Why is Cheesesteak the Most Iconic Philly Food?

Cheesesteak is hailed as Philadelphia’s most iconic food by every Philly person! Whenever tourists from all over the world come to visit the city of Brotherly Love, a stop for a cheesesteak is always on the itinerary. It cannot be denied that Philly cheesesteaks are ingrained in the culture of the city. As stated in the famous Carolyn Wyman book entitled The Great Philly Cheesesteak Book, “A Philly cheesesteak is not just bread, meat and cheese coming together. It’s a Philadelphia cultural icon – a subject of love and loyalty, politics and pride, history and hubris.” In this article, let’s talk about the history of cheesesteak, why people love it, and why Philadelphia makes the best cheesesteak!

Where did Philly Cheesesteak originate?

Pat Olivieri, according to the official tourism website of Philadelphia, was the man who created the cheesesteak in the 1930s. Let’s take a quick time machine tour! Long ago, Olivieri was a hot dog vendor in south Philadelphia who one day decided to grill some beef from the butcher and serve it on Italian bread. When a cab driver caught a breath of the scent, he inquired about a steak sandwich.

The word traveled quickly through the cabbie rumor mill, and soon drivers from all over the city were flocking to Olivieri for their steak sandwich fix. Pat’s King of Steaks, located on the corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, was eventually established by Olivieri. The Philly cheesesteak was introduced to the mix in the 1940s by Joe Lorenza, the manager of the Philadelphia Patriots. 

In the City of Brotherly Love, what is an iconic figure without a fierce yet friendly competition?

Founded in 1966, Geno’s Steaks is a steakhouse located on the north side of the intersection of 9th and Passyunk. In the back of his store, Joey Vento noticed the name “GINO” painted on a damaged door. He altered the “I” to a “E,” and his cheesesteak establishment became known as Geno’s. Some people claim that Vento was the first to add cheese to a cheesesteak, which is incorrect.

People back then had their own bets! Depending on their own taste preference, some screams for Pat’s but others love Geno’s Steaks more. 

Why does Philly make the best cheesesteak?

If you tasted Philly’s famous cheesesteak once when you visited the City of Brotherly love, your standards will be so high! You might end up coming back to your country and missing the authentic taste of cheesesteak. It’s true that the sandwich shop down the street sells a “steak and cheese,” which is made with the same combination of meat and cheese and is served on the same roll. But when it comes to a real Philly Cheesesteak, “similar” won’t do. Here are the top reasons why Philly makes the legendary and unbeatable cheesesteak:


There are a number of sandwich places out there that pride themselves on using only the freshest ingredients possible. However, when it comes to sheer volume, few places can compete with a local favorite Philly cheesesteak joint. In other words, even the most well-known sandwich shops in other regions of the country are only receiving fresh food once or twice a week. The first maker of Philly cheesesteak, Pat’s King of Steaks supplies fresh ingredients in Philly.  With such a high volume of products needed in Philadelphia, freshness is no longer just a marketing buzzword, it is a logistical necessity. Every day, the business is likely to get multiple deliveries of brand-new bread, meat, and vegetables, ensuring that each sandwich is made with the freshest ingredients available. Even if a cheesesteak’s composition is perfected by copycats, few can match the amount of freshness found in a real cheesesteak.

Onion Choice

Steak and onions need to have a compatible taste. Cheesesteak makers can’t just add old onion to a cheesesteak. The type of onion used, the manner they’re cut, time and the skill of cooking play a vital role to perfect the taste. If you cook onions too quickly, they’ll burn and become harsh. On the other hand, if you cook them slowly, they’ll caramelize and become overly sweet.

Philly cheesesteak businesses have mastered the formula for the best onion: Precooked or mildly caramelized Spanish onions, diced or chopped. Afterward, onions must be either grilled with the meat or added to the sandwich as a separate component. Onions that haven’t been cooked the right way can make a Philly cheesesteak taste odd. It may seem insignificant, but the people of Philadelphia understand how important it is.

Bread Quality

Although the roll used on a true Philly cheesesteak isn’t complicated, there are minor differences that make it simple to distinguish the real one vs. imitation. The bread should be light and crisp on the surface. It is not extremely crunchy; and soft, supple, but not unduly chewy on the interior.

Philly people choose a favorite cheesesteak business based on the type of bread that is used.  The majority of cheesesteak rolls are made by bakeries in Philadelphia, such as D’Ambrosio’s, Amoroso’s, and Sarcone’s. While many of Philadelphia’s famed cheesesteak bakeries ship nationally, experts agree that the frozen product simply isn’t the same.  Exported breads can become crumbly and fall apart after defrosting, making it difficult to reproduce the freshly baked rolls found in Philadelphia.

The perfect balance of cheese and meat ratios

True Philadelphia cheesesteaks are precisely balanced sandwiches, and getting this ratio just right appears to be the demise of many of the sub-par cheesesteaks you’ll find elsewhere in the country. Many businesses overdo one part, either stuffing your sandwich with too much meat or slathering on too much cheese fondue. Philly people like these ingredients, but only when they’re served in harmony with the other ingredients. Philadelphia cheesesteak makers know the careful balance needed in mixing all ingredients.  Adding mushrooms, green peppers, jalapenos, horseshoes, silk pillows, or other typical cheesesteak upgrades can result in a massively overstuffed sandwich that lacks the original’s balanced perfection. Too many onions, meat, and cheese are not considered an iconic Philly cheesesteak! 

Top List Of Best Philly Cheesesteak

Perhaps you’re now crowdsourcing to know where to taste the legendary Philly cheesesteak. Take your pick here!

John’s Roast Pork

John’s Roast Pork is consistently regarded as the city’s best steakhouses. What is its secret and powerful ingredient? Carangi’s Bakery makes a crusty seeded roll with sesame seeds. People in Philly describe their bread as perfection.  After opening its doors in 1930, John’s has long been a favorite of dockworkers and contractors in South Philadelphia, and it has recently acquired widespread attention for its cheesesteaks, which have earned it a James Beard Foundation Award for Culinary Excellence. John’s defined his cooking skills as basic, but he takes his ingredients very seriously. Top-quality ingredients on the best local butchers and true Italian provolone are the ingredients he uses in all of his recipes. It doesn’t matter how much attention to detail and high-quality ingredients. If you’re planning to find out why people rave about their food, don’t forget to try the roast pork sandwich! Good news to Philly tourists. Satisfy your craving because they offer shipping through Good Belly!

Pat's King of Steaks

Never miss tasting the legendary and historical Philly cheesesteak! Pat’s King of Steaks, the original origin of the cheesesteak, is still owned and operated of the Olivieri family. The restaurant is open 24 hours a day, is only closed for 48 hours twice a year, on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Pat’s King innovated and added new flavors over the years including Pizza cheesesteak and Mushroom pepper steak. People in Philly love the well-blended ingredients and the perfect crunch of bread!  Take a bite out of one of Philly’s best sandwiches today and have it delivered right to your home. Check out one of  their reviews:

“Always enjoy. Geno’s used to have better meat but Pat’s had better bread and if you’re going to have a sandwich then the bread has to be right. But now I think Pat’s meat was as good or better. Definitely recommend. Always enjoy my meal there. “Wit & whiz” Best way to go.”- Bill W. 

Chubby's Steaks

The “cut” of the steak at Roxborough’s Chubby’s captivated the hearts of Philly people. The ideal cut of beef is somewhere in the middle between finely chopped and thick slabs so that the meat retains as much of its natural flavor as possible. Chubby has been consistent in its flavor and ingredients. Cheesesteak with fried onions is the best-seller on their menu. Ordering from Chubby’s has never been more convenient. Pick up and delivery is now offered! 

Stop drooling over this mouthwatering specialty of Philadelphia! It’s time to savor the juicy meat, special spices, and overloaded cheese! For more restaurants to try in Philadelphia, make sure to head over to the Restaurant section of our Philly Online Local Directory. 

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