For tourists seeking an authentic Philadelphia experience, a pilgrimage to South Philadelphia for a cheesesteak is an absolute must. It’s a chance to step into the shoes of those Italian immigrants who shaped the city’s culinary identity and to savor a dish that has become a symbol of brotherly love. 

First things first, an ode to South Philly:

Let’s get something straight, the cheesesteak wasn’t just invented in Philadelphia—it was born in South Philly.

Where the city’s vibrant Italian history and culinary heritage converge lies a mouthwatering marvel that has become a symbol of this great city: the cheesesteak. Take a walk down almost any bustling South Philly street and you’ll be warmly welcomed by the tantalizing aroma of fresh baked Italian bread, greasy thin-sliced steak, caramelized onions, and melted cheese

The inception story of this culinary classic is hotly debated, but one fact can be certain:

In the early 20th century, Italian immigrants brought their culinary traditions and melded them with the flavors of their new home, creating this iconic, simple sandwich with just four perfectly balanced ingredients that could be bought for cheap in their impoverished neighborhoods.

With the addition of provolone cheese to a dry, steak sandwich on an Italian roll, the cheesesteak was born—a true testament to the lives of local immigrants who sought to bring the flavors of the motherland to the streets of South Philly.

Today, the legacy lives on in the countless cheesesteak establishments that line the streets of South Philadelphia.

Ask any local, the best cheesesteaks are found in these unassuming corner shops, where traditional recipes are brought to life through skilled hands, sizzling tender ribeye or sirloin on a hot griddle until it’s perfectly juicy and flavorful.

And then there’s the bread—the foundation upon which this magnificent creation rests. Baked fresh each day by a handful of family-owned bakeries (usually Amoroso’s or Liscio’s), the roll is a work of art in itself. Crispy on the outside, yet soft and chewy within, it cradles the glorious meat, onions, and cheese, creating a harmonious marriage of textures and flavors. It’s a vessel that holds history, tradition, and pure deliciousness.

So, my friends, let your taste buds be your guide as you embark on a cheesesteak adventure in South Philadelphia—a journey that promises to tantalize your senses, ignite your appetite, and leave you with a newfound appreciation for this humble yet extraordinary creation.

Angelo’s South Philly

Where: 9th and Fitzwater

Order: Coopersharp with onions (and a pizza, regarded as one of the best in the city)

When it comes to the dozens of cheesesteak joints in Philadelphia, there’s a place that stands head and shoulders above the rest: Angelo’s in South Philadelphia. 

Let me tell you, these are no ordinary cheesesteaks. What sets Angelo’s far above the pack is their unwavering dedication to the art of the cheesesteak. 

Every element is meticulously crafted to perfection. The bread? Freshly made in-house every day, with a crust that gives way to a soft, pillowy interior that cradles the meat and cheese in a warm embrace. And let’s talk about the onions. Caramelized to a golden brown, adding a sweetness that balances the savory richness of the meat, creating a string band of flavors that will make you scoff at the idea of a Michelin star.

The owner himself recommends trying their sandwich with Coopersharp cheese, and trust me, it’s a game-changer. 

Now, I won’t sugarcoat it—the process of ordering Angelo’s cheesesteak can be a hassle. You can try your hand at calling their phone, but chances are it’ll be busy so don’t even bother, just head over for the full experience:

  1. Jump in the back of the line and begin to prepare your order in your head
  2. Wait until you reach the front (people will be coming and going as you wait)
  3. Compliment the cashier and give them your order, remember your wait time, then quickly and politely exit the building
  4. Head down the street 12 Steps Down, a local underground dive bar at the corner of Christian and 9th Street, and enjoy a city-wide special (beer and shot for dirt cheap, usually)
  5. Or, for a taste of the city’s Italian heritage, head over to Anthony’s Italian Coffee House for a rich and robust espresso that will awaken your senses.
  6. When your wait time is up, head back to Angelos and give them your name
  7. If open, pop into Polumbo recreational area the next block up and enjoy your cheese sandwich of the gods with a view of the Philly skyline.

Yes, my friend, a visit to Angelo’s in South Philadelphia is an experience worth the wait. Indulge in a cheesesteak that’s been crafted with love and expertise, where every bite tells a story of passion and tradition. So, be patient, immerse yourself in the local scene, and prepare your taste buds for a cheesesteak adventure like no other. You won’t be disappointed.

Lorenzo’s Pizza Italian Market

Where: 9th and Christian St

Order: Wiz-wit (Cheese wiz with grilled onions)

Nestled within the vibrant Italian Market of South Philadelphia, Lorenzo’s Pizza and Steaks is a local gem that has finally emerged from the shadows to claim its rightful place among the city’s best cheesesteaks. 

For years, this longstanding establishment has been a beloved neighborhood spot, quietly perfecting its craft. However, it wasn’t until this past year that they garnered the recognition they truly deserve, taking home the prestigious title of the best cheesesteak in the city at the Italian Market Festival’s annual contest.

Approaching Lorenzo’s, you’ll find yourself ordering through a steamy, walk-up window, the scent of sizzling beef and melted cheese wafting through the air. And let’s be real—the cheesesteak you’re about to indulge in is not for the faint of heart. It’s a beautifully messy creation, oozing with flavor and charm. As you unwrap your sandwich, its gooey layers of cheese-wiz drowning the tender slices of beef, you’ll understand why this is an experience best enjoyed with an ample supply of napkins.

Now, let’s talk about the authentic Lorenzo’s experience. Pro tip: Grab napkins, you’ll need them. When it comes to toppings, there’s only one way to go—wiz-wit. That’s right, embrace the melty goodness of cheese-wiz and let it mingle with the succulent meat. 

And don’t worry about lines at Lorenzo’s. This hidden gem boasts quick service, allowing you to satisfy your cravings with ease. Just be prepared for the possibility of a food coma afterward, as the delectable combination of flavors may lull you into a blissful slumber.

Looking for a little friendly competition? You’re in luck! Right next door to Lorenzo’s, you’ll find George’s Steaks, serving up their own tantalizing version of the classic cheesesteak. Why not grab one from each establishment and become your own judge?

Regardless of your preference, by supporting these long-standing Italian-owned small businesses, you’ll be immersing yourself in the rich cultural heritage that defines the Italian Market.

John’s Roast Pork

Where: Snyder Ave

Order: Provolone with onions (and a roast pork sandwich, regarded as one of the best sandwiches in the city)

The Bucci family knows how to make a f*ckin’ sandwich. Widely regarded as one of the premiere sandwich shos in Philadelphia, John’s Roast Pork is a family-owned 

John’s Roast Pork isn’t just a business, it’s a family legacy. In 1930, Domenico Bucci began selling roast pork and meatballs a from humble cinderblock shack by the railroad tracks in South Philadelphia. His son John Bucci Sr. and his wife Vonda later took over and ran the business until John’s passing in 1991. Today, 87-year-old Vonda, her son John Bucci Jr., his wife Victoria, and other members of the Bucci family work together to make sure John’s Roast Pork stays true to its roots.

John’s introduced their cheesesteak in 1987. The restaurant remained a neighborhood secret until 2002, when the Philadelphia Inquirer’s famed food critic, Craig Laban, created an authoritative ranking of the city’s best cheesesteaks. John’s won in a landslide and achieved nationwide notoriety overnight. Media outlets were quick to heap praise on the restaurant, and it was named an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation.

The food may be simple, but like any great cook, John takes his ingredients seriously. He sources the rolls of freshly baked Italian bread from the legendary Carangi Bakery, buys meat from the best local butchers, and uses only real Italian provolone.

Despite the meticulous attention to detail and quality ingredients, John’s maintains a blue-collar ethic that fits their South Philly neighborhood, and with 12 ounces of meat packed into every cheesesteak or pork sandwich, they’ll satisfy even the heartiest appetite. Taste for yourself, and order one of America’s great sandwiches straight to your door today.

In years past, Andrew Zimmern, Adam Richman, Esquire, GQ, Food Network, Timeout, The Daily Meal, Eater, and countless others have named them one of the best sandwich shops in America. They’ve also received praise from The New York Times, Washington Post, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Road Food, Anthony Bourdain, and many, many more.

This isn’t your late-night drunken hoagie spot: John’s opens at 10 a.m. and closes when they inevitably run out of bread, usually around 3 p.m., sometimes earlier. Closed Sundays, cash only, and if you’re going during peak lunch hours you can definitely expect a line. It’s a bit of a hike from the more dining destination–dense parts of the city, but the local strip mall provides plenty of temporary parking (you didn’t hear that from us).

SQ Philips Steaks

Where: West Passyunk Ave

Order: Old Fashion (see below)

Open 24 hours a day, SQ Philips Steaks has provided a sanctuary for cheesesteak aficionados seeking a late-night fix or an anytime indulgence since the early 80s. 

Standing alone amongst the bustling working-class streets of West Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia, SQ Philips Steaks beckons hungry travelers and locals alike with its tantalizing aroma and nostalgic charm. 

Now, let’s talk about their showstopper—the “Old Fashion.” This is the cheesesteak variation that reigns supreme, winning the hearts and palates of those in the know. Picture this: a perfectly griddled roll filled to the brim with tender ribeye, generously smothered in melty provolone cheese. But it doesn’t stop there – the magic continues with the addition of caramelized onions, grilled tomatoes, and Italian peppers, imparting a burst of vibrant flavors. A sprinkle of salt, pepper, and oregano ties it all together, elevating this masterpiece to the pinnacle of cheesesteak perfection. We get it – this isn’t a classic cheesesteak and resembles more of a cheesesteak hoagie that has become popularized in the city, but is well worth the trip to experience this one-of-a-kind recipe.

As you approach this hidden gem, you’ll find yourself in a 1980s time capsule of South Philly’s past. There are no fancy tables or plush seating here—just the classic metal shelves along the sidewalk, reminiscent of an era when cheesesteaks were a quick meal for the residents who inhabit the neighborhood.

Since 1983, SQ Philips Steaks has remained a family affair, a testament to the dedication and passion of its owners. Back in the 80s and 90s, a single mother of two boys took the reins of this joint, paving the way for her sons to become the head steak purveyors of Philips Steaks today. It’s a tale of resilience and love, etched into every mouthwatering bite of their iconic cheesesteaks.

With a free parking lot boasting a multitude of spots, you can focus on what really matters—the extraordinary flavors that await.

Remember, it’s not just about the food—it’s about the stories, the traditions, and the love that have shaped SQ Philips Steaks into a South Philly institution.

Pat’s > Geno’s

Where: 9th and Passyunk

Order: Any way you wish – we like provolone with onions and peppers

Look, we get it, you probably heard about the Rivalry that is Pat’s versus Geno’s cheesesteaks, both claiming to be originals and both on separate corners of Passyunk and 9th Avenue at the end of the Italian market.

You’ll probably end up down there at some point in your life so let’s get it settled once and for all. Pat’s is just a superior cheesesteak. well both can be overrated at times, Pat’s chopped steak (not sliced) and caramelized onions just makes for a better cheese steak.

Another longstanding family-owned business, Pat’s claims a longstanding ownership of the inventor of the famous Philadelphia Cheesesteak. Founded by Pat Olivieri in 1930, the quick-fix cheesesteak joint remains under ownership by the Olivieri family to this day.

Really feeling ambitious we definitely recommend grabbing french fries from Geno’s as they’re crispy, salty, and very delicious, not to mention just about 30 ft from register to register. 

The featured image: Flickr by stu_spivack at It was reviewed on 17 April 2016 by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-sa-2.0.