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Where to Find the Best Pizza in Philadelphia

Where to Find the Best Pizza in Philadelphia



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Pizza is arguably America’s most varied and beloved dish, one whose devotees are some of the most opinionated, and yet it remains one of the most accessible foods there is. Today, there’s better pizza, more knowledge about it, and interest in it everywhere. That accessibility and loyalty makes for some tremendously spirited debate.

Considering the passion pizza inspires, responsibly declaring America’s Best Pizza can be challenging. But The Daily Meal doesn't shy away from the challenge. For our third annual pizza ranking, we again sought the nation's best pies and slices, considering more places than ever in our quest for the best. We researched and added 275 more pizzas and recruited a group of 30 more experts to weigh in than for our 2013 list. Some 700 pizza spots were considered by 78 panelists, comprising The Daily Meal’s in-house pizza experts and city editors, American chefs, restaurant critics, bloggers, writers, and pizza authorities. We compiled the data, and although there could only be one winner, there is plenty of seriously good pizza being made across America, including in Philadelphia.

3. The Original Tacconelli's Pizzeria’s White Pizza
"Please keep in mind we are a one-man, one-oven operation," notes The Original Tacconelli’s website. "Waiting time may vary." Indeed, this is Philadelphia’s pizzeria célèbre, so expect a wait to match. Especially if you haven’t reserved your dough, in which case you may be waiting until the next day (Tacconelli’s advises that the best time to call is between Wednesday and Sunday after 10 a.m.). It may not always have been this complicated to get a Tacconelli’s pie (you have to assume times were simpler back in 1946 when it started serving pizza), but most who have had it will tell you it’s worth the effort.

There are four pies listed on the menu: Tomato (no cheese), Regular (a little cheese and sauce), White (salt, pepper, cheese, and garlic), and the Margerita (fresh basil and mozzarella). These are wide crusts, liberally sauced and topped, and not uniformly presented. You can choose from a list of toppings to customize your pies (spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, pepperoni, sausage, sweet peppers, anchovies, onions, prosciutto, basil, and extra cheese), just keep in mind that there’s a three-topping max on each pie, and that some have noted that the owner sometimes prefers to limit it to two. The pie to order, however–which came in at #82 on our list—is the "Signature," which may not be listed: white pizza with spinach and chunks of tomato and garlic.

2. Pizza Brain’s Forbes Waggensense
“Increase the piece!” It’s the world’s first pizza museum, for heaven’s sake, and those in the know, know that when you’re craving great pizza, just head to the nineteenth-century brick building in the Kensington neighborhood to eat thin-crusted pizza cooked in the double-deck gas-fired oven at the cash-only joint Kickstarted by Ryan Anderson, Joseph Hunter, Brian Dwyer, and Michael Carter. As you wait for the crew to cook your pie, you can bask in Pizza Brain's unique ambience, check out their pizza memorabilia museum (featuring what the Guinness Book of World Records called the largest collection of pizza memorabilia in the world), or rummage through their pizza tattoo book for a few laughs. Pizza Brain’s "Jane" is their version of a Margherita, a cheesy trifecta of mozzarella, aged provolone, and grana padano blended with basil, and that’s a good place to begin, but the pizza that snagged the #80 spot on our compilation is the Forbes Waggensense: mozzarella, fontina, grana padano, basil, smoked pepperoni, and tomato sauce.

1. Osteria’s Parma
Nominated for the Best New Restaurant award by the James Beard Foundation in 2008 and home to James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Mid-Atlantic 2010, Osteria has some super credentials, and quite a bit of hype to live up to. Marc Vetri, Jeff Michaud, and Jeff Benjamin conceived the idea while on a trip in Tuscany, and you have to be glad they followed through. The pizza at Osteria is very traditional (and you’ll want to order a Margherita as your baseline), with a gourmet twist, offering pies like the Polpo, comprising octopus, tomato, red chile flakes, and smoked mozzarella; or the Lombarda, with baked egg, Bitto cheese, mozzarella, and cotechino sausage for a creamy and mild flavor. It’s hard to go wrong with their menu, but the pizza that scored #68 in our ranking is the Parma: Mozzarella, Fontina, arugula, and prosciutto di Parma. Osteria’s success and acclaim recently spawned Pizzeria Vetri, a 30-seat restaurant in Philadelphia's art museum district, the first of the Vetri family restaurants dedicated exclusively to the art of authentic, Italian pizza-making.


Where To Savor The Most Authentic Tomato Pie In Philadelphia

Tomato Pie is considered to be one of Philadelphia’s most famous regional specialties. If you’re unfamiliar with Philly’s unique take on Sicilian pizza, anticipate a square pie with flavorful tomato sauce, light or no cheese, and an impeccable crust – chewy, dense, and melt-in-your-mouth.

But, you can’t get great tomato pie just anywhere. You’ll need to head to an old school bakery, who bakes their tomato pie using the same family recipe passed down generations. We’ve got the insider info on the very best spots to indulge your senses with this classic Philadelphia cultural food.

Marchiano’s Bakery – Marchiano’s tomato pie is rolled into long sheets by hand, and is then covered with crushed tomatoes, olive oil, and spices. Finally, a dusting of parmesan is added before you enjoy. Served at room temperature, this is a nod to how family matriarch Nunziata Marchiano believed the pie to be best enjoyed – to bring out the true taste and texture of the tomatoes. The business is still owned and operated by the Marchiano family, bringing an old-world charm to the location and it’s goods. Glance behind their counter when you’re in – you’ll see photographs of the many celebrities who have also enjoyed Marchiano’s baked Italian goods.

Pro Tip: Pre-order an Oreganata bread with Marchiano’s signature dipping sauce to accompany your Tomato Pie. The old world Italian bread is a speciality of theirs.

Sarcone’s Bakery -Another Italian bakery with a rich history, the Sarcone family has gained many fans of their tomato pie throughout their 5 generations and over 100 years of ownership. Their tomato pie is made traditionally – with a focaccia-like crust and thick tomato sauce. Head early for yours, as they sometimes sell out before noon.

Cacia’s Bakery – Completely cheese-less, this tomato pie differs from it’s counterparts in a few other aspects as well. The crust is airy and light, but slightly more thin than a typical tomato pie. The tomato sauce is generous, with a strong flavor of oregano. Family-owned and operated, Cacia’s has 8 locations for those seeking high quality tomato pie in the burbs.

Pro Tip: Grab a cannoli from Cacia’s, too it’s another of their specialties.

Tony Roni’s – Tony has honed his grandmother’s recipe into one of the best tomato pies in Philadelphia, with a crisp crust and a secret herb seasoning that leaves a distinct impression after each bite. They also won Best Of Philly for Tomato Pie in 2008, as well as numerous other awards from the locals, and are known in the community for always giving back to local schools.

New York Italian Style Bakery – So cool, they don’t even need a website. Truly – word of mouth alone has this South Street location always hopping. And don’t let the name fool you – this place is all Philly, and completely deserving of being included in every list of Philadelphia’s best tomato pie. Expect a delicious but no-frills experience, tomato pie served room temp,
and bring cash to purchase a whole pie or by the slice.

Gaeta’s Tomato Pie – In the tomato pie biz for over 75 years, this place was originally named Scalea’s and was located over in Germantown. Currently in the Northeast, owner Frank Straface still uses the recipes that Mary and Buscalene used all those years ago, (he was a frequent customer as a child, and has vowed to never alter their famous recipe).

Tony’s Famous Tomato Pie – Another Tony on our list, their Philadelphia tomato pies are served up in the heart of Mayfair, and locals can attest their tomato pies are some of the best in Philadelphia, (and their customer service is acclaimed, too).

Best Tomato Pie Outside Of Philadelphia

Corropolese Deli – Since 1924, their sweet sauce has been winning hearts with the locals. While more sweet than many of the tomato pies in Philly, Corropolese’s famous pie also has a rich, satisfying taste paired with a delicate but crisp crust.

Conshohocken Bakery – The go-to of Sorentino’s Deli for their hoagie rolls paired with their cheesesteak and served on our Authentic Philly Food Tour, this bakery is also known for their tomato pie. Also check out their custom Philadelphia Tomato Pies…the Philadelphia Eagles, Phillies, or Flyers logo featured on your pie, or any logo or message you’d like!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in May 2015 and was updated in February 2019 to reflect the most current information.


So, What Is A Cheesesteak?

A cheesesteak — always one word — consists of a long, crusty roll filled with thinly sliced, freshly sautéed ribeye beef and melted cheese. The art of cheesesteak preparation lies in the balance of flavors, textures and what is often referred to as the drip factor.

For many fans, the definitive cheese of choice is Cheez Whiz®, but American and provolone are widely accepted alternatives. Other common toppings include sautéed onions, cooked mushrooms, ketchup and sweet or hot — “long hots” — peppers.

There are lots of creative takes out there on this region’s specialty sandwich, too, but here we focus on where to get the classic Philly cheesesteak.

And when in Philly, don’t be surprised to find locals pairing their cheesesteaks with chips from Herr’s. The family-owned and -operated company — founded in 1946 and currently based in Nottingham, Pennsylvania — is a classic Philly brand and a longtime local favorite. Don’t forget to break out the Herr’s at your next picnic, tailgate or barbeque, just like Philadelphians do.

Below, our picks for notable spots dishing Philly cheesesteaks are organized by area so you can sample more than one cheesesteak on any visit.

Here’s the lowdown on where to find some of the best authentic cheesesteaks in Greater Philadelphia.

Click For Cheesesteak Pro Tips


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Founded by Quakers in 1682 as a refuge offering religious freedom, Philadelphia has been historically significant in American history since the very beginning. It doesn&rsquot hurt that the founders of the United States signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia&rsquos own Independence Hall. But the Philly of today has a lot more to offer than just its ties to the past. The city is vibrant, diverse, teeming with energy, art, and culture, which no doubt influences its food scene, among the most celebrated and multilayered in the whole country. It&rsquos a city where street foods (hoagies, Philly cheesesteaks, and soft pretzels) are beloved, where immigrant cuisines are explored in fast-casual formats, where food cultures intersect (tour the Italian market and stumble upon some of the best tacos in town), and where you can find top James Beard Award-winning restaurants and temples of haute cuisine.

Given Philly&rsquos historic openness to many faiths (hence the slogan &ldquothe city of Brotherly Love&rdquo), it&rsquos no surprise that the Jewish community found a home along the Schuylkill River almost immediately. The Jewish population boomed in the late 19th century with a heavy influx of Eastern European immigrants who brought smoked meats, bakeries, a love of cured fish, and of course, bagels (what could go better with smoked fish?).
Today, Philly&rsquos Jewish population is among the largest in the United States, with communities thriving throughout the city and outside the city limits in the burbs &mdash what&rsquos known as the Main Line.

Young, talented chefs and bakers are making their names by cooking foods with Jewish stories in Philadelphia, alongside some of the classic institutions, like bagel shops and delis that have been serving the city for generations. And of course, it&rsquos impossible to discuss Jewish food in Philly without mentioning Philly&rsquos most celebrated chef and restaurateur, Michael Solomonov, whose flagship restaurant of modern Israeli cuisine, Zahav, just received the James Beard Award for best restaurant in the United States. Solomonov plays a big role in making Philadelphia a culinary destination while exposing Philadelphians to the range and diversity of what Jewish food can be. His restaurants, owned by restaurant group CookNSolo with partner Steve Cook, are dotted throughout many categories on this list.

You&rsquoll need a few days (or a few visits) to eat through this guide to Jewish food, where bagels and baked goods will fill you with carbs in the morning and innovative Jewish cafes and restaurants will excite your palate in the evening. Whatever you decide to eat, just be sure to take in Philadelphia&rsquos uniquely independent spirit and its charming, relaxed vibe.

No doubt about it: Philly is a bagel town. Start with Philly Style Bagels, which Bon Appetit Magazine claims might be among the best bagel shops in the country. Their bagels are fermented, hand-rolled, boiled in beer, and baked on wood planks. The result is bursting with flavor. Be sure to try their smoked salmon, too. Spread Bagelry has two locations and a regular pop-up at Piazza Pod Park offering wood-fired Montreal-style bagels. Pick up a classic sesame with any choice of schmear. Knead Bagels gets a bit more chef-y with creative bagel flavors like lavender and togarashi (a Japanese spice mix). Fitzwater Street, South Street Philly Bagels, Chestnut Street Philly Bagels, and Passyunk Bagels are classic New York-style bagel joints. These four shops are actually owned by the same person but operate separately. And they all bake their bagels on wooden boards covered in burlap. Head to any of these spots in the morning for a hot-from-the-oven poppy seed bagel slathered with cream cheese. The Bagel Place has a special charm and classic bagel flavors, but they also offer bagel-making classes! Call ahead to reserve a spot.

Pro-tip: Essen Bakery (see Breads and Pastries below) also makes artisanal bagels that shouldn&rsquot be missed. And French bakery Kettle Black features a variety of breads in addition to their take on the classic bagel. They close up shop each day once the bagels are gone (typically around 2 p.m.) so be sure to get there early.

Philly Style Bagels
1451 E Columbia Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19125
No phone in-house. Email through their website.
Neighborhood: Fishtown

Spread Bagelry
262 S 20th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 545-0626
Neighborhood: Rittenhouse

Spread Bagelry
3602 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 222-0283
Neighborhood: West Philly

Knead Bagels
725 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
(267) 519-9920
Neighborhood: Washington Square

Fitzwater St. Philly Bagels
2001 Fitzwater Street Philadelphia, PA 19146
(267) 534-5995
Neighborhood: Graduate Hospital

South Street Philly Bagels
613 S 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 627-6277
Neighborhood: Headhouse Square

Chestnut Street Bagels
1705 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 299-9920
Neighborhood: Center City

Passyunk Ave. Bagels
1742 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148
(267) 457-5150
Neighborhood: East Passyunk

The Bagel Place
404 Queen St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 551-2387
Neighborhood: Queen Village

Photo credit Essen

Whether you&rsquore going to bubbe&rsquos for Shabbat or you&rsquore looking for something sweet to snack on, Philly&rsquos pastry and bread scene has you covered. There are the classic bakeries like Kaplan&rsquos, Lipkin&rsquos, and Homemade Goodie&rsquos by Roz (all kosher certified) where you can find high-quality challah and sweets like rugelach and Jewish apple cake. Then there are the nouveau spots (that have quickly become staples) like Essen Bakery, where James Beard Award semifinalist for Outstanding Baker, Tova du Plessis, whips up an array of baked goods and sandwiches like chocolate halva babka and pastrami-smoked salmon sandwiches. Taffet&rsquos, meanwhile, is all gluten-free. Located in the bustling Italian Market area of town, their sourdough rye and kaiser rolls evoke those familiar Jewish flavors in a gluten-free package.

Kaplan&rsquos New Model Bakery
901 N 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19123
(215) 627-5288
Neighborhood: Northern Liberties
*This bakery is kosher.

Lipkin&rsquos Bakery
8013 Castor Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19152
(215) 342-3005
Neighborhood: Northeast
*This bakery is kosher.

Homemade Goodies By Roz
510 S 5th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 592-9616
Neighborhood: Society Hill
*This bakery is kosher.

Essen
1437 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 271-2299
Neighborhood: East Passyunk

Taffet&rsquos
1024 S 9th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 551-5511
Neighborhood: Italian Market
*This bakery is gluten-free.

Pro-tips: K&rsquoFar (which was not yet open at the time of publishing this guide) is set to open in 2019. It&rsquos an Israeli bakery concept from the CookNSolo Restaurant Partners and will be led by James Beard Award-winning pastry Chef Camille Cogswell. K&rsquoFar will be located in the Rittenhouse neighborhood at 19th and Chestnut and serve up Israeli specialty pastries.

Photo credit Shlesinger&rsquos

The deli scene in Philadelphia is marked by old school spots that locals have loved for decades. Schlesinger&rsquos is operated by a third-generation deli man and is well-loved for its massive hot pastrami sandwiches, wide bowls of matzah ball soup, and its slices of sweet noodle kugel. Under the same ownership and a little farther afield is Hymie&rsquos, which has been operating since 1938. Hymie&rsquos has one of those massive deli menus, with sandwich offerings such as the Shlemeil (turkey, coleslaw, and Russian dressing) and the Schmoozer Combo (corned beef and pastrami with coleslaw and Russian dressing). Rachel&rsquos Nosheri is a spot for breakfast or lunch with an emphasis on sandwiches featuring smoked fish and the like. Famous 4th Street Delicatessen has been a Philly favorite since 1923. Everything is done in-house, so don&rsquot miss the home-smoked pastrami or the freshly baked rugelach and chocolate babka. Hershel&rsquos Deli is located in Philadelphia&rsquos beloved and lively Reading Terminal Market. It&rsquos the ideal spot to grab a mile-high sandwich after an afternoon of browsing stalls of Amish pickles and locally grown produce.

Schlesinger&rsquos
1521 Locust St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 735-7305
Neighborhood: Center City

Hymie&rsquos
342 Montgomery Ave, Merion Station, PA 19066
(610) 668-3354
Neighborhood: Merion Station

Rachael&rsquos Nosheri
120 S 19th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 568-9565
Neighborhood: Rittenhouse

Famous 4th Street Delicatessen
700 S 4th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 922-3274
Neighborhood: Headhouse Square

Hershel&rsquos East Side Deli
51 N 12th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 922-6220
Neighborhood: Reading Terminal Market

Pro-tip: If you find yourself on one of Philly&rsquos many college campuses or far out in the burbs, you don&rsquot have to skip your visit to the deli. Zaydees is located on Temple Campus, Koch&rsquos Deli is in University City, Ben & Irv&rsquos is located in Huntington Valley, Steve Stein&rsquos Famous Deli is in Bustleton, and Murray&rsquos is in Merion Station.

Photo credit Alexandra Hawkins

Philadelphia hosts a wide array of upscale dining reflecting the vast Jewish diaspora. Start with nouveau Ashkenazi restaurant from CookNSolo Restaurant Partners, Abe Fisher, where Chef Yehuda Sichel is smoking Montreal short ribs that will melt in your mouth and where savory rugelach are served to start the meal. Then move onto the nationally celebrated and award-winning modern Israeli restaurant Zahav, also from CookNSolo, where Chef Michael Solomonov might just be working the grill station when you arrive. Carnivores and vegetarians alike will be delighted by the sprawling mezze platters featuring fried cauliflower, caramelized fennel, and halloumi cheese with strawberry, rhubarb, and pistachio. Both Zahav and Abe Fisher require reservations well in advance to secure a seat. For a taste of something different, head to Uzbekistan Restaurant, where Uzbek, Georgian, and Ukrainian Jewish food is on offer in the BYOB setting. Uzbekistan restaurant features dumplings galore from fruit-filled vareniki to meat-filled manti. The kebabs on the grill are also a highlight. And newer to the scene is Musi, an intimate spot from chef and community staple Ari Miller, who was just named Best Chef by Philadelphia Magazine. Inspired by his time spent in Tel Aviv-Yafo and named after his fishmonger from Yafo, Miller&rsquos menu is seasonally oriented and changes based on what his purveyors have available.

Pro-tip: Cheu Noodle isn&rsquot global Jewish dining exactly, but their brisket ramen, featuring a matzah ball and a spicy broth, is much beloved by Philly foodies.

Abe Fisher
1623 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 867-0088
Neighborhood: Center City

Zahav
237 St James Pl, Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 625-8800
Neighborhood: Old City

Uzbekistan Restaurant
12012 Bustleton Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19116
(215) 671-1990
Neighborhood: Northeast

Musi
100 Morris St, Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 377-9466
Neighborhood: Pennsport

Photo credit Honey&rsquos

Everyone loves the lively and homey atmosphere (and food!) at Honey&rsquos Sit &lsquoN Eat, especially for brunch. With two locations in Philadelphia, local favorites include scrambled eggs with pastrami, challah French toast, and bubbe&rsquos brisket sandwich. Cafe Ole has been referred to as the &ldquoShakshuka Queen of Philadelphia&rdquo and it&rsquos also a great spot to sit outside in Old City Philly. La Va Cafe serves Israeli and Mizrahi-inspired fare with warmth and hospitality. Try the freshly baked bourekas and Yemenite jachnun and malawah platters.

Honey&rsquos Sit &lsquoN Eat
2101 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19146
(215) 732-5130
Neighborhood: Graduate Hospital

Honey&rsquos Sit &lsquoN Eat
800 N 4th St, Philadelphia, PA 19123
(215) 925-1150
Neighborhood: Northern Liberties

Cafe Ole
147 N 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 627-2140
Neighborhood: Old City

La Va Cafe
2100 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19146
(215) 545-1508
Neighborhood: Graduate Hospital

Photo credit Michael Persico

Goldie Falafel and Dizengoff are two fast-casual stars of the CookNSolo Restaurant Partners&rsquo empire. Local Philadelphians flock to these spots in their various locations dotted around the city. Goldie is all about, well, falafel, in a pita or on a salad. Eat yours with a side of fries dusted with shwarma spice and wash it all down with their famous tahini milkshake. At Dizengoff, it&rsquos all about the hummus, topped with potato, pepper, or even a &ldquopickle situation,&rdquo served with fresh pita for dipping. Mama&rsquos brings quality and kosher falafel and other Israeli favorites, with lots of vegan items on the menu. Hey Hummus has a heavy emphasis on the hummus with all the toppings like their favorite, chicken shwarma.

Goldie Falafel
1526 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
(267) 239-0777
Neighborhood: Center City

Goldie Falafel
3401 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Neighborhood: West Philly

Goldie Falafel
Whole Foods Market food court, 2101 Pennsylvania Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 557-0015
Neighborhood: Fairmount
*This restaurant is kosher and vegan.

Dizengoff
1625 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 867-8181
Neighborhood: Center City

Dizengoff
Whole Foods Market food court, 2101 Pennsylvania Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 557-0015
Neighborhood: Fairmount

Mama&rsquos Vegetarian
18 S 20th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 751-0477
Neighborhood: Center City
This restaurant is kosher and vegetarian.

Hey Hummus
2101 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(267) 606-6942
Neighborhood: Center City
*This restaurant is kosher.

Photo credit Abbe Stern

If you&rsquore in West Philly on a Saturday, stop by the farmers market and grab one or a dozen Dodo Bagels, especially the salt and caraway variety. For an even more ephemeral but delicious bagel experience, message Phillip Korshak of Korshak&rsquos Bagels on Instagram and pick up a few of his perfectly crusted bagels in a low-key paper bag somewhere in South Philly. Miss Rachel&rsquos Pantry is a completely vegan pop-up space under kosher supervision, where special Jewish holiday cooking classes and special themed meals are regularly held, especially during Passover when they get rid of all of their leavened products for the week.

Dodo Bagels Pop-Up Shop
Every Saturday at the farmers market in West Philly. Contact via website.
Neighborhood: West Philadelphia

Korshak Bagels
Pick up throughout the city. Contact via Instagram.
Neighborhood: South Philly

Miss Rachel&rsquos Pantry
1938 S Chadwick St, Philadelphia, PA 19145
(215) 798-0053
Neighborhood: East Passyunk
*This restaurant is kosher and vegan.

Thanks to local Experts: Devra Ferst (food writer), Anita Davidson (Muhibbah Dinners), and Chef Ari Miller (Musi).


The best cheese for pizza

You’ve decided: “Enough with the takeout! This weekend we’re having homemade pizza.” You make your favorite cool-rise dough, one that develops flavor overnight in the refrigerator. You slow-simmer a batch of your aunt’s secret tomato sauce. At last, you’re ready to put your pizza together, so you get out the mozzarella cheese … but wait. Is mozzarella really the best cheese for pizza? Or can other varieties offer mozzarella’s signature meltability, but with a richer, more complex flavor?

One of life’s sublime experiences is grabbing a triangle of hot pizza and seeing melted cheese stretch itself into aromatic strands as your hand moves from pan to mouth.

Mozzarella, America’s favorite pizza cheese, is all about the ooey-gooey textural experience but how does it stack up, flavor-wise?

The block of mozzarella you’d typically use is pretty plain if you ask me. Sure, it’s got some of the milky/tangy flavor of cheese in general, but all in all, it’s fairly neutral. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing: paired with spicy sausage or hot peppers, mozzarella is the perfect foil.

But what about a pizza topped with the gentle flavors of mushroom and bell pepper, or black olives and onions? Wouldn’t it be nice to beef things up with a more interesting cheese — all without sacrificing meltability (and its sibling, stretchability)?

Consider meltability

In general, the harder and more aged the cheese, the less willing it is to melt atop your pizza. Soft Jack cheese melts in a matter of minutes two-year-old Parmesan, barely at all. I’ve chosen to test “young” (minimally aged) cheeses with a low melting point since I assume most of you wouldn’t care for pizza topped with lumps of semi-melted cheese.

A bit of research yields the following list of cheeses with good meltability: cheddar, fontina, Gouda, Jack, mozzarella (both fresh milk and standard), Muenster, provolone, and Swiss raclette (or just regular Swiss cheese).

In addition, I’ll test my own homemade blend of Parmesan, Asiago, and sharp cheddar, which I’ve pretreated to increase its meltability more on that later.

There are other cheeses that melt nicely atop pizza Wisconsin brick cheese springs immediately to mind. But I’m choosing to stick with those easily obtainable at your local supermarket. Also, while Velveeta and processed American cheese are supremely meltable, I’ve ruled them out simply because I’m looking for cheeses with a bit more character.

What about stretchability?

We’ve established that most cheeses will melt when baked atop pizza. But which will not only melt but stretch into those gooey, messy strands that can make pizza eating such a delightfully challenging endeavor?

Let’s gather some traditional (and not so traditional) pizza cheeses and put them to the test.

How the test works

Rather than bake and top 10 pizzas, I’ll take a quicker road and simply use split English muffins as my pizza crust base. I brush each of 10 muffin halves with tomato sauce, then top with cheese. In order to replicate the amount of cheese you might find on a typical slice of pizza, I’ve done some math with our Crispy Cheesy Pan Pizza recipe, and each muffin half gets 21g (3/4 of an ounce, about 3 tablespoons) of cheese.

I bake the “pizzas” for 15 minutes, checking them every 5 minutes for cheese-melting progress. After 15 minutes I remove the pizzas from the oven and sample each one for both flavor and the melty-stretchy cheese experience.

Want to know which cheese is which? A, cheddar B, fontina C, smoked Gouda D, pepper Jack E, fresh whole-milk mozzarella F, low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella G, Muenster H, provolone I, raclette and J, blend of Parmesan, Asiago, and cheddar.

As expected, all of these cheeses melt beautifully. The first five exhibit excellent to average stretchability. The second five “puddle” as they melt and, while comfortingly soft, don't stretch into strands.

  • Fresh milk mozzarella (packaged in plastic, not brine): Fresh, rich, milky flavor. My taste-testers (husband and son) rank this cheese #1, noting “it makes the pizza taste artisan.”
  • Low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella: Salty/tangy flavor, almost like salted butter.
  • Provolone: According to testers, the flavor is that of a “classic run-of the-mill pizzeria pizza.”
  • Fontina: Mild flavor overall, with a hint of cheddar-y sharpness.
  • Muenster: Milder flavor than cheddar, but more assertive than mozzarella a little big tangy.
  • Cheddar: Sharp, nutty, rich flavor. Holds up wells as it cools, remaining soft and pliable.
  • Smoked Gouda: Mild, somewhat buttery flavor overlaid with smoke and a hint of sweetness.
  • Pepper Jack: Mild cheddar-like flavor with a nice degree of heat.
  • Raclette: A “barnyard” cheese, almost stinky to begin with but as it bakes the flavor mellows nicely.
  • Homemade Asiago/cheddar/Parmesan blend: Salty and a bit sweet the Parmesan really comes through after baking.

Turn hard aged cheese into a soft, sliceable block

As noted earlier, the more aged the cheese, the more reluctant it is to melt. But with a little help, even the crumbliest Parm or driest Romano can be made both meltable and sliceable.

Want to transform your own favorite aged cheeses into a meltable, pizza-perfect topping? See how in our blog post, The secret ingredient chefs won't admit using.

Conclusions

How serious are you about stretchability? If the aforementioned strands of melting cheese can make or break your pizza experience, then you’d best stick to mozzarella as your main cheese squeeze, with provolone a solid runner-up. A combo of mozzarella and provolone offers both stretch and flavor in fact, many pizzerias use just this blend.

If stretch isn’t important but you still favor an ooey-gooey melted cheese experience, any of the other tested cheeses should suit you just fine. Cheddar, fontina, Muenster, Gouda, etc. — consider their flavors, and pair them with whatever other toppings you’ll use.

Remember, you don’t have to limit yourself to one variety of cheese. My preference is fresh mozzarella for its mellow richness and supreme stretchability paired with sharp cheddar for its assertive flavor, and perhaps a bit of provolone thrown in for that signature pizzeria taste.

I've topped this Crispy Cheesy Pan Pizza with shredded low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella around the edges, and sliced raclette plus torn fresh whole-milk mozzarella in the center.

Shred your own — please!

At last, you’re ready to put your pizza together so you rip open a plastic package of shredded mozzarella cheese … NOOOOOOOO! After all the love and care you’ve put into its crust and sauce, surely your pizza deserves better than the powdered cellulose and mold inhibitor you’ll find in that bag of pre-shredded cheese!

Pre-shredded cheese neither tastes as good nor melts as well as block cheese that you shred yourself. If you absolutely can’t shred your own (believe me, I get it), then it’s best to buy a block of mozzarella and simply cube, slice, or rip it into pieces. Your pizza will thank you.

Next time you bake pizza and are considering toppings, remember: mozzarella is a fine choice, but it's not your only option. With a little imagination around the cheese aisle, I'll bet you can make your homemade pizza even more delicious than it already is!

Now that you've got the cheese covered, check out our Tips for saucing your favorite pizza to complete the full pizza experience!


The Best Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia

Almost as famous as the Liberty Bell, Philadelphia's cheesesteaks are a culinary institution. Here are a few top places to try one.

Related To:

Photo By: Steve Legato, Steve Legato Photo

Photo By: Steve Legato, Steve Legato Photo

Behold the Cheesesteak

Who’s got the best cheesesteak? It is a question that nags many a native Philadelphian, particularly when out-of-towners visit. After all, the elemental combo of griddle-cooked beef, gooey cheese and onions (gotta get onions), stuffed into a long roll, is our most-famous culinary export. Attempting to answer, beyond a shadow of a grease-dripping doubt, is a good way to drive yourself crazy, to say nothing of the damage to your waistline. Instead, let’s look at 10 of the area’s most-distinctive cheesesteak makers, all of whom provide a serious napkins-so-necessary experience.

(Note: For the purposes of this feature, we’ve decided to relegate Pat’s and Geno’s, South Philly’s world-famous dueling cheesesteak specialists, to “Hall of Fame” status. Sure, you should try them — but try these, too.)

Jim's Steaks

A cheesesteak institution on par with the Pat’s and Geno’s of the world, Jim’s earns a slot on this list for its prime location — out-of-towners always want to check out South Street — and unmistakable atmosphere. The lively, funny staff knows how to work it from every angle, quickly cranking out food and keeping customers chuckling as they rip through their orders. The steaks are reliably great, but the cheesesteak making is even better. With just a thin pane of glass separating you from some of the quickest griddle jocks in the game, the spectacle is the cheesesteak equivalent of courtside seats.

John's Roast Pork

Dalessandro's Steaks & Hoagies

Another frequently cited pick among connoisseurs — including Jimmy Fallon — this Roxborough institution pleases fans with its specific take on the ’steak — the meat’s finely chopped on the grill, as opposed to served in thicker strips as it is with some competitors. Counter service sets this tiny neighborhood spot apart, as does its surprisingly extensive craft beer selection — primo pilsners pair very well with pizza ’steaks.

Joe's Steaks + Soda Shop

Even vegetarians can find something to love at this Fishtown offshoot of the original Joe’s. Aiming to find fans beyond the classic meat-and-cheese lovers, this Joe’s even appeals to those who don’t actually eat meat, thanks to its vegetarian cheesesteaks, plus a number of other non-meaty options. But the sandwich that made Joe Groh’s grill famous is still the main thrust of this spick-and-span shop that's a soda-jerk-style throwback — the hand-cut rib eye on their sandwiches goes incredibly well with briny goodies from the stocked pepper and pickle bar.

Photo: Neff Associates

Saad's Halal

Located in West Philly’s leafy Little Lebanon, Saad’s has long been a go-to for the area’s Middle Eastern community, as well as the thousands of college students who populate this part of town. But fast-talking owner Saad Alrayes, who can usually be found announcing orders into the microphone at the register, serves much more than the requisite falafel and shawarma. His menu also dips into American tradition, including a solid chopped-style cheesesteak using all halal ingredients. Where else are you going to be able to order an "American-mushroom-wit" alongside a little tabbouleh and baba ganoush?


6 Pina Colada-Inspired Recipes

One sip of a pina colada and you’re transported to the tropics. Filled with pineapple, coconut, and rum flavor, they’re a summertime staple. Sometimes though, you want to enjoy the flavors of a pina colada without making a cocktail. When those cravings hit, try any of these pina colada-inspired recipes. They’re much less expensive to [&hellip]

18 Homemade Pasta Sauces That Aren’t Marinara

Step aside marinara, there are new pasta sauces in town. Easy and oh-so-good, these from-scratch pasta sauces will be your new go-to’s. No more jarred sauces for you! Homemade pasta sauce might require a little extra effort, but the family will taste the love in every bite.

Lemon Desserts To Turn a Bad Day Around

When life hands you lemons, skip the lemonade and make a dessert. Tart, tangy, and sweet, they’re a scrumptious way to end a meal. We know dessert can turn a bad day around. When you add bright and refreshing lemon flavor to the recipe, we promise they’ll be smiles all around.


Food & Drink in Philadelphia

Travel Responsibly: As the region recovers from COVID-19, safety guidelines are evolving at attractions, restaurants, shops and hotels. Mask-wearing, social distancing, advance tickets or reservations remain recommended or necessary at many spots. Your best bet: Check online or call ahead.

There should be a championship event just for Philadelphia’s food.

Chefs choose Philadelphia for their passion projects it’s where they can run their (usually small) restaurants and fully commit to their vision. As such, there’s an incredible array of good food to eat here, and there’s a story behind every dish.

What makes up Philly’s diverse dining scene? Street food, 300-plus bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) restaurants, sidewalk seating reminiscent of European cities, bars with great food, craft pizza spots, vegetarian and vegan eateries (that aren’t just for vegetarians and vegans) and the storied Reading Terminal Market and Italian Market.


Why Anchovies Should Be on Every Pizza

One of our favorite cookbooks this spring is Pizza Camp by Joe Beddia, whose Philadelphia pizza we declared the country's best in 2015. The writing is hilarious, the recipes guarantee success (here's a basic red and white sauce, but you'll need to buy the book for the most important one: the dough), and there's two picture of pugs that justify purchasing the whole thing. Read Beddia's pizza rules here, and open your heart to anchovies in the excerpt below. —Alex Beggs

I used to hate anchovies. I can remember as a kid, before I really appreciated them, my parents (assholes) would get a pizza with half anchovies (for them) and half plain (for us). The problem was that the pizza place would cook the hell out of the anchovies until they had an intense gross fishy flavor that permeated the whole pie.

It was all a matter of finding great anchovies and figuring out how to use them. The thing with anchovies, as with prosciutto, is that they go through an extensive curing process. This makes them beautiful—salty, of course, but also fruity and addictively savory. Even the average anchovy in the tin can is cured and requires no cooking.

This is the simplest of all toppings. The key is to find a great anchovy. The best are generally from the Mediterranean and packed in salt. These fish need to be filleted and rinsed before eating. Normally the same company that offers the whole anchovy in salt also has the same fish filleted and in oil.

My favorite brand is Agostino Recca. These are the ones that we use at the pizza shop. The individual fillets are the same quality and a thousand times easier to cook with than the whole fish.

At Pizzeria Beddia we take anchovy fillets from Sicily and add them to the top of the pizza after it comes out of the oven. This allows them to melt a little, incorporate into the pie, and become aromatic. I usually try to break up one whole anchovy into two or three pieces over each slice—so about eight fillets total per pizza. Just don’t cook them!

From Pizza Camp: Recipes from Pizzeria Beddia by Joe Beddia. Copyright © 2017 by Joe Beddia. Reprinted by permission of Abrams Publishing.


Yeah, yeah. We wrote a whole thing about quitting cheap meat and being more conscientious in our consumption. And those arguments are all valid and important ones to consider as we go slowly forward into whatever kind of restaurant industry exists in the future.

But cheesesteaks are important to Philadelphia. They’re a part of our identity as a city and as a dining class. They ground us in the convenience and approachability that have long been hallmarks of our scene and they’re one of the signifiers of our unshakeable blue-collar roots. Though cheesesteaks have been politicized, argued over and gussied up over the years, Philadelphians have never turned our backs on them. And we’re certainly not going to do that now.

Should they cost a little more? Absolutely. Can they be a lever used to shift the path of an exploitative industrial food system in dire need of change? Maybe. But a cheap sandwich built for the working class is revolutionary in its own right. Don’t eat them every day is all we’re saying. Be thoughtful about your choices. Make every cheesesteak count.

Here are a few of our favorites, currently doing delivery or takeout. I’m sure every one of these places could use your support right now. So if you’re looking for a good takeout or delivery cheesesteak, here are some good places to start. (Keep scrolling for our full list of Philly’s best cheesesteak spots.)

Frizwit, Pennsport
The crown jewel cheesesteak: pastured beef from Primal Supply Meats whiz made with Philabundance Abundantly Good cheddar and Ambler Beer Co.’s Belgian Pale Ale. the roll made by Merzbacher’s Bakery in Germantown. And only $5 more than a sandwich at Pat’s. Available for pick-up

Barry’s, Roxborough
I’m gonna suggest something daring here. When you go to Barry’s looking to get your cheesesteak fix (which you should absolutely do), rather than just getting the standard cheesesteak, go for the Alpine Steak (a cheesesteak made with Swiss and brown gravy). Oh, and also, the South Philly, which is a cheesesteak with grilled salami, provolone and pizza sauce. I mean, get a regular steak, too. But stretch a little and get something new while you’re at it. You won’t regret it. Available for pickup or local delivery

Delco Steaks, Broomall
Two-foot cheesesteaks AND pancakes on the menu? What more do you need? Oh, you want your steaks made with Pennsylvania-raised, hormone and antibiotic-free beef? Done. You want your two-foot cheesesteak made with Cooper sharp? Done. You also want to be able to pick up some steaks for the grill from the butcher counter? Done. Delco Steaks has got you covered. Available for pickup or local delivery

Steve’s Prince of Steaks, Multiple locations
Steve’s is running with three of its four locations right now — the Center City branch remains closed. But if you’re in the Northeast or Langhorne and are looking for some classic steaks covered with Wiz, some fries (also covered with Wiz) or a hoagie (which I’m sure they’ll cover with Wiz if you ask nice), this is your spot. Call ahead with your order, pick it up at the shop. Available for pickup

Dalessandro’s, Roxborough
Does this place serve the best cheesesteaks in the region? Maybe. There’s a lot to be said for personal preference and idiosyncrasy. But Dalessandro’s is absolutely up there among the legends in Cheesesteak Valhalla, so if you’re in the neighborhood and looking for fresh, finely-chopped meat, grilled onions and cheese on a soft roll done by a crew that should probably be in the running for the Nobel Prize for Cheesesteaks, drop by. Pro tip: get twice as many steaks as you want to eat immediately. I swear that they’re even better as leftovers the next day. Available for pickup or local delivery

Joe’s Steaks, Fishtown
Chicken cheesesteaks, vegan cheesesteaks, buffalo chicken fries — Joe’s is doing your standard, conventional cheesesteak, sure, but they’re also there for those that are looking for something a little bit different. They’ve also got a cheesesteak burger, which is basically what you’d get if a cheesesteak and a cheeseburger got together and made a baby. It’s beautiful, like the circle of life on a bun. And then you eat it. Available for pickup or delivery via Caviar

John’s Roast Pork, Pennsport
Another contender for best cheesesteak in Philly, John’s was dark for a little while after COVID shut the city down, but is currently back up and running, slinging steaks and roast pork sandwiches for the masses. They’re only open ’til 7 p.m., are closed Sundays and Mondays, and don’t appear to be doing any delivery, but for the neighbors — and anyone willing to make the trip to South Philly — this is still nothing but good news. Available for pickup

Where to Eat Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia: The Ultimate Guide

A classic long before Hollywood came calling

There are two ways to start at Max’s, and one way to finish. Going cheesesteak? They do a nice job: chopped steak, lots of cheese, a long line (a scene in Creed was filmed here) that moves quickly unless you get stuck behind tourists. But they also do a plain steak sandwich the neighborhood loves with mayo and occasionally ketchup. Either way, you’ll be walking out with an enormous sandwich. Seriously, go for a half unless you’ve brought backup. And if you’re one of those people who put mayo on a regular cheesesteak? Just … I don’t even know what to say to you right now. 3653 Germantown Avenue, North Philly.

John’s Roast Pork in Pennsport.

John’s Roast Pork

Don’t let the name fool you

There are a thousand places claiming to be Philly’s best. Many of them are lying. But John’s? Man, they might be lying less than the rest. This place — with its seeded rolls, muffuletta-style hollowing, sweet onions, Whiz-shunning, and almost architectural construction — has brought a scientific rigor to the cheesesteak that shows in every sandwich that comes off the line. Go with the sharp provolone, and if you like a little kick, ask for long hots. 14 East Snyder Avenue, Pennsport.

John’s Roast Pork in Pennsport.

Woodrow’s

The cheesesteak for New Philadelphia

The artisanal mind-set has chefs thinking everything is better if you make it yourself. Much of the time, this leads to disaster. But at Woodrow’s, the kitchen set about building the cheese-steak back up again from scratch, shaving their own rib eye, gimmicking up truffled Whiz, even making cherry pepper mayo. And it works, because they’re not reinventing a classic, just adding a little polish to a tried-and-true combination. 630 South Street, Bella Vista.

Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop

A modern shop with historic roots

This place started as a hole-in-the-wall called Chink’s that did only one thing: steak sandwiches, with or without onions. Today, the menu is longer (15 sandwiches, including a vegan cheesesteak), the name has changed, and the inside looks like a quilted-aluminum neighborhood luncheonette. But owner Joe Groh is still using the same recipe from 60-some years ago and knocking out sliced-steak sandwiches on soft rolls, with or without onions, slorked with a generous shot of Whiz. 1 West Girard Avenue, Fishtown, and 6030 Torresdale Avenue, Northeast Philly.

Charlie’s Roast Pork

Cheesesteaks first, then beer

The crew from Pennsport Beer Boutique redid a space behind the neighborhood favorite beer bar and turned it into an all-day sandwich joint that pushes the roast pork, but also does a fine cheesesteak–including a locals-only version with long hots. Yeah, you can get beers out front and bring them back to drink with your cheesesteaks (or roast pork sandwiches, if you swing that way). And yes, you can get a steak in the back and bring it into the beer garden. 1301 South 3rd Street, Pennsport

Mike’s BBQ

It might seem like a stunt, but it isn’t

The purists might say that a cheesesteak must be made with chopped (or sliced) rib eye and that to even think about using something like the slow-smoked, tender and incredibly flavorful brisket served up daily by the pit crew at Mike’s is sheer sacrilege. But those people are idiots, because a brisket cheesesteak with Cooper sharp whiz and fried onions is one thing and one thing only: Absolutely goddamn delicious. 1703 South 11th Street, East Passyunk

Dalessandro’s

A fan fave, without any flash

When faced with the classic Pat’s-vs.-Geno’s question, most Philadelphians will answer with “Dalessandro’s.” Why? Because it’s the rarest of things: a cheesesteak joint worth leaving your neighborhood for. The basic model here is a work of art — the benchmark against which all other cheesesteaks in Philly (and the world) ought to be judged. But this is also a place to come if your tastes (mushrooms, peppers, pizza steaks) run to the more eclectic. 600 Wendover Street, Roxborough.

One Pound Cheesesteaks in Kensington.

One Pound Cheesesteaks

Late-night steaks — the size of your leg

It’s 3 a.m. Do you know where to score a two-foot cheesesteak for $11? Now you do. Just walk up to the window and ask. What you’ll walk away with is a marvel of late-night eating — a massive roll stuffed with meat, cheese, chopped onions, and ketchup on demand. 2661 Kensington Avenue, Kensington.

Gooey Looie’s Deli in Pennsport.

Gooey Looie’s Deli

It’s a small place that’s super simple — just a lunch counter inside a grocery store. But it’s worth seeking out, because the ’steaks are made to order and somehow, impossibly, come on bread that’s both crispy and soft. Really, it’s a magic trick that sets this sandwich apart. Plus, the meat has an excellent flavor, as though haunted by generations of onions passing across the grill. 231 McClellan Street, Pennsport.

Gooey Looie’s Deli in Pennsport.

Hog Island Steaks

A damn good-looking specimen

The menu offers a thousand sandwiches, banking on the history of Hog Island and its tie to the “hoggie.” But the cheesesteak? It gets its own special section, with more than a dozen varieties centered on fresh beef, chopped, thrown on the grill, and turned into a hot-sandwich beauty mixed up with American cheese. There’s also a loaded option with mushrooms, peppers and onions, which tastes like a good version of all the completely wrong “Philly-style” cheesesteaks done everywhere else. 785 Starr Street, Phoenixville.

Spot Gourmet Burgers in Brewerytown.

Spot Gourmet Burgers

Want to try something wild? Order the Jawn, a dream-team combo of Philly’s, Camden’s and Pittsburgh’s best ideas, with a little Schmitter thrown in. It’s sliced rib eye and Whiz on a round roll with two kinds of onion (raw red and grilled white), french fries and burger sauce. 2821 West Girard Avenue, Brewerytown.

Donkey’s Place in Camden. | Photo: Neal Santos

Donkey’s Place

Rounded, poppy-seeded — but still revered

Bourdain declared it the best cheesesteak around, and if you’ve made the trek across the bridge, you know that this thing is a contender. It has most of the expected elements — sliced beef, onions off the flat grill, American cheese — but the big difference is that Donkey’s serves its ’steaks on a round, seeded kaiser roll. So you gotta ask yourself: What makes a cheesesteak a cheesesteak? Is it the ingredients? The bread? The shape? Or, really, is it something more ineffable — a sense of working-class, eat-it-standing convenience and no-bullshit simplicity? If it’s that, then Donkey’s absolutely serves one of the best cheesesteaks out there. 1223 Haddon Avenue, Camden.

Cosmi’s Deli

A for-locals joint that goes the extra mile

A neighborhood grocery store opened in 1932 by an Italian stonemason that became one of the best spots in town for cheesesteaks and hoagies? That’s the kind of story Philadelphia loves. And seriously, this place (which caught fire almost 20 years ago and was rebuilt as a bigger, better sandwich shop) knocks out some shockingly good options, mounted on the house’s own rolls, made from the best ingredients they can get their hands on. Better still, they offer two kinds of rolls (seeded and plain) and eight kinds of cheese, including Cooper sharp, which is a little fancy but makes for a fine sandwich. 1501 South 8th Street, East Passyunk.

Saad’s

Overrun with students … for good reason

That an all-halal Middle Eastern restaurant — one crawling with Penn kids — slings one of the best ’steaks around proves there are many sides to our city. The cooks here bang out a big, dumb, satisfying cheesesteak like nobody’s business, but they really shine on the poultry side of things, doing a chicken cheesesteak that can make even purists reconsider their position. 4500 Walnut Street, University City.

Mama’s Pizzeria in Bala Cynwyd. | Photo: Neal Santos

Mama’s Pizzeria

Extra love for the extra cheese

Massive, gut-busting sandwiches that run heavy on the cheese (a specialty combo they blend in-house) — that’s the draw. The obvious one, anyway. Because really, it’s the care that goes into the ’steaks that makes the difference. Not pulled from a mountain of chopped meat, these individually made gooey monsters are mounted on squishy rolls. Bring an appetite — or a friend. 426 Belmont Avenue, Bala Cynwyd.

Mama’s Pizzeria in Bala Cynwyd.

Steve’s Prince of Steaks in Northeast Philly.

Steve’s Prince of Steaks

A blissfully unchanged OG

Forget the other locations. The original Steve’s has been providing the Northeast with quality ’steaks (and Texas Tommies and chocolate soda) for decades. The sandwiches are big and delicious, and there’s a line of toppings to grab along the stainless by the order windows. There’s not much in the way of seating, and the place remains cash-only, but we wouldn’t want anything to change here anyway. 7200 Bustleton Avenue, Northeast Philly.

Steve’s Prince of Steaks in Northeast Philly.

Geno’s Steaks

A loud, bright, there-when-you-need-it institution

A theory: Geno’s has all that neon so that no matter how rough a night you’ve had, you can still find it at last call. Like, even if you’ve had the kind of night where you’ve stolen a helicopter and are just looking for a place to land it. The inside is filled with headshots and memorabilia, the grills run 24 hours a day, the steaks are sliced not chopped (the big difference between Geno’s and Pat’s across the street), and the crowds are enough to teach you everything you need to know about Philly (and its tourists) in one night. 1219 South 9th Street, East Passyunk.

Pat’s King of Steaks

A not-as-loud, not-as-bright, there-when-you-need-it institution

Pat’s is fast. Pat’s is famous. Pat’s is open every day, all of the time, except on Thanksgiving and Christmas. It slops on the Whiz (when you ask for it) and has been making cheesesteaks since 1930. Plus, this is the cheesesteak Rocky ate. What, you think you’re better than Rocky? 1237 East Passyunk Avenue, East Passyunk.

Chubby’s Steaks in Roxborough.

Chubby’s Steaks

Overstuffed, fork required

Easy on the Whiz, heavy on the meat, on a soft roll that sponges up the grease from the grill. Chubby’s is a busy joint, full of friends and neighbors — and even though the crowds can stack up deep near the register, it’s all cool, because Chubby’s has a bar right there with a TV that’s always tuned to whatever game is on. 5826 Henry Avenue, Roxborough.

Chubby’s Steaks in Roxborough.

Little Sicily II in Pennsport.

Little Sicily II

A spicy Indian cheesesteak? (It’s even better than it sounds.)

Yes, it’s a neighborhood Italian restaurant run by an Indian family. But they’ve got this extra menu — their “Spicy Food Menu” — and on it lives the spicy chicken cheesesteak, which is a unique thing in this ’steak-obsessed town. It’s chopped chicken, hit with Indian spices and packed into an Amoroso’s roll. It’s a fantastic sandwich that’s unique in a city where so many sandwiches are pretty much indistinguishable. Order the masala cheese fries, too. 1600 South Columbus Avenue, Pennsport.

Little Sicily II in Pennsport.

Barclay Prime

The Gordon Gekko of cheesesteaks

It’s a stunt sandwich — a $120 wagyu rib-eye, foie gras and truffled Whiz concoction that comes with a half bottle of champagne — but since someone has to set the top bar for this kind of thing, better Barclay than some lesser contender. The sandwich is good but ridiculously rich. And not for nothing: Rendered foie fat just isn’t as good for soaking down a roll as old-fashioned beef grease. If someone else is picking up the bill, you should absolutely try it. But bear in mind that you could get something like 13 Dalessandro’s cheese-steaks (plus a small soda) for the same price. 237 South 18th Street, Rittenhouse.

Tony Luke’s

It’s everything — and everywhere

At this point, Tony Luke Jr. is Philly’s cheese-steak ambassador. Like Johnny Appleseed, he walks the land, planting shops in the strangest of places and bringing cheese-steaks to the far corners. He’s got operators in malls, at a bowling alley, even one at the Pentagon. But Tony Luke’s original location is still slinging the best ’steaks on its home turf, with chopped onions, sliced rib eye and lots of cheese (Whiz or otherwise), until midnight. 39 East Oregon Avenue, South Philly.

Oregon Steaks

Your first stop post-last-call

The pizza fries look good at 2 a.m., but stay strong. The cheesesteak — all grease and salt and spongy bread — was designed by the sandwich gods to rebalance the body’s humors after a night of beers and shots. It’s a summation of poor life choices in sandwich form, and Oregon Steaks knows that. That’s why they’re there. And that’s why you are, too. 2654 South 10th Street, South Philly.

Philip’s Steaks

A South Philly pit stop for those in the know

The red-and-white-checkerboard design makes it look old-timey. The slightly run-down, boxy building makes it seem a bit forlorn. And the location — far from 9th and Passyunk — would make you think you’d be lonely here on a late-night run. But you’d be wrong, because this place always has a crowd. The standard-issue option is good (though light on the cheese, no matter your preferred variety), but the real draw here is the Old Fashioned — a sliced-steak sandwich with provolone, grilled tomatoes, peppers, and a shake of oregano. 2234 West Passyunk Avenue, South Philly.

Philip’s Steaks in South Philly.

Barry’s Steaks

Honestly speaking, the Battle of Roxborough (Dalessandro’s, Chubby’s and Barry’s) is way more interesting than the Pat’s-vs.-Geno’s rivalry. And Barry’s is a shop with a few surprises of its own. They do some solid ’steaks — juicy, greasy and made to order. They’ve got about 30 years’ experience. They bottle their own sodas. (The root beer is excellent.) And when you walk in and the conversation across the counter is an argument over Eagles ticket prices between a guy in a Vets Stadium t-shirt and another whose legs are covered in Liberty Bell and Spirit of ’76 tattoos, you know you’ve found a place that’s gonna respect the Philly history that the humble cheesesteak represents. 471 Leverington Avenue, Roxborough.

Gojjo

Want to know something that every other ’steak shop in town could learn from the Ethiopian cheesesteak at Gojjo? That neither chopped nor sliced steak is best. What’s best (texture-wise and in terms of maximizing beef-to-cheese cohesion) is to cut the beef into tiny strips that curl and cup when cooked on the grill. That’s what Gojjo does. That’s why these ’steaks are so good. Well, that and the Ethiopian spice that’s all sharp, smoky heat and makes the onion seem almost sweet in comparison. 4540 Baltimore Avenue, University City.

McNally’s Tavern

The cheesesteak’s delicious first cousin

Like the Trainwreck (below), the Schmitter is a kind of deviant — a round, stacked and juicy mutant that takes the beef/onion/cheese formula and mad-sciences in some wild hoagie DNA with the addition of sliced tomato and grilled salami. The result is a killer sandwich that is both descended from Philly’s most famous sandwich and wholly its own delicious creature. 8634 Germantown Avenue, Chestnut Hill.

Beck’s Cajun Cafe

The cheesesteak’s delicious first cousin twice removed

Look, it would take a lot to improve on a cheesesteak. But if you were going to try, you’d be wise to first check out Beck’s, where they’ve been serving an upgraded model for years now. The Trainwreck is a standard cheesesteak mounted on a French baguette, smeared with Creole mayo, then jumped up with chopped salami and Andouille sausage, onions and cheese. It’s a killer sandwich, made even better with a couple tots of hot sauce. Reading Terminal Market, Market East.

Jim’s Steaks

One of the originals … that got better with age

Black-and-white tile, polished stainless, beef steaming on the grill: There are some things about the Springfield location that make it feel a lot like the others — those that are still around, anyhow. (A note about that: The West Philly Jim’s is currently closed for renovations the South Street one has a different owner entirely.) But this youngest family member has a parking lot and shorter lines while still serving a classic ’steak any way you want it. 469 Baltimore Pike, Springfield.

Published as a part of “The Cheesesteak, Reconsidered” in the October 2018 issue of Philadelphia magazine.


Watch the video: Pizza (August 2022).