Hi, my name is Jim Pappas and I have eaten 275 different cheesesteaks in the last year. A year ago, May 16, 2018, I started my Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure to find the ultimate cheesesteak.
Yes, 275 different cheesesteaks in the last year. They have all been in this region. As far west as Reading, PA; North to Princeton, NJ; and South to Bear, DE. I was heckled twice and threatened to be sued once (by a day drinking patron). What has surprised me the most is that just about everyone I have come in contact with is uninterested in the man taking selfies with and/or video of his cheesesteak.
The question I get all of the time is, ‘Where is the best cheesesteak?’ The irony is that the person asking either 1) Wants to argue that their cheesesteak place is the best or 2) They are from out of town and will end up at Pat’s, Geno’s or Jim’s.
When I ask myself, ‘where is the best cheesesteak?’ I like to think that every cheesesteak is special and has something to offer to the eating public. That is why my ‘best of’ list has 25 categories. I trimmed the list down from 30 categories but thought of a whole new category specific ‘Best of’ list that will be coming out soon. I am not a participation trophy kind of guy but I like to recognize people/places/things for what they do well.
Before we get to the list here are my disclosures:
I ate all 275 cheesesteaks. The complete list of my adventure can be found on my website. Date of my visit and notes are all there. If you don’t see your favorite cheesesteak place listed as one of my ‘Best of’s,’ please check the list before getting on social media to tell me how stupid I am and that I have to go to your spot. I paid for every cheesesteak and have almost all of my receipts.
Videos of me at every place is on my YouTube channel. While you’re there verifying that I ate every cheesesteak, please subscribe. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Without further delay, in alphabetical order and saving the biggest categories for the end; I humbly present my Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure 1st Annual ‘Best of’ List.
Best Brunch Cheesesteak
The Coffee House Too
2514 York Street, Philadelphia 19125
We are not in Kansas anymore Toto! The Hangover Cheesesteak! Holy Mackerel! What a place! What a cheesesteak! THEY DON’T HAVE A LIQUOR LICENSE SO A BRUNCH COCKTAIL IS FREE! The muffins are also FREE! The Hangover Cheesesteak $9.75 and abso-freaking-lutely fantabulous! They describe their creation better than I can so straight from the menu — a Quarter pound of shaved steak served with 3 fried eggs, cheddar, & homemade hash with peppers and onions on a garlic buttered long roll with fresh lettuce, tomato, & onion. Cooked to perfection and served by the nicest person, Nicole. I’m not a fan of pillows on the bench seat while I’m eating my breakfast but I guess they were a nice design feature and everyone else seemed to enjoy them. P.S. a clean fun bathroom!
Best Date Cheesesteak
American Sardine Bar
1800 Federal Street, Philadelphia 19146
They finally added a Cheesesteak to the menu and it is a good one. You can impress your date with their Japanese Beef Cheesesteak and the $14.50 would kill your wallet and/or won’t be as painful if you don’t get a 2nd date. The ‘Salted Caramel Bread Pudding’ sounds amazing. The Brussels Sprouts looked amazing and were being shared by a young couple. You wouldn’t be the only people there on a date. Sidebar – according to the bartender (one of the few that asked me why I was videoing my cheesesteak) they rotate the menu so check before going.
Best Daytrip Cheesesteak
Penn Brew Station
627 W Baltimore Pike, West Grove, PA 19390
Here is a great example of the free information you get from the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure. A winter feeding ground for Bald Eagles is by the Conowingo Dam which is part of Route 1 and just across the PA/MD border in Maryland. It is about an hour and a half drive from Center City. When the temperatures are freezing, go see the Bald Eagles and then on your way home stop at Penn Brew Station. This is a top on the line Cheesesteak! Bursting with meat and flavor and lots of pepper in the seasoning. If you lived near West Grove Penn Brew Station would be your go-to cheesesteak. I don’t know if it is a craft beer store that sells cheesesteaks or a cheesesteak place that sells craft beer, either way, you are limited to 3 beers while you eat. Plenty of parking, tables and a bathroom.
Best Cheesesteak Deal
Cavanaugh’s Rittenhouse Square
1823 Sansom Street, Philadelphia 19103
$5 Cheesesteak Mondays at Cavanaugh’s Rittenhouse! This is a cheesesteak you would like at full price. It comes with fries or tots. I choose the tots and there was a lot of them. Lots of fried onions which gave the cheesesteak a great taste. The roll was struggling but held it together. Very good cheesesteak at full price, awesome cheesesteak at $5. Thank you, Kevin Wilson, from Dining on a Dime for this gem.
Best Dessert After your Cheesesteak
Zio’s Brick Oven Pizza
111 S 13th Street, Philadelphia
The cheesesteak was good and stood on its own but the Fried Dough with Cannoli Cream should be taught in our schools, have monuments built in its honor and recognized as a National holiday! They have seating, bathroom and the girl behind the counter was awesome. Warning, there is a non-associated Zio’s in (I think) NE Philly, they don’t have fried dough.
Best Early Morning on the Go Cheesesteak
Little Pete’s Steaks
6701 State Road, Tacony (NE Philly) 19135
Sometimes you are on the go and need that 7am cheesesteak. Little Pete’s is the place for you. Good little cheesesteak for the price. There is a steady stream of regulars (mostly truckers crossing the Tacony-Palmyra bridge) so the grill is fired up and greasy.
Best Family Cheesesteak
540 Oak Ave, Primos, PA 19018
This is one of the bright spots of the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure because without the Adventure I would never have gone here. This is the perfect place if are eating with kids, especially someone else’s kids. You will get a very good cheesesteak with great customer service. The kids will get sensory overload with the train that goes around on an elevated track and the display case of Coke memorabilia, then you can get them sugared up on Coco’s made ice cream and cookies. Great meal for you, someone else’s wired kids.
Best Historical Cheesesteak
8634 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia 19118
I almost feel bad for the hundreds of people that stroll by the green door on Germantown Ave and don’t realize how much Philadelphia Cheesesteak history they just walked past. The Schmitter® was created in 1921 and is still being enjoyed today. Great neighborhood bar feel, great history, great family, great carrot cake and the bathroom is in the basement. What more could you want?
Best Mash-up Cheesesteak
Big Cheese Pizza
364 Wilmington Pike, Glen Mills, PA
The best time to go is between meal rushes when Melinda is bored and she’ll make whatever you want. Rolls and sauces are made in-house. I drew on my inner J Cohl (co-host of Dining on a Dime), my mash-up mentor, and got the ‘Big Cheesesteak’ combined with the ‘Special Cheesesteak’ on a garlic roll. The garlic roll wasn’t on the menu but Melinda said, ‘Sure, I can make one of those.’ The Franken-cheesesteak was a flavorful taste explosion in my mouth. P.S. The fried sugar dough balls and custard sauce were a close 2nd for Best Dessert. Google maps take you to the wrong address, they are in the shopping center on the right of the southbound lanes.
Best Massiveness Cheesesteak
Tender Bones Rib Shack
2504 Red Lion Road, Bear, DE 19701
A 3 lb. CHEESESTEAK?! If you find yourself in Bear, DE, I’m sorry. The good news is you will be near Tender Bones Rib Shack. 3 lbs of Ribeye, fried onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and cheese. The $15 price shocked me, but I got 4 meals out of this beautiful creation. Chef Bones is wonderful. He numbers and signs every cheesesteak container. What surprised me the most was that only half the people that came in got cheesesteaks. I guess the other food is good also.
Best Most Ways to Enjoy a Beer with your Cheesesteak
Sam’s Boardwalk Style Pizza
31 Brookline Blvd, Havertown, PA 19083
This was a very very very good cheesesteak. The meat was plentiful, moist and flavorful. A very good amount of cheese and melt. At Sam’s, you have 3 ways to drink a beer with your cheesesteak: 1) Craft beer from the cooler at Sam’s. 2) Eat in McGillicuddy’s next door (no smoking). 3) Take your Sam’s cheesesteak to the Ivy Room (2 doors down and smoking allowed inside). Great overall experience!
Best Non-Cheesesteak Cheesesteak
Talarico’s Sandwich Shop
425 E Philadelphia Ave, Boyertown, PA 19512
Find a reason to go Boyertown and when you are there go to Talarico’s Sandwich Shop. Served on soft Rolls, according to Kyle, 4th generation proprietor, it is an Amish thing. I will be researching that next week at the Farmers Market. Anyway, I am a soft roll fan because they are soft and surprising hold up under a lot of sauce. The Pepper Ham Cheesesteak was amazing and Kyle discloses the origin of the Pepper Ham sandwich in the video on my YouTube channel. Green peppers, fried onions and a generous amount of cheese make this a great non-cheesesteak cheesesteak. Get a piece of the Homemade Carrot Cake. PS $23, 2 (amazing) sandwiches, 2 (small) bags of chips, 1 24oz (Kutztown) soda and a big piece of carrot cake.
Best NY Style Deli Cheesesteak
Famous 4th St Deli
700 S 4th Street, Philadelphia 19147
It’s like a NY Style Deli and a cheesesteak had a baby! I still don’t know exactly what to think of that heaping hot mass of coma-inducing food they call a cheesesteak. First off, the place is awesome! A plate of ‘pickles’ to start. The cheesesteak was big. It was obviously made by a deli that makes big sandwiches. A lot of good quality meat put on great bread. The meat is thicker slices than I am used to and it was kind of chopped. Lots of cheese but not melted through. The extras were great. All of the food that I saw coming out of the kitchen looked amazing and plenty to share. They are famous for their cookies. I got the white chocolate chip and I now know where all of the Famous 4th Street Cookies stores are located.
Best Old School Deli Cheesesteak
1501 S 8th Street, Philadelphia 19147
If you want to step back in time and have a very good cheesesteak, go to Cosmi’s. Two card tables in the middle of the deli and everyone is ‘welcoming.’ Absolutely feels like you are at your grandmother’s kitchen table and all of your cousins are squeezing by to get their food.
Best Cheesesteak in Reading Terminal
1136 Arch Street #403, Philadelphia, PA 19107
The best thing you will learn on here is the Reading Terminal has 2 hours of parking for $4 at the adjacent parking garages. Taking your parking ticket and get it validated in the Reading Terminal (after spending $10). After sampling a few different cheesesteaks in the market, By George was the winner. It seemed heavier than the others thanks to a great amount of flavorful meat. A very good amount of cheese (maybe needed a better melt). Very good extras. Was worried that the sesame seed bun would fall apart but it did NOT.
Best Cheesesteak with a View
901 S Christopher Columbus Blvd
Very good cheesesteak in an even greater location! The cheesesteak was very good. A very good amount of meat. The fried onions were plentiful and added great flavor. It was served on a good roll. The guy at the counter was friendly. The price was more than fair. You can sit at an outside table next to the Delaware River. Grab people you like and go to Shank’s for a great riverside meal.
Best Cheesesteak No One is Talking About
El Sabor di me Tierra
2413 S 7th St, Philadelphia 19148
This is the perfect example of what a cheesesteak tastes like when someone is trying to make a great cheesesteak (versus a 20 something-year-old throw meat on a grill and chopping it up). I don’t know the name of this place, because it is in Spanish, but I love it. The juice and flavor can be seen coming out of the meat. I usually lean toward a fine chop, this is not finely chopped but I felt like I was eating a steak. They took a well known common roll and made it taste amazing. A great amount of cheese and awesome melt. The cheesesteak was made with love and it was obvious in every bite. Plenty of tables and a bathroom.
Best Traditional Cheesesteak
339 N Hook Road, Pennsville, NJ 08070
A bigger better traditional cheesesteak is the only way I can think to describe this cheesesteak. I went to Italian Kitchen early in the Adventure when people were questioning why I was going on this adventure because ‘everyone knows where to get a good cheesesteak.’ After posting pictures of this cheesesteak, the doubters became believers. Plenty of parking, seating, bathroom, desserts, lots of choices, and awesome people. This place has it all!
Best Overall Cheesesteak
2653 Brunswick Pike, Lawrence Twp, NJ 08648
At the top of the cheesesteak world, you will meet Meatheadz! I went rogue and love myself for it! I got the ‘The Dripping Steak.’ Big, Tasty, Dripping and only $9.50. Provolone is my new recreational cheese. I could also really taste the difference provolone brings. It’s a heartier cheese. What truly sets this cheesesteak apart from others is that it is dipped in their housemade Aus Jus. The sauce adds flavor and wetness. I am becoming a sauce on my cheesesteak kind of guy. Meatheadz had a regular cheesesteak and a double meat option so to get a true comparison to other cheesesteaks on the adventure I will go back and get a regular cheesesteak.
Editor’s note: I don’t normally like to get into the cheesesteak debate, but I appreciate Jim’s commitment on his quest to eat, rate, and document cheesesteaks on his Cheesesteak Adventure. Someone has to do it, right? If you’ve been to any of these places, let us know your thoughts!
James Pappas is on a quest for the Ultimate Cheesesteak. He’s eaten and reviewed close to 300 cheesesteaks on his Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure.