’s Steaks and Hoagies
It’s everything you want a cheesesteak to be. The only issues with it are that its in Roxborough and not immediately in my mouth right now. It consistently makes all the best of lists and for good reason. It has even been featured on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Celebrity endorsements are usually never as good as they wind up being, but here is another exception. My first time experiencing Dalessandros was on a “Cheesesteak Tour” a couple years ago. This happened to be our first stop (along with the aforementioned Chubby’s). It has really made a lasting impression ever since.
3. Donkey’s Place
Before you even get started, yes I’m aware that this isn’t in Philly or even the same state. Since it’s closer to city center than others on this list, I’m going to make an exception because it is THAT GOOD. I’m ashamed to say that I just went to Donkey’s for the first time this year. Was I nervous about going into Camden? Kinda. Was I skeptical a poppy seed roll could be a sufficient vehicle for a cheesesteak? Yeah. Was I waiting for the Anthony Bourdain proclamation hype to die down? You bet. My dad wound up texting me because we were both off for MLK Day and wanted to get lunch. He really wanted to try it and I was bound by my love for cheesesteaks (and my dad) to oblige. We got there at a good time (just before 12:00pm) and were able to get a table. By the time we left 30 minutes later the line was out the door and the bar area was a gauntlet to get through. I can safely say, Bourdain’s touting was pretty much right on the nose. The poppy seeded roll works, the steak is beyond tender/moist and it is stacks on stacks of meat glory. Instead of splitting a sandwich with my dad, we both opted for our own. We both struggled to finish and that isn’t something I usually battle with in the cheesesteak arena. With that said, take the trip during the week during this quarantine nightmare (it’s a M-F joint that closes at 6 p.m., but it does do one Saturday a month).
2. Angelo’s Pizzeria South Philly
Now this is the newest New Kid On The Block. Angelo’s was originally set up in Haddonfield, NJ, but eventually moved into the friendly confines of South Philly. They are making freaking WAVES. Everything you order from here is fantastic, from the pizza to the hoagies, to the chicken cutlet sandwiches. There is no skimping on toppings or meat. The bread is practically a delicacy itself. Properly seeded, crusty outside and a luscious hollowed out pillowy inside. The cheesesteak here is definitely a work of art and it is beyond the wait for this cash only, limited seating establishment (they also don’t do delivery, only takeout). This is one of the places that is actually worth the hype.
1. John’s Roast Pork
“JRP”, as the faithful call it, used to be our little secret. Formerly only a M-F shop, it has since opened for weekend hours to meet the demand. They’d close when they’d run out of their iconic bread. The secret was exposed during Food Network’s Best Sandwich in America series where it “lost” to DiNic’s roast pork sammie (there are no losers choosing between those two, trust me). Don’t let the name here fool you, their best sandwich is their cheesesteak. Starting with the perfection that is a Carangi Bakery seeded roll, you watch them scoop out the bread as they begin to take your order. I always answer with my standard “one with american and fried onions”. They throw the fresh sliced ribeye on flat top. Slowly the assembly comes together as they incorporate the steak, fried onions and cheese together in a perfect harmony of cheesesteak heaven. There isn’t a crevice of the sandwich that isn’t touched by each ingredient, so each bite is fulfilling as the last until you reach the end. JRP should be a right of passage for any cheesesteak enthusiast or tourist coming through the area. Owner John is almost always behind the counter and with a smile on his face. When you beat leukemia and serve up the best cheesesteak in Philly, how could you not?
PS: What to do if you’re craving a cheesesteak during a Flyers game?
This is a great question. Your main options during a game are the less than ideal Aramark generic offering and the brand new Delco Steaks. From our very own Flyperbole frontman estebomb, he says the new cheesteak from Delco Steaks “pretty good steak! Great soft seeded roll. Meat was diced nicely, not super diced, I’d call it a medium dice. I think it would be very good hot and not at a stadium. B+ stadium steak.”
Geno’s has an outpost at Xfinity Live!, but your best option may still be hitting up JRP, which is open until 7 p.m. and is just an 8 minute drive (or 50+ minute walk if you you need to walk off those calories) from the stadium.