Ever wondered why Philly cheesesteaks have their own cult following? It’s not just a sandwich; it’s a culinary battle royale set in the heart of Philadelphia, a city as famed for its edgy character as it is for its deep-rooted American history. In this Insider’s guide, we’re diving knife-first into the greasy, cheesy world of Philly’s pride and joy.

Whether you’re a first-timer curious about the hype or a seasoned local looking to rediscover your city’s savory icon, we’ve got the lowdown on where to find the best cheesesteaks.

Prepare to embark on a flavor journey where you’ll learn not just where to eat, but what makes these spots stand out in a city brimming with contenders.

History Of The Philly Cheesesteak

The story of the cheesesteak is as deliciously rich as the sandwich itself. Born during the 1930s in the bustling working-class neighborhoods of Philadelphia, the cheesesteak was the brainchild of Pat Olivieri, a hot dog vendor who decided to throw some beef on his grill and stuff it into an Italian roll.

Little did he know, he was about to create a local legend. Word of mouth spread like wildfire, and soon, Pat opened up Pat’s King of Steaks, which still serves up cheesesteaks to hungry crowds today.

From its simple beginnings, the cheesesteak quickly became embedded in Philadelphia’s cultural fabric. It wasn’t just about the steak and cheese; it was a symbol of Philadelphia itself—unpretentious, straightforward, and a bit rough around the edges. As the city evolved, so did its favorite sandwich, seeing variations in cheese choices and toppings, each claiming to be the new classic.

What Makes a Perfect Philly Cheesesteak?

At its core, a Philly cheesesteak is deceptively simple, yet every element is crucial. The soul of the sandwich is the thinly sliced rib-eye or top round steak, sizzled to tender perfection. It’s all about the meat’s quality and the skill in chopping it finely on the griddle as it cooks, blending seamlessly with the chosen cheese. Speaking of cheese, you’ve got options—Cheez Whiz, which melts beautifully into the meat, is the classic choice for a reason. However, Provolone and American cheese have their loyalists, offering a slightly different, but equally delicious, taste profile.

The roll is the unsung hero of the cheesesteak. A good cheesesteak roll needs to be sturdy enough to hold together under the weight of the meat and cheese but soft enough to bite through easily. It should have a slight chewiness, a fresh, slightly yeasty sweetness, and just enough crust. Local bakeries like Amoroso’s have been perfecting this balance for years, making their rolls a favorite among top cheesesteak shops.

Cultural Significance

The cheesesteak isn’t just food; it’s a piece of Philadelphia’s identity, akin to the Liberty Bell or the steps of the Art Museum. It speaks to the city’s blue-collar roots, a straightforward dish for a hardworking populace.

It’s democratic, too; everyone eats cheesesteaks in Philly—from taxi drivers and doctors to tourists and tech start-ups. Every cheesesteak eaten is a nod to the city’s history and a thumb in the eye to more pretentious, less hearty foods.

Cheesesteak in Philadelphia

Where to Find the Best Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia

1. Pat’s King of Steaks

If there’s a starting line in the race for the title of Philly’s cheesesteak king, it’s at Pat’s King of Steaks. As the reputed birthplace of the cheesesteak, Pat’s has been serving up these iconic sandwiches since the 1930s, claiming the hearts and appetites of locals and visitors alike.

Located at the intersection of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue in South Philly, this eatery has an aura of authenticity that’s hard to beat.

What Makes Pat’s Special

Pat’s stakes its claim to fame with a straightforward, no-frills approach to the cheesesteak. The magic happens on their well-seasoned grill, visible to anyone in line, where rib-eye steaks are thinly sliced, then chopped and flipped until perfectly cooked. The traditional choice of cheese here is Cheez Whiz, generously slathered onto a freshly baked Amoroso roll. Pat’s mantra is simplicity, letting each component speak for itself without overwhelming gimmicks.

The setting of Pat’s adds to its charm. It’s a stand-up, outdoor venue with a canopy of street lights and the ever-present hum of the city. It’s common to see a line of eager patrons at almost any hour, giving it a communal, almost festival-like atmosphere. It’s not just about grabbing a quick bite; it’s about experiencing a piece of Philadelphia culture.

Pat’s King of Steaks
Pat’s King of Steaks

According to local lore, visiting Pat’s is like taking a step back in time. Frankie, a regular since the late ’90s, shares, “Every time you bite into a Pat’s cheesesteak, it’s like the whole city is right there with you. You got the hustle, the bustle, and a bit of grease—just the way life here feels. And man, once you’ve had your sandwich, nothing else hits the spot quite the same way again.”

Pat’s King of Steaks is more than just a restaurant; it’s a landmark. Whether it’s your first visit or your fiftieth, the experience is quintessentially Philadelphian—unpretentious, filling, and remarkably unforgettable. As you continue your cheesesteak tour, keep the benchmark set by Pat’s in mind, because every contender has something unique up their sleeve in this city’s ongoing cheesesteak saga.

2. Geno’s Steaks

Directly across the street from Pat’s, you’ll find Geno’s Steaks, another heavyweight in the Philly cheesesteak scene. Founded in 1966 by Joey Vento, Geno’s has been dishing out rival cheesesteaks under the glow of its neon facade, creating a friendly competition that has become almost as iconic as the sandwich itself.

The rivalry between Pat’s and Geno’s is one of Philadelphia’s most talked-about tourist attractions, turning the corner of 9th and Passyunk into a veritable cheesesteak battleground.

What Makes Geno’s Special

Geno’s approach to the classic Philly cheesesteak mirrors its vibrant, flashy exterior—bold and unapologetic. They stick to the traditional recipe but emphasize the quality and cut of their meat, which is always served fresh and never frozen. At Geno’s, the cheese options include Provolone, American, and yes, Cheez Whiz, each adding a distinct flavor profile to the sandwich. What sets Geno’s apart is their finely chopped, rather than sliced, steak, which offers a different texture and a more integrated blend of meat and cheese.

The ambiance at Geno’s is unmistakably Philadelphian. Neon lights illuminate the stand and the street around it, creating a spectacle that’s as much a feast for the eyes as the cheesesteaks are for the stomach. The ordering window, plastered with photos of celebrities who have visited, and the clear, simple menu overhead, make choosing your meal an event in itself.

Geno's Special
Geno’s Special

Maria, a Philadelphia native and frequent visitor to both Geno’s and Pat’s, comments on the experience: “It’s not just about the food, which is fantastic by the way, but it’s the whole atmosphere. Night or day, there’s an energy here. You feel like you’re a part of something bigger—a decades-long debate about who does it better. And let’s be honest, it’s a delicious debate to participate in.”

Visiting Geno’s is not only about savoring a top-tier cheesesteak; it’s about immersing yourself in a piece of Philadelphia’s vibrant, neon-lit night culture. The experience of eating at Geno’s—amidst the buzz of competition, surrounded by history and under the watchful eyes of Philly’s cheesesteak legends—adds an extra layer of excitement to the culinary adventure.

3. Dalessandro’s Steaks

A bit off the beaten path, but no less renowned among locals, is Dalessandro’s Steaks. Located in the Roxborough neighborhood of Philadelphia, Dalessandro’s has been mastering the art of the cheesesteak for over half a century.

This spot has garnered a cult following among cheesesteak aficionados for its consistent quality and slightly different approach to the city’s signature sandwich.

What Makes Dalessandro’s Special

Dalessandro’s stands out for several reasons, not least of which is its approach to preparing the steak. Unlike the more famous downtown spots, Dalessandro’s chops its meat into finer pieces, which some argue allows for a more even distribution of flavors and textures. They also pile their sandwiches high with toppings, offering a generous portion of sautéed onions, peppers, and mushrooms, if desired. The cheese—whether you opt for American, Provolone, or Whiz—melts into the crevices of the finely chopped steak, creating a gooey, flavorful blend that permeates every bite.

The shop itself is small and unassuming, with a straightforward, no-frills counter where orders are shouted over the sizzle of the grill. The atmosphere is quintessentially local. Regulars greet each other by name, and newcomers are quickly drawn into conversations, making everyone feel like part of the community.

Dalessandro’s Steaks
Dalessandro’s Steaks | @josheatsphilly

Jeff, a lifelong resident of Roxborough and a regular at Dalessandro’s, shares his thoughts: “What I love about Dalessandro’s isn’t just the cheesesteaks, which are by far some of the best you’ll find anywhere—it’s the feeling of community here. It’s like this little hub in the neighborhood where everyone comes together. You come for the steak and stay for the stories.”

Visiting Dalessandro’s offers more than just a meal; it’s a dive into a vibrant local scene. It’s where you go to see the real Philadelphia, away from the tourist paths, and into the heart of one of its lively neighborhoods. Here, the cheesesteak is not just a quick bite; it’s a reason for gathering, chatting, and enjoying the company of fellow Philadelphians.

4. Jim’s Steaks South Street

Another essential stop in your Philadelphia cheesesteak tour is Jim’s Steaks on South Street, a locale that combines the rich flavor of tradition with the vibrant pulse of one of Philly’s most eclectic neighborhoods.

Since opening in 1939, Jim’s has earned a reputation not only for its stellar cheesesteaks but also for its role as a cultural landmark on the ever-bustling South Street.

What Makes Jim’s Special

Jim’s Steaks stands out with its meticulous preparation and dedication to quality. The meat, always fresh and sliced in-house, is seared on a griddle that has seasoned countless batches of Philly’s favorite sandwich. The steaks are then loaded onto freshly baked rolls and dressed with your choice of cheese—American, Provolone, or the quintessential Cheez Whiz. What truly sets Jim’s apart is their technique of layering the cheese both below and on top of the steak, ensuring every bite is infused with cheesy goodness.

The ambiance at Jim’s on South Street is as flavorful as the sandwiches it serves. The walls are adorned with photos of celebrities and athletes who have stopped by to get their fix, echoing the shop’s storied past and its continued appeal. The vibe is lively and loud, a reflection of South Street’s dynamic character, known for its mix of music venues, boutiques, and tattoo parlors.

Jim’s Steaks South Street
Jim’s Steaks South Street

Samantha, a frequent visitor, describes her experience: “There’s something about Jim’s that just feels incredibly Philly. It’s not just the cheesesteaks, which are absolutely to die for, but also the whole atmosphere. South Street has this unique vibe, and Jim’s is like the heart of it. You hear music from the street performers outside, see all kinds of people, and there’s always a line, but it’s worth the wait.”

Visiting Jim’s Steaks on South Street is more than a dining experience; it’s a plunge into the cultural melting pot that is Philadelphia. Whether it’s late at night after a concert or on a sunny afternoon stroll, Jim’s provides not just a meal but a slice of city life.

5. John’s Roast Pork

Nestled in the less-touristed neighborhood of South Philadelphia, John’s Roast Pork may be slightly off the typical culinary radar for cheesesteaks, but it’s a spot that connoisseurs and locals swear by.

Known primarily for its award-winning roast pork sandwiches, John’s also crafts a cheesesteak that many argue rivals—if not surpasses—those found at the more famous establishments. This family-owned business, operating since 1930, offers a cheesesteak experience steeped in tradition and local flavor.

What Makes John’s Roast Pork Special

John’s differentiates itself with a focus on quality and freshness, not just in its famed roast pork but also in its cheesesteaks. They use high-quality, thinly sliced steak and sharp provolone, a choice that offers a tangy depth to the sandwich. What truly sets John’s apart, however, is their bread—a crusty seeded roll that perfectly balances the juiciness of the meat and the melt of the cheese. This combination of high-quality ingredients and the unique roll makes each bite a complex and satisfying experience.

The setup at John’s is simple and unassuming. The small, standalone shack with a tiny dining area and a few outdoor tables focuses on what matters most—the food. Here, the approach is straightforward: great ingredients, made to order, no fuss, no frills.

John’s Roast Pork
John’s Roast Pork | @a_man_and_his_sandwich

Danny, a Philadelphia native and longtime patron of John’s, shares his thoughts: “John’s might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of Philly cheesesteaks, but it’s definitely one of the best. The roll they use, those sesame seeds, it just adds something special you can’t get anywhere else. And the atmosphere is just pure Philly—it’s about the community, about sticking to what you’re good at.”

Visiting John’s Roast Pork offers an authentic slice of Philadelphia life. It’s where you go to see the heart of the city’s culinary craftsmanship, where every sandwich serves as a reminder of the city’s unpretentious, hard-working spirit.

Tips For Finding The Best Cheesesteak in Philly

Embarking on a cheesesteak tour of Philadelphia isn’t just about indulging in some of the best sandwiches the city has to offer; it’s also about navigating the nuances of a true Philly experience. Here are some practical tips to help you make the most of your cheesesteak adventures.

Best Times to Visit

Timing can be everything when it comes to avoiding long lines at popular spots like Pat’s, Geno’s, and Jim’s. Early lunchtime, around 11 AM, or late afternoon, before the dinner rush, tend to be the best times to grab a cheesesteak without a lengthy wait. However, if you’re visiting a place like Geno’s or Pat’s, a late-night visit can be an unforgettable part of the Philly nightlife experience, albeit with a bit of a crowd.


The cost of a cheesesteak in Philadelphia can vary. Generally, prices range from $10 to $15 depending on the location and the toppings you choose. While most places accept credit cards these days, some old-school spots might only take cash, so it’s wise to have some on hand.

Travel Tips

Getting around Philadelphia to sample the best cheesesteaks is part of the adventure. If you’re focusing on downtown locations like Pat’s and Geno’s, public transportation is convenient; both the bus and subway lines service the area well. For spots like Dalessandro’s and John’s Roast Pork, having a car might be beneficial, as these are a bit out of the way. However, parking can be tricky, especially in busier areas, so be prepared to look for a spot or pay for parking.

Survival Tips

Ordering a cheesesteak in Philly comes with its own set of rules. To order like a local, specify your cheese choice and whether you want onions by using the lingo; for example, “Whiz with” means you want Cheez Whiz and onions, while “Provi without” means Provolone cheese without onions. It’s a quick, efficient way to communicate your order, keeping the line moving and earning you a nod of approval from the locals.

Understanding the etiquette at each location can also enhance your visit. For instance, many cheesesteak shops have a fast-moving line, and it’s expected that you know what you want by the time you reach the counter. Take a moment to watch others as you approach the front of the line to get a feel for the process.

Philly cheesesteak

Beyond the Bun – What Else to Do in Philly

After you’ve savored the cheesy goodness of Philly’s finest cheesesteaks, don’t miss out on the plethora of other experiences this vibrant city has to offer. Combining your culinary adventure with other Philadelphia attractions can round out your visit, making it not just a taste exploration but a deep dive into the city’s rich history and vibrant culture.

Combining Cultures

Start at the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where America’s foundational stories come to life, just a short distance from the cheesesteak epicenters of South Philly. Explore the Philadelphia Museum of Art—not just for its vast collections but also for the iconic Rocky steps out front.

For a taste of something different, stroll through the Italian Market, the oldest and largest working outdoor market in the United States, offering an array of foods, spices, and local products that reflect Philadelphia’s multicultural heritage.

Neighborhood Guide

Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own distinct flavor. Beyond the cheesesteak hubs, venture into Fishtown for a taste of the city’s burgeoning craft beer scene, or head to Rittenhouse Square to browse high-end boutiques and enjoy a leisurely coffee at one of the many chic cafés.

Each neighborhood offers its unique vibe and charm, providing a broader sense of what Philadelphia is all about.

Local Events

Depending on the time of year, Philadelphia’s calendar is packed with events and festivals that showcase its dynamic cultural scene. From the vibrant Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day to the Philadelphia Film Festival in the fall, there’s always something happening. Summer brings outdoor concerts and food festivals, while the winter holiday market and ice skating at Dilworth Park provide festive cheer.