A city such as Philadelphia has such a rich and storied culture. For someone that is new to the environment, I could understand how it could potentially be overwhelming. But, for such a diversely populated city, we are all far too much alike. We have our own accents and dialect, our own styles of fashion, the same hangouts, represent our own in the music industry, and, of course, we have a culturally instituted selection of food that helps define us and helps to get those coming from beyond the Philadelphia area get acclimated to the culture.
There is the Philly soft pretzel, a “hoagie” (it’ll never be a “sub”), “wooder-ice,” and the most prestigious, the Philadelphia cheesesteak. Since coming to Saint Joe’s in the fall of ’18, I had often found that one of my friends’ favorite activities is to go into the city and explore, opening for new ventures and experiences. This post will serve the purpose of not only recommending the 5 best spots in Philadelphia to go to for a legitimate and tasty cheesesteak, but will also help frame the surrounding area, from the perspective of a native of over 21 years now, and help you get assimilated into the city that I have known and loved all of my life.
5. Campo’s Philly Cheesesteaks
Campo’s is not only delicious, between its extremely tasty “wiz” cheese and thinly cut slabs of steak, but the location(s) on here are arguably the best on the list. Campo’s is located at 214 Market Street (29 minutes from campus), making it not only 5 minutes from the location of the Liberty bell, but 6 minutes from Penn’s Landing, 2 of the hottest and most historical tourists’ attractions in the city. For me, though, Campo’s is all about summer weather, enjoying yourself, and spending time at Citizen’s Bank Park enjoying a Phillies game, as they have a location in “Ashburn Alley” out in the stands in centerfield. These combine to make Campo’s an extremely fascinating mix of taste and ambiance for newcomers and natives alike. Quantitative Score: 7.6/10
4. John’s Roast Pork
Don’t be fooled by the name, John’s Roast Pork is more known for their cheesesteak more than anything else. John’s literally looks like a pop-up shop but has itched a niche for itself in terms of being a staple in the Philadelphia cheesesteak culture. Owned by John Bucci Jr., the third-generation owner, John’s is located on 14 Snyder Avenue, and is located 30 minutes from campus. Furthermore, it’s close in proximity to the docks and frequented by local dock workers, the smell and ambiance of the river, as well as any and all local neighborhood people, giving off a true sense of community and is an easy way for anyone to get acclimated. Quantitative Score: 7.9/10
3. Café Carmela
What Café Carmela has done since opening in 2020 has been nothing short of incredible. With the help of Barstool’s Dave Portnoy giving their cheesesteak an 8.3 rating (and pizza a 7.3), Café Carmela has since exploded in the Northeast section of Philadelphia, it is located on Holme Avenue and is 33 minutes away from Saint Joe’s. It is more than just a cheesesteak place though, it doubles as a pizza shop while offering other traditional, homemade Italian dishes. Given how recently it has opened, Café Carmela is far and away the best kept secret on this list in an area with an abundance of nightlife and is in my native part of Philadelphia, with a community in which it is not exaggerating to say “everyone knows everyone.” Quantitative Score: 8.3/10
2. Dalessandro’s Steaks
Besides Larry’s, this is the closest (and much better tasting than Larry’s) location to Saint Joe’s, as it is located in Roxborough, only a 14-minute drive. Dalessandro’s claim to fame as far as surrounding area is concerned is the extremely proximity to Manayunk, where many SJU upper-class students live and spend a lot of their weekends hitting the nightlife scene. But, Manayunk has something for everyone, including pizza shops, thrift and retail stores, all along the long strip otherwise known as “Main Street.” Dalessandro’s is a good starting point to get delicious food while students and Roxborough/Manayunk locals alike can hangout, get drinks, sight see, and enjoy themselves. Quantitative Score: 8.5/10
1. Steve’s Prince of Steaks
Steve’s is the best on this list, as they take the same core products (steak, cheese, and roll) and take it to the next level through their always fresh rolls, their assortment of cheeses (American, wiz, provolone) always being top-notch, and is supplemented by their freshly made fries. Steve’s has multiple locations, spanning from Center City to the Northeast. Given that I had already touched on the Northeast in the Café Carmela section, I’m going to decide to focus on the one located on 16th street, a 20-minute drive from campus. This location is in the heart of Center City, making it an easy selling point to go there as a foundation and explore the city afterwards. Much like Campo’s, it’s close to the Liberty Bell, but the main attraction for me is the Liberty Observation Deck. Steve’s shares 16th street with the One Liberty Observation Deck, which takes you up to the 57th floor to get a complete overlook on the city that you have chosen to come to and enjoy. In addition, if you flash your SJU ID, they do offer a student discount for Philadelphia Schools. So, go out, enjoy the city, enjoy the food, enjoy the people, but most importantly, don’t forget the proper verbiage, ask for a “wiz-wit” or whatever your taste may be. Quantitative Score: 8.8/10
These are just a few of MY favorite spots, the keyword here being “MY.” There are so many more options that are not listed here that are out there. Tony Luke’s, Geno’s, Pat’s, Angelo’s Pizza, and Ishkabibbles, just to name a few that have garnered a reputation for themselves as cult-favorites. That doesn’t even mention the mom and pop shops on any random corner that know what they are doing in the kitchen. Cheesesteak places are all over city, and beyond, ranging into Delco and any and all other encompassing suburbs of the city. So, go out, and (safely) enjoy the scenery and the city, and get some good food while you’re at it.