Cheesesteak #8 Cleavers

11:15 AM

On a Friday

Philadelphia, PA

I still have 2 major spots left to hit. Pat's and Geno's. I want to have a side by side comparison, so that review is going to have to be more planned than other lunches.

After careful consideration, I've decided that the show must go on. And by "show" I mean trying cheesesteaks.

So now I'm really just going to go wherever I want and eat whatever I want.... which isn't too different from the life I'm currently leading. 

 

I've wanted to go to Cleavers for quite a long time and, really, for quite a few reasons. They've got an incredible beer selection (always of interest), boozy milkshakes and floats, waffle fries, and fantastic looking cheesesteaks.

I really thought that getting all of those things the first time I went would be a little much, so instead I opted for a cheesesteak and a boozy milkshake. 

So lets get to the meat of it, shall we?

Before I start the rating, I want to say that if I could just rate the milkshake it would be a freaking 15 out of 10. It was boozy, creamy, and awesome. I can't wait to try all of their flavors and, maybe next time, throw in an extra shot.

- Rating -

So how does it rate?

The categories are:

  • Roll
  • Meat
  • Cheese
  • Onions
  • Team Effort (how it all works together)
  • Service (at the establishment)
  • Overall Value

A maximum of 5 points can be assigned to each category.

  • Roll - 2
    • Honestly, maybe it was because I got the seeded roll instead of the regular, but this cheesesteak would've been better served between 2 pieces of toasted white bread. There was a lack of any texture and every bite left my mouth feeling dry.
  • Meat - 3
    • Fine. Not good. Not bad. Fine.
  • Cheese - 4
    • This was an issue of cheese distribution, not volume.
  • Onions - 3
    • Good number of onions, but no real addition as far as texture.
  • Team Effort - 3
    • This was an okay cheesesteak.
  • Service - 5
    • Service was great. My meal was ready within minutes and served to me at my table. They give you a number to display and drop your order off accordingly.
  • Value - 3
    • An okay cheesesteak for an okay price.

TOTAL:  23

Other Elements of Note:

This location is NOT cash only. Cards are accepted and probably expected.

This building itself was actually quite interesting. It has an industrial feel with iron stairs leading up to a second story seating area.

There are a couple outside tables in front of the building, but be aware that they can get quite hot in direct light during the summer.

Cleavers boasts a robust beer selection that allows for you to match the perfect beer to suit your tastes. On the other hand, boozy milkshakes and floats are available in a variety of fun flavors with extra shots available for an additional fee. My pick, Birthday Surprise, is a combination of birthday cake ice cream and vodka topped with whipped cream and a cherry.

I WILL BE BACK.

This location is fairly close to my home.

Their milkshake was AMAZING. 

I need to try their waffle fries. Since my biggest complaint is the bread, I'm guessing their Steak Fries (waffle-cut fries, ribeye steak, fried onions, white cheddar sauce) would be a very different experience.

More information, including location, hours, and menu, can be found on their website.

- Recap -

I'm extremely glad that I came here. The location is perfectly central, their food and beer selections will surely satisfy those of all tastes, and their prices are reasonable.

Their standard cheesesteak left a bit to be desired, but I'm sure something like the BBQ Cheesesteak (ribeye steak, onion rings, thick cut bacon, American, BBQ sauce) or the Effin' Hot Cheesesteak (ribeye steak, hot cherry pepper relish, fried onions, American, Sriracha Aioli) could be real culinary contenders.

I'll definitely be returning again for Steak Fries, beer, and maybe another milkshake.

Cheesesteak #7 John's Roast Pork

11:00 AM 

On a Friday

Philadelphia, PA

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Look, I was a little nervous to come here. This establishment is constantly rated as one of the best places to get a cheesesteak in Philadelphia. Not only that, but the cheesesteak is not even considered to be their best sandwich. Now that is some seriously high praise.

That means expectations are high. There's no way to get around it. I am expecting to be completely blown away. That's a lot of pressure to put on a sandwich.

Impossible standards, weird location, and getting a sandwich that I know isn't even the specialty of this establishment really prepared me to be let down. I was sure it would be great, but was it really going to be everything I could dream of?

It was.

Even with all the build up, all the expectations, I was honestly blown away.

I wanted it to not be good. I root for the underdog. Even when it's a sports team I like at the top of the ranking I root for those below to unseat the leader.

...maybe this is why I'm bad at being a sports fan.

But this is one of the few times that I am happy that the leader stays exactly where they belong.

- Rating -

So how does it rate?

The categories are:

  • Roll
  • Meat
  • Cheese
  • Onions
  • Team Effort (how it all works together)
  • Service (at the establishment)
  • Overall Value

A maximum of 5 points can be assigned to each category.

  • Roll - 5
    • I don't know if it was the texture, the taste, the addition of sesame seeds on the top, but this was magical
  • Meat - 5
    • The meat on this cheesesteak was, by far, the most surprisingly delightful part of this experience. It was well cut, well seasoned, well cooked, and piled high. What more could a girl ask for?
  • Cheese - 4.5
    • This is clearly not Cheese Whiz. And, clearly, it was delicious. Look, I was trying to keep this as scientific as possible, but sometimes that's just not an option. I briefly considered not giving any number for the cheese category and making the total out of 30 instead of 35, but then I remembered that no one really cares about this but me and I can do what I want
  • Onions - 4
    • Good number of onions, good texture of onions, just good onions
  • Team Effort - 5
    • Not only was each individual part of  this cheesesteak a stand alone success, but together I don't know if they can ever be beat
  • Service - 4
    • Service was good. There were separate lines for "Grill-Steaks-Breakfast" and "Beef-Pork-Meatballs" which greatly streamlined the process, which seemed to help
  • Value - 4.5
    • An amazing cheesesteak for about $10. 

TOTAL:  32

Other Elements of Note:

This location is NOT cash only. Cards are accepted, but there is a $10 minimum...which is not hard to achieve.

This location was a bit unique. It's like they planned the location based on losing a bet. Literally steps from the train tracks, this unassuming shop still gets a steady stream of patrons. It's really not hard to see why.

There are picnic tables, both inside and outside that are really the only way these cheesesteaks should be enjoyed.

More information about John's Roast Pork can be found on their website, such as menu, hours, and contact information.

- Recap -

John's Roast Pork is considered to be the best.

I agree.

Cheesesteak #6 Tony Luke's

11:30 AM

On a Wednesday

Philadelphia, PA

 

While Tony Luke's may be a little out of the way for the wandering Philadelphian to grab a bite, it was clearly not lacking customers the entire time I was there. The place was packed with construction workers, locals, and even a couple visiting chefs that I made friends with.

Their menu was displayed on 3 TV screens that included everything from cheesesteaks to omelettes to roast pork sandwiches (that looked incredible) and over a dozen different sides.

I got my standard "one whiz wit" but I couldn't resist adding BBQ fries to my order.

I regret nothing.

The cheesesteak itself was quite good. It was fresh from the grill, the meat was juicy, and it was a mess to eat... 

Exactly what I want in my cheesesteak experience.

I am finding myself quite partial to the slices of steak instead of the minced version, but this meat could've used some color as it ended up looking quite pale on the bread and may have benefitted from the seasoning that comes with a good sear.

The cheese and the onions were, as you can see, quite prominent. The ratio was excellent, but the bread had a bit of a struggle to hold it together.

Tony Luke's provides a type of condiment bar for customers to add to their meals with pickles, peppers, ketchup, and other toppings.

I grabbed some peppers (partially just for the color and, in part, because I was curious about what they might add to the cheesesteak.)

I added them to the second half of my meal and I can tell you that it was a pretty fantastic experience.

*Side note: Because I'm new to a lot of this, I was unaware that they were hot peppers. I am now very aware that they are hot peppers.

- Rating -

So how does it rate?

The categories are:

  • Roll
  • Meat
  • Cheese
  • Onions
  • Team Effort (how it all works together)
  • Service (at the establishment)
  • Overall Value

A maximum of 5 points can be assigned to each category.

  • Roll - 4
    • A good roll. It got a bit soggy, but I don't think I can really blame that on the bread itself
  • Meat - 3
    • So here was the problem with this cheesesteak; I love the slices of meat, but they really needed some colorization. The best word to describe the color of the meat would be anemic. It was fine, but it wasn't adding much to the meal itself. Some sort of char or really any type of caramelization would've greatly improved this experience
  • Cheese - 4.5
    • A perfect amount of cheese. It could've been a little more evenly distributed, but really that's just nit-picky....which I am
  • Onions - 4
    • Good number of onions, good texture of onions, just good onions
  • Team Effort - 4
    • Everything worked together quite well. Again, as I mentioned above the meat wasn't really adding much to the "steak" part of the cheesesteak, but the other ingredients were very solid
  • Service - 3
    • Service was good. No complaints there, but nothing to write home about. They took my name with my order and I was called up when it was ready. Standard
  • Value - 4.5
    • A nice-sized cheesesteak on the cheaper side (closer to $9 than $10). The cheesesteak itself is definitely meal sized, so there's no going away hungry. The rating becomes a little bit higher when the price is lower when I don't find myself paying an extra $3.00 ATM fee because I forgot to bring cash

TOTAL:  27

Other Elements of Note:

This location is NOT cash only. Cards are accepted, which was greatly appreciated on my end considering I made a last minute decision to include an extra purchase with my cheesesteak.

This location was a bit of a hike. Right off 95, it is easily accessible by car, but not much else. No beer, but that makes sense considering basically everyone who comes here had to drive and I don't expect they get much foot traffic.

There are about a dozen tables in what is basically a screened in patio for patrons to sit and eat their meal. As I was eating/taking pictures there seemed to be a decent amount of turnover at the tables as people were there to eat and get back to work. Maybe their weekend scene is different, but I kind of liked the no-nonsense vibe. People were there to eat lunch, maybe catch up with a buddy, and leave.

More information about Tony Luke's can be found on their website, such as menu, hours, and contact information.

- Recap -

Tony Luke's is constantly rated one of the best places to get a cheesesteak. While I'll agree that it was very good, I really wanted it to be better.

I will say, however, that this is where I would send the person who wants to get a good Philly cheesesteak in an authentic location. There are no frills here, and really no tourists. So far, this is the quintessential Philly cheesesteak experience I was looking for. 

I'll definitely be returning again to give them another chance.

And when I return, I'm definitely getting fries.

Cheesesteak #5 Dalessandro's

5:30 PM

On a Friday

Philadelphia, PA

 

The trip to Dalessandro's meant an Uber or cab ride to head a couple miles north of Center City, right outside Manayunk. I planned poorly, leaving home right at the beginning of rush hour. This meant that I was pretty hungry by the time I arrived.

Dalessandro's is a well-oiled machine. The employees orchistrated dozens of people in the time I was there and seemed to have an efficient system of ordering and payment that was pretty easy to pick up, even from an outsider like me.

The end result is spectacular. I mean, who can ask for anything more than this meal encompassing all the food groups you could want.

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I never thought I'd find myself looking forward to taking photos of onions, but here we are.

Also, I'm not even sorry.

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And that cheese is more evenly distributed than any I have seen before. I'm learning there's a fine line between too little and too much Whiz, though some may disagree that there could ever be too much Whiz.

While I would generally prefer slices of steak over the minced result seen here, I would say that this pile of delicious steak has something special to offer. The mincing gives the meat a particular melt-in-your-mouth sensation, which I very much enjoyed.

Even though I may describe the consistency as a tad greasy, I am well aware that I requested a cheesesteak, not a lettuce wrap.

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- Rating -

So how does it rate?

The categories are:

  • Roll
  • Meat
  • Cheese
  • Onions
  • Team Effort (how it all works together)
  • Service (at the establishment)
  • Overall Value

A maximum of 5 points can be assigned to each category.

  • Roll - 4
    • Solid. Not too soft, but no real crisp in the crust. Enough to hold up to the meat, but probably not the main reason I'll be returning
  • Meat - 3.5
    • The meat was good, if a tiny bit on the greasy side. Do not take this the wrong way, but the meat kind of reminded me of a sloppy Joe...a sloppy Joe where it's real meat and freshly prepared on a seasoned grill
  • Cheese - 4.5
    • FINALLY! The perfect amount of cheese. Not so much that it was running out of the cheesesteak, but not so little that I felt like I was eating a steak sandwich
  • Onions - 4
    • A good amount of onions. They had a lovely crunch and were a great addition to the composition of the sandwich
  • Team Effort - 4
    • Between the good meat, good bread, and good cheese I have every reason to rate this cheesesteak as GOOD
  • Service - 4
    • Service was pretty great for the size of the facility. The women behind the counter were great about keeping the orders together and making sure the right meal got to the right customer. They were also very eager to make sure every order had everything you need, even offering to add items after they were picked up
  • Value - 4
    • A good $10 cheesesteak. More than enough for a meal, no matter how hungry you might be when you arrive

TOTAL:  28

Other Elements of Note:

Another CASH ONLY establishment and another location where beer is readily available to accompany your steak.

Condiments were offered at every opportunity at Dalessandro's. There are at least 8 different toppings for burgers and steaks that are offered for FREE. That's right, free additional toppings in a world where you often find yourself paying $0.25 for a cup for water at almost every establishment.

There's limited indoor seating at Dalessandro's. Also, there's limited outdoor seating as well...basically, you shouldn't plan to sit down if you're heading to Dalessandro's, unless you're willing to wait or make some new friends to eat with. Many patrons seemed to be taking their orders to go, while I was happy to join a couple at one of their tables outside to enjoy the lovely spring evening.

More information about Dalessandro's can be found on their website, such as menu, hours, and contact information.

I had a very interesting conversation with my Uber driver as I was on my way home from Dalessandro's. He's originally from a little north of Philadelphia, but was surprisingly chatty as we discussed the best cheesesteaks in the area. While he gave me some pointers for avoiding tourist spots (Pat's and Geno's, I'm looking at you) he also came to the same conclusion I have found so far: 

Even a bad cheesesteak is still pretty good.

As long as the meat is fresh and the bread isn't soggy, it's really hard to have a bad cheesesteak. I hope that this holds true as I keep working my way through the city, but for now I'm glad to continue testing some tried and true locations looking for the very best.

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- Recap -

Dalessandro's is an experience. Away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Philadelphia, their location lends itself to a customer base that's made up of regulars, not tourists wandering the streets on their way back to their hotels after viewing the Liberty Bell.

The space is small, but they seem to have no problem filling the constant stream of orders as people pack the room from counter to door. Their cheesesteak was wonderfully balanced between the crunchy onions and the greasy meat that's not for the customer worried about their summer body... or really even for those whose waistbands aren't made of elastic.

And, while I wish it were closer to me so that I could return more frequently, it's probably for the best that I would need to make a special trip here in the future. 

Cheeseateak #4 Shank's Original

12:30 PM

On a Friday

Philadelphia, PA

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Shank's Original is described on Google Maps as "counter-service sandwich joint." I think that is a perfectly apt description. 

This stand-alone structure along the Delaware river is a pleasant find in an unexpected location. Outdoor seating is available, but limited. However, with three inches of snow on the ground, I was not fighting anyone for a spot. 

 

Without much else around it creating foot traffic, patrons of Shank's don't seem to just wander in for a quick bite. They're there because they know what they want.

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And I can see why.

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I always believe that food just tastes better when you eat it outdoors. 

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- Rating -

So how does it rate?

The categories are:

  • Roll
  • Meat
  • Cheese
  • Onions
  • Team Effort (how it all works together)
  • Service (at the establishment)
  • Overall Value

A maximum of 5 points can be assigned to each category.

  • Roll - 4.5
    • This bread was incredible. I had read on their website that they pride themselves on it, so my bar had actually been very high for this location. In fact, I was 100% certain that I would be disappointed, especially considering my vast carb consumption experience. I was not disappointed. I was elated
  • Meat - 3.5
    • The meat would just be considered standard if not for 2 important distinctions: the quantity of meat provided would not illicit any complaints from any patron, and the seasoning had an excellent peppery note
  • Cheese - 2
    • I was a little disappointed here. The cheese was only lightly painted on the inside of the bread. It was the amount that you hope for when you ask for "light mayo" on a sandwich. I'm sure the cheese itself was fine, but I couldn't really get much on its own to tell
  • Onions - 3.5
    • The onions were small, but crunchy. They were fine, but really not much more could be said about them
  • Team Effort - 3.5
    • The bread was really holding the team together on this one. While the peppery beef helped make up for the lack of cheese, I think they did the best with what they had
  • Service - 4
    • Service was extremely quick. I think one of the employees had made a cheesesteak for themselves but once I ordered they gave it to me instead so I didn't have to wait
  • Value - 3.5
    • A perfectly fine $10 cheesesteak 

TOTAL:  24.5

Other Elements of Note:

Another CASH ONLY joint.

There's an odd looking ATM available outside if you were not prepared.

More information about Shank's Original can be found on their website, such as menu, hours, and catering information.

The ambiance might've been my favorite part. Sitting by the water makes every meal feel a little bit more special... maybe next time I'll go when there's not snow under the tables.

**Full Disclosure: This is the first time I have been yelled at while taking pictures of my cheesesteak. A (seemingly) regular customer of Shank's pulled up in his truck, parked diagonally outside the door to the building, sauntered past me before taking time out of his busy day to comment on the personal choice of the enjoyment of my lunch. He scoffed, "you should eat your cheesesteak, not take pictures of it!"

Why not both, good sir? Why not both?

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- Recap -

Shank's Original is an interesting find. Their location might not be terribly convenient, but being nestled by the river certainly has its own draw. The cheesesteak is solid, and customers seem to be regulars, not just there because they want to take a picture of themselves eating at a cheesesteak place in Philly.

I may go back someday soon and just ask to buy a couple loaves of their fantastic bread.

Cheesesteak #3 Jim's Steaks

11:30 AM

On a Friday

Philadelphia, PA

I think I've found my favorite place in Philadelphia.

South Street.

It's home to some great nightlife, fun shops, and many of the buildings are covered with mosaics. Just walking there brightened up my day. It's like walking through an outdoor art exhibit.

As I neared my destination, I thought about how this cheesesteak quest is leading me around the city in a way I wasn't expecting. I find myself taking the long way to my destination, hoping to find some other new shop or historic street along the way. It's basically a self guided tour where, in the end, I get to eat a cheesesteak. 

Maybe all tours should end this way.

 

As I got to Jim's I was immediately taken in by both its external presence and interior details. Once you head through the doors, you know you're in a place where magical things are going to happen.

Grill orders are taken separately from other orders to speed up the process. Having a view of the grill while you wait really makes the experience that much more interesting.

No complaints about the view.

After receiving my cheesesteak I followed the signs toward the upstairs seating area. Careful not to disrupt my perfectly assembled meal, I maneuvered up the stairs and took a spot by the windows overlooking the intersection of South Street and 4th. Though, to be fair, I spent far more time looking at my tray than people watching.

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But can you blame me?

I mean, really?

I don't think that it's fair that my food photographs better than most people...

- Rating -

So how does it rate?

The categories are:

  • Roll
  • Meat
  • Cheese
  • Onions
  • Team Effort (how it all works together)
  • Service (at the establishment)
  • Overall Value

A maximum of 5 points can be assigned to each category.

  • Roll - 4
    • A lovely, fresh roll. It had a bit of a hard time holding up to the volume of components included in this sandwich. Honestly, there are way worse things
  • Meat - 4
    • The meat was fantastic. And, of course, there was a good deal of it on this cheesesteak. It was well seasoned, well cooked, and was so moist it threatened the integrity of the bread
  • Cheese - 4.5
    • They've got this figured out. light spread of cheese on the bun allowed the juices from the meat to not overwhelm the bread. Then...oh then, they drizzled more cheese on top. It was literally a cheese sandwich. Incredible
  • Onions - 4
    • These onions were beautiful. While some pieces were a little large, they were well cooked and an excellent additional component to the meal
  • Team Effort - 4
    • A great team effort! The components worked well off each other and together composed a truly fantastic cheesesteak experience. A point was lost for the bread's inability to hold together under the weight/moisture of the other ingredients
  • Service - 5
    • Lovely. Just lovely. Everyone behind the counter seemed genuinely happy to be there and, at the very least, enjoyed each other's company. The upstairs seating area also had an employee available to swiftly clear tables. I imagine this is especially important as I expect they experience constant customer turnover
  • Value - 4.5
    • An excellent $10 cheesesteak. Truly a delightful meal that needed no additional components 

TOTAL: 30

Other Elements of Note:

THIS IS A CASH ONLY ESTABLISHMENT. You've been warned. Plan ahead.

Another fantastic eatery that serves beer! Always a delight to see.

The upstairs walls are lined with signed notes and photos of celebrities who have eaten there, an array of pictures from Philadelphia, and a lovely neon sign. My favorite is a picture of a Ben Franklin impersonator looking at a cheesesteak like a male lead looks at his love interest in a Nicholas Spark's inspired movie. 

More information about Jim's Steaks can be found on their website, such as menu, hours, and other locations.

- Recap -

Jim's Steaks has set a new standard. They clearly know what they're doing and I firmly believe that food always tastes better when it's made by people who care.

I expect to return in the near future and maybe this time I'll actually do some people watching.

Cheesesteak #2 Campo's Deli

6:00 PM

On a Sunday

Philadelphia, PA

Onward to cheesesteaks!

Onward to cheesesteaks!

About a block south of Betsy Ross's house and a block west of the Delaware River, you'll find Campo's Deli nestled in a lovely brick building in Old City Philadelphia on the well-trodden Market Street.

 

At least twice as long as it is wide, Campo's interior is dotted with small, round tables and aluminum chairs arranged in sets of two. There are even two small sets along the wall across from the counter where orders are taken, though I'd assume no one over 100lbs would be able to fit there. 

While their menu has an extensive range of sandwich options, I was there for just one.

This time I was able to walk to the counter with confidence, make my order, and watch the magic happen.

It took about 10 minutes for my cheesesteak to be prepared but, honestly, I'm rarely ever going to complain about fresh meat being cooked to order.

I sat at a small, round table by the windows to watch the world go by as devoured my beautifully crafted masterpiece.

- Rating -

So how does it rate?

The categories are:

  • Roll
  • Meat
  • Cheese
  • Onions
  • Team Effort (how it all works together)
  • Service (at the establishment)
  • Overall Value

A maximum of 5 points can be assigned to each category.

  • Roll - 4.5
    • This roll was a thing of absolute beauty. In full disclosure, I love carbs more than anything in the world, and consider myself an expert, so when I say this is good bread....This. Is. Good. Bread. I had to take off half a point for it being cold. Like, so cold that it almost immediately chilled my meat
  • Meat - 3
    • Volume. This cheesesteak was filled to the brim with meat. It was fresh, but was a little chewy and could've benefited greatly from some extra seasoning. All in all, fine
  • Cheese - 3
    • No major praises or complaints. I'd say the roll could've used a little more all over, but really was just okay in that regard
  • Onions - 3
    • So, here's the thing: There was a pretty good onion flavor to be had, but honestly, that effect could've been completely synthesized through onion powder. The onions in the sandwich had almost no texture, which made it difficult to rate higher than average
  • Team Effort - 4
  • Service - 3
    • Perfectly adequate
  • Value - 4
    • Fairly quick service and a $9.72 charge isn't too bad. Hell, I'd almost pay that just for their bread

TOTAL: 24.5

Other Elements of Note:

THIS IS A CASH ONLY ESTABLISHMENT. I REPEAT, THIS IS A CASH ONLY ESTABLISHMENT. If you don't know that ahead of time I can only imagine that you will be supremely displeased by the time you get to the counter and order. All hope is not lost though, there is an ATM available near the entrance.

A surprise greeted me when I reached the cash register and saw the cooler behind the counter was filled with various gleaming bottles of beer. This could be a game changer. While a cheesesteak itself can be a wonderful meal, it's pretty universally agreed that a cold beer improves almost any dining experience.

Campo's cheesesteaks are also the official cheesesteak of the sports complexes that house the Philadelphia Flyers, Phillies, and 76ers. This comes at no surprise after I almost scarfed down the paper that my cheesesteak was wrapped in.

More information can be found on their website, such as menu, hours, and even shipping information. That's right, Campo's delicious cheesesteaks can actually be delivered to anywhere in the country.

- Recap -

Campo's Deli provides a great Philly cheesesteak experience. Again, I can't stress enough about how much I enjoyed their bread. The location is fairly central, and lends itself to a nighttime stroll along the river or late-night partying in Old City's many bars and clubs. I will definitely be back, or, maybe the next time will be at some sort of Philadelphia sporting event. We'll see.

Cheesesteak #1: Steve's Prince of Steaks

1:00 PM

On a Friday

Philadelphia, PA

The first stop on the list was Steve's Prince of Steaks. I didn't know much about this establishment before I got there except it was close to my apartment and was on the list of Top 10 Spots for Authentic Philly Cheesesteaks. And, honestly, that was more than good enough for me.

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At 41 S 16th Street, it's location really can't be beat. It was extremely easy to find as it is located near both Rittenhouse Square and City Hall. The hustle and bustle of the streets was mirrored inside the eatery as customers quickly spouted off their orders to an adept and efficient cashier. While she didn't seem a bit phased at the seemingly shorthand language used by the patrons, I was having a hard time following their lead.

I must admit, being new to the process was a stressful experience. I'd been warned beforehand to have my order ready, or risk the wrath of whoever was taking the order and anyone behind me in line.

I was ready though. I had practiced my order 15 times in my head before I even made it to the front of the line.

"One Whiz With"

She simply nodded and told me, "$10."

With that out of the way, all I had left to do was wait. 

There's an immediate satisfaction before you even receive your order. The smell of the meat cooking on the grill and the onions simmering in their juices both assaults and welcomes you as soon as you walk through the door.

Glass windows lined the front of the kitchen where bustling cooks flipped pieces of raw steak onto an already sizzling grill. The onions formed 2 piles in the corner, one of cooked and one of uncooked. As the thinly-sliced strips of steak started to brown, the rolls were sliced and placed onto the hot cooktop; lightly pressed so that the inside could become nice and toasty. 

It was fascinating to watch the process unfold. Something that seemed so simple, with so few ingredients, created a flurry of movement in almost dance-like synchronicity. 

So that's a Cheesesteak.

I get it now. I really get it.

There's something about the combination of soft bread, tender steak, gooey cheese, and crunchy onions that, once combined, transform into something unlike anything I could've imagined. I'd describe the experience to be like eating the best grilled cheese of your life and getting a beer at your favorite bar, all rolled together in sandwich form.

I was not prepared for this.

Oh. My. God.

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This. This thing right here. This is what dreams are made of.

Happy dreams. Dreams where you wake up and frantically hit the "snooze" button in the hope that you can continue your blissful slumbered state where everything is right with the world. 

I could get used to this.

And just as soon as it began... it was all over

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- Rating -

So how does it rate?

The categories are:

  • Roll
  • Meat
  • Cheese
  • Onions
  • Team Effort (how it all works together)
  • Service (at the establishment)
  • Overall Value

A maximum of 5 points can be assigned to each category.

  • Roll - 3
    • Clearly a fairly fresh roll, however, it was almost monotonous in texture. It would've greatly benefited from a more pronounced crust
  • Meat - 4
    • As you can see from the photo above, the meat was fresh. It was clearly cooked by experienced hands and was just done at the point it was added to the lackluster bread
  • Cheese - 3
    • Standard. Cheese Whiz. Points are lost for the uneven distribution across the roll
  • Onions - 4
    • Excellent crunch and a lovely, even size
  • Team Effort - 4
    • Solid. This is exactly what I would expect a standard Philly Cheesesteak to taste like
  • Service - 4
    • Cashier seemed annoyed that the guy in front of me couldn't order quickly, something I was warned about ahead of time so that I would be ready. Order was ready as fast as they could cook the meat
  • Value - 4
    • Quick service, solid product. at $10 even I'd say it's an easy pick

TOTAL: 26

Other Elements of Note:

There's a self-service condiment bar of all different types of peppers, relish, and hot sauce. They're arranged on the front counter in containers that are reminiscent of penny-candy at the corner store.

Steve's also serves other food options such as burgers, hot dogs, chicken, and fries. There's a main window for ordering food and a separate line for french fries and drinks. Gotta love a place with its own ordering window and menu board for fries. 

Keep in mind: There's also an ATM in lobby for those looking to grab some cash on the go. There's a sign on the menu board that indicates they move to selling steaks only (no other food orders) after 11:00 pm. I respect that. 

More information can be found on their website, such as hours of operation, menus, and locations.

- Recap -

That is a cheesesteak. I would have no problem coming back here or giving people directions to this location if they were looking for an authentic Philly cheesesteak experience. The food is solid, the location is central, and I would agree that Steve's provided the exact experience I would hope for anyone's very first time.

I think this was the perfect place to start my foray into the seemingly endless world of cheesesteaks.


Let's Do This

8:00 AM

On a Thursday

Philadelphia, PA

I have no idea what I'm doing. I've just moved to a new city and I'm honestly still trying to remember what my new zip code is.

Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love. 

I'm not sure where my place is in this city and I really don't even know where to start.

Food. I like food. Like, I REALLY like food. While Philadelphia has a lot of delicious culinary options, there's really one thing that comes to mind...

The Philly Cheesesteak.

The problem? I've never really had one. I mean, I think I've had one once and I know I've eaten a couple steak sandwiches in my time, but when it comes to the cheesesteak I really don't know what I'm talking about.

And that's where this gets fun.

I'm on a mission to devour as many cheesesteaks as I can and try to find a system to help organize my thoughts as I eat my way through the many iterations of one of Philadelphia's most well known culinary contributions.

First, I need to get some background on my subject matter. 

What is a Cheesesteak? 

According to the official Philadelphia Visitor and Travel Site,

"A cheesesteak is a long, crusty roll filled with thinly sliced sautéed ribeye beef and melted cheese. Generally, the cheese of choice is Cheez Whiz, but American and provolone are also common choices. The art of cheesesteak preparation lies in the balance of flavors, textures and what is often referred to as the “drip” factor. Other toppings may include fried onions, sautéed mushrooms, ketchup and hot or sweet peppers." - Visit Philadelphia

So to be able to create a comparable review, I'm going to keep a standard set of parameters for my ordering process. The plan is to order the standard, One Whiz Wit. This means that I expect to get one Cheesesteak with Cheese Whiz and with (wit) onions. This will allow me to create a set of standards to, not only rank them independently, but to be able to compare them against each other.

The ranking system will work as follows:

Every cheesesteak will be ranked in 7 different categories on a scale from 1 to 5. A cheesesteak can have a maximum score of 35 for a perfect, couldn't-stop-eating-it-even-if-I-wanted-to, Philly Cheesesteak experience.

The categories are:

  • Roll
  • Meat
  • Cheese
  • Onions
  • Team Effort (how it all works together)
  • Service (at the establishment)
  • Overall Value

There will be additional comment categories that will not have a numeric value assigned to them. One where I will be recording location information, such as public transport accessibility, and another for other extra factors like the ambiance or general feeling of the location.

So, since I have no baseline cheesesteak knowledge, I'm going to let Philadelphia tell me where to start. I'm going through the Top 10 Spots for Authentic Philly Cheesesteaks from the Visit Philadelphia website. I'm not going in any particular order, except maybe by convenience, and I'll also use the Honorable Mentions on this page to continue my exploration. Eventually, I'll have the ability to branch off of these initial suggestions and confidently wander the streets of Philly as a full-fledged cheesesteak connoisseur.

And who knows? Maybe I'm just giving myself an excuse to eat as many Philly cheesesteaks as I possibly can and, if that's my worst-case scenario, I think it's totally going to be worth it.