Ranking The Best Philly Cheesesteaks From Worst To First

If you ask 10 different people in Philly which cheesesteak is the best, you might very well get 10 conflicting and equally passionate answers. So when we decided to rate as many cheesesteaks as we could lay our hands on in 24 hours, we knew we'd have our work cut out for us. 

We started by conducting an incredibly informal survey of everyone we know for their favorite cheesesteak spots. We then took that massive list and charted it all on a map of Philadelphia to figure out how to efficiently try as many as possible. We also tried to strike a balance between famous locations, local and fan favorites, places that are relatively easy to reach from Center City, and a few shops you might not have tried yet. All told, we made it to 13 cheesesteak spots before we couldn't possibly eat another bite. 

Keep in mind that a cheesesteak is a very personal thing. First, there's the cheese: Almost everyone offers their cheesesteak with a choice of Cheese Whiz, American, or provolone. We think you should get what makes you happiest, but that said, the cheese better show up. There's also the matter of fried onions "wit" or "witout." We think you should get them, but as we learned during our tasting, sometimes that choice can backfire. Also, if a  restaurant tells you the best way to have their sandwich, listen to them. From worst to first, this is how the best cheesesteaks in Philly stack up.

13. Geno's Steaks

1219 South 9th Street

There's just no great way to say this, but — the cheesesteak at Geno's Steaks in Philadelphia was wet, and no one likes a wet sandwich. 

The flavor of the steak was good and well seasoned, but the steak itself was more sliced than chopped and more closely resembled Steak-umm slices or a (grilled) roast-beef-and-cheese hoagie. That intentional style of sliced steak isn't inherently a bad thing, but it's not what we were looking for in a cheesesteak. Since the steak wasn't very chopped up, the steak-to-bun ratio seemed a little off, while the Cheese Whiz mixed with the steak grease and just kind of ... slid off the back of the sandwich. Ultimately, it looked like a sandwich that was just slapped together, and after just a few bites, we'd had enough.

In business since 1966, Geno's Steaks is one of the most famous cheesesteak spots in Philly, in no small part because of their friendly competition with Pat's, just a few steps away. Open 24 hours a day, Geno's offers 17 different steaks, cheesesteaks, and hoagies — which may be better choices than the traditional cheesesteak. Either way, Geno's is a popular cheesesteak destination for tourists, and anyone looking to get a late-night bite in a city where the options are slim after midnight.

12. Cleavers

108 South 18th Street

When you order a cheesesteak at Center City, Philadelphia-based Cleavers, be prepared to receive a massive sandwich on a thicker baguette-style bun. We're not even talking about "The Cleaver" cheesesteak, which boasts one pound of ribeye steak and is nearly double the price of the regular cheesesteak, so we can only imagine that it's also double the size. We were given the option to choose a cheese and ordered this cheesesteak with American cheese.

Sadly, we were a little disappointed that the cheese was barely identifiable at the bottom of the bun, leaving the rest of the sandwich to be pretty boring. It's clear that the steak at Cleavers is cooked on the grill, with the cheese slices melted on top just before turning the steak into the bun, as usual. Unfortunately, if the cheese isn't mixed into the steak, it just gets lost underneath it — especially in a sandwich this large. 

Perhaps Cheese Whiz would have distributed itself better, or we should have ordered extra cheese. Even though we found Cleavers cheesesteak to be lackluster, there are 11 creative cheesesteaks listed on the Cleavers menu, 12 additional chicken cheesesteak options, and even five vegetarian options — by far the most extensive sandwich options we came across on our tasting adventure. We're willing to bet that there's something for anyone to love once you find your match.

11. Sonny's Famous Steaks

228 Market Street

Nearly every cheesesteak place in Philly claims to have the best cheesesteak in the city, and Sonny's Famous Steaks is no exception to the rule. Located on Market Street in Old City Philadelphia, you're very likely to find a tour group outside of this restaurant waiting to go on one of the many historical tours of the area. There's a cluster of cheesesteak options on the block, all slightly different from the next, all claiming to be the best, and all catering to travelers.

At Sonny's we ordered our cheesesteak with Whiz, fried onions, and sweet peppers. The steak we got tasted fine, but we had trouble finding much of the actual beef in the sea of peppers and onions on the sandwich. In a perfect world, we'd get a nice balance of all of it, but after a few bites that were mostly meat-accented peppers, we put this one down and moved on to the next shop. Next time, we'll probably pass on the peppers and maybe even explore some of the blue cheese options Sonny's offers instead. 

10. Pat's King of Steaks

1237 East Passayunk Avenue

Pat's is the self-proclaimed king of cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, claiming to be the "originators of the steak sandwich." Since they've been around since 1930, we're inclined to believe them. Located directly across the triangular intersection from Geno's, also open 24 hours a day and decked out in neon lights, this little part of South Philly can be a thing to behold on a summer night when everyone comes out for a bite to eat.

Once known for their short tempers when facing customers (via TripAdvisor), the cashier and cooks at Pat's on this particular day were both patient and pleasant when we placed our order. In a matter of moments, we were handed a well-constructed sandwich comfortably filled with steak that had been moderately chopped, tossed with fried onions and topped with a generous drizzle of Cheese Whiz. 

The meat itself wasn't anything fancy, and it wasn't seasoned with anything special, as far as we could tell. Still, the sandwich itself was a neat little package that would undoubtedly satisfy a cheesesteak craving any hour of the day or night. While Pat's might not be the overall winner of our rankings this time around, we can comfortably say that we prefer their sandwich over the competitor's a few steps away.

9. Cosmi's Deli

1501 South 8th Street

Just three short blocks away from the bright lights of Pat's sits Cosmi's deli on the corner of a primarily residential neighborhood in South Philly. While cheesesteaks are just a fraction of this deli's offerings, the place is still a great dining choice with just as many options as the other guys.

We ordered a cheesesteak with Cheese Whiz and fried onions and enjoyed browsing the Tastykake selection while our sandwich was made-to-order. The kitchen was busy cranking out lunch orders, but the individual effort put into our sandwich was apparent the moment we unwrapped it, and the freshly cooked sandwich bellowed out fragrant, meaty steam.

The steak and the fried onions were finely chopped together while cooking, making for a more flavorful meat filling. The Whiz was the perfect cheesy and salty balance to bring the whole sandwich together. Even with several other cheesesteaks to taste that day, it was hard to put this sandwich down. If you happen to be in South Philly, consider swinging by Cosmi's. They may not be open 24 hours a day, but they are open till 3 am from Thursday through Saturday.

8. Campo's

214 Market Street

Campo's is one of the trio of cheesesteak restaurants on Market Street in Old City Philadelphia, but it's perhaps the oldest on the block. Established in 1947 as a grocery store and butcher shop, it's evolved a little bit over the years into one of the most established cheesesteak joints in that part of town. For those enthusiastic about both cheesesteaks and baseball, Campo's also has a cheesesteak stand at Citizen's Bank Park for baseball fans to enjoy while the Phillies are in season.

We got our sandwich with American cheese and fried onions and were pleasantly surprised when biting into this sandwich. The meat has a thoughtful flavor and seasoning that sets it apart from the previous competitors. It tastes like a dash of Worcestershire sauce was mixed in, but of course, it's a secret we won't soon find out. There was also a great amount of cheese on Campo's sandwich, with onions that were a little on the large size, but decently interspersed with every bite.

7. Jim's South Street

400 South Street

Jim's seems to be the one famous old-school place in all of Philadelphia that both locals and tourists can agree is delicious — a true feat coming from a pool of incredibly diverse opinions. And we've got to agree.

As far as the big names in Philadelphia, Jim's on South Street is a great choice. The shop opened in 1976 with a throwback art deco design that hasn't changed to this day. At this point, the black, white, and chrome décor is an iconic part of an already legendary shopping and nightlife strip. It's a pleasure just to visit and see the place, but ordering a steak is definitely a bonus.

Part of the charm of Jim's is that you walk directly up to the grill window and tell the grill cook what you'd like. The line moves fast, so don't expect to make small talk, but feel free to ask questions if you need to. Jim's has a fine-tuned cheesesteak assembly line down that churns out flavorful and beautifully classic sandwiches. We got our cheesesteak with American cheese and fried onions and ate it outside while taking in the sights of South Street, and the combination of a nicely executed sandwich and the festive environment made eating at Jim's a whole vibe we couldn't get enough of. 

6. Oh Brother Philly

206 Market Street

As we get into the top half of the Philly cheesesteak rankings, it's the little things that start to score a sandwich big points. Every cheesesteak includes a bun, meat, cheese, and in our case, fried onions. But to get this high on our list, the cheesesteak must be well constructed and made specifically to order—not on a high volume assembly line where the components have been precooked. It's also got to have a little something extra. Our final competitor in the Market Street trifecta, Oh Brother Philly, is a relative newcomer to the cheesesteak game. But they've picked up the art quickly and are making what we think is the best cheesesteak we tried in Old City.

We ordered this cheesesteak with American cheese, which came generously loaded and mixed into the steak. The onions were also chopped in with the meat, making for a glorious bite, every bite. The roll was also slightly toasted on the outside, which we thought was a nice touch. While Oh Brother has the usual selection of cheesesteaks, they don't actually claim to have the best cheesesteaks in Philly — but they do say they have the best in Old City, along with the best burgers. While we didn't try a burger this time around, but it's clear the shop definitely has a way with beef.

5. Mike's BBQ

1703 South 11th Street

A couple of blocks off of Passyunk Avenue in South Philly, in the middle of a residential neighborhood, sits a tiny barbecue joint with very limited hours called Mike's BBQ. It's rumored to have an unconventional cheesesteak that we absolutely had to try.

Instead of the typical ribeye steak that almost all other cheesesteak makers use in Philadelphia, this barbecue place is making their own indulgent cheesesteak with house-smoked brisket. As if that weren't inventive enough, the folks at Mike's BBQ went a step further and made their own "Cooper Sharp Whiz," a creamy sharp white cheddar-like alternative to the ubiquitous Cheese Whiz. While this cheesesteak is a little smaller in length than traditional cheesesteaks, it's packed with juicy perfectly cooked brisket that will have no problem filling you up.

A sprinkle of fried onions finishes the cheesesteak off for a fantastic new twist on a sandwich that hasn't seen much innovation over the years. Oh, and it comes with a small bag of homemade thick-cut potato chips, which are also a nice touch.

4. Chubby's Steaks

5826 Henry Avenue

Tucked away in North Philadelphia, about 15 minutes outside of Center City, are a couple of cheesesteak restaurants that locals swear by. One of which is Chubby's Steaks, which has been sizzling up cheesesteaks to order since 1987. 

So what makes them so special? First of all, the meat is seasoned with something that no other cheesesteak has. Of course, we don't know what that secret seasoning is, but it's phenomenal. Next, the steak itself is chopped up finer than most cheesesteaks, making for a sandwich that you don't have to tear through to enjoy. The fried onions on top are nicely cooked and medium-sized, so you can tell when you're eating one.

And finally, the cheese (we ordered American) is perfectly rippled throughout the steak. It's not a stretch to say that this is the best cheesesteak with American cheese, if that's your preference. But if you like yours with provolone or Cheez Whiz, we imagine that it would be just as spectacular. In addition to the fantastic food, Chubby's also has a full-service bar to help you wash down your meal.

3. Joe's Steaks + Soda Shop

1 West Girard Avenue

Joe's Steaks + Soda Shop was the first place we hit on the way into Philly, just off I-95, and the first magical meaty bite of this cheesesteak felt like being welcomed home. This location is the second the spot has, with the first being further up in Northeastern Philadelphia. Joe's is the only place we went to that offered cheesesteaks in two different sizes: a small sandwich said to be six inches and a large ten-inch sandwich. We got the small six-inch sandwich with Cheese Whiz and fried onions, ate the entire thing in less than five minutes, and regretted not getting the larger cheesesteak instead.

Joe's is the quintessential Philly cheesesteak, with nicely seasoned chopped steak that isn't too chopped up or too large. They're generous with the cheese, as we think one should be, and the onions are neatly layered into the sandwich. The meat-to-roll ratio is also satisfying without being overwhelming. You won't find anything out of the ordinary here, but you will find what we think is the best specimen of a traditional Philly cheesesteak with Whiz. We can't wait to try some of Joe's milkshakes and sundaes on our next trip, for the ultimate indulgence.

2. Woodrow's Sandwich Shop

630 South Street

Woodrow's Sandwich Shop on South Street in Philadelphia opened up shop just a few years ago, and while they have a cheesesteak on the menu, it's the only one in a lineup of creative leaning artisan-style sandwiches. Across the menu, they're working with the classics, including a meatball sub, shrimp po'boy, an Italian hoagie, and a fancy grilled cheese sandwich. But each sandwich is made with ingredients that make it so much more than the traditional prototype.

The Woodrow's Whiz Whit cheesesteak is slathered with a house-made truffle whiz that they specify does not come from a can. It's also got a nice smear of cherry pepper mayo that adds a mild but welcome kick to a sandwich that can definitely take the heat. Finally, it's got caramelized onions folded into the finely chopped steak. This cheesesteak takes the #2 spot in our ranking because of its stellar technical execution, playfully paired with some more contemporary ingredients. With a cheesesteak this good, we're ready to try every sandwich on the menu.

1. Dalessandro's Steaks

600 Wendover Street

Directly across the street from Chubby's Steaks you'll find their competitor, Dalessandro's Steaks & Hoagies. At first glance, the cheesesteaks might look interchangeable, and choosing which one was better took a few bites. But when it comes down to it, the Dalessandro's cheesesteak won in the details. 

The steak itself has a great flavor and is finely chopped, a texture we preferred over the medium and rough chops other shops use. The amount of Cheese Whiz on the sandwich was absolutely perfect, oozing its way through every nook in the steak. But the thing that put this cheesesteak above all of the others? The perfectly caramelized, delicately translucent, cooked-within-a-second-of-the-last-bit-of-crunch fried onions. Neither soggy nor undercooked, they were by far the best onions on any steak in the running. What can we say? When you're competing at such a high level, it's the smallest advantage that can put you in the lead. And that's how Dalessandro's cooked its way into the top spot.

Of course, with hundreds of places to get a cheesesteak in Philadelphia, there are bound to be more incredible sandwiches out there to taste, which suits us just fine. As soon as we've recovered from this tasting adventure, we look forward to trying more!