The Ultimate Philly Cheesesteak Review

I live in Philly and, truth be told, it would be a crime to not do a cheesesteak segment. So here it is. I trekked to 5 of the most famous cheesesteak spots in Philly and decided to rank them. I’ll order them the RIGHT way (with wiz and onions) and will not be adding any extras to keep it fair.

The criteria:

  • Price - Does the price match the quality?

  • Aura- Is the service fast? Is the space clean and cool?

  • meat - Is it chopped, but not ground beef?

  • Wiz - I need lots of it.

  • Onions - Are they caramelized well and match the ratio of meat?

  • Bun - Does it have a crispy outside and soft inside?

The spots:

  • Max’s Steaks

  • Blackbird Pizzeria (I’ll explain)

  • Ishkabibble’s

  • Jim’s Steaks

  • Steve’s Prince of Steaks

Now don’t get all particular and hurt that I didn’t get to your “spot”. If I had the time and budget to go to more I would’ve, but these are what I got to. My crew and I trudged through cold, rainy, and dark weather for these bad boys. Quite frankly, some I would’ve traveled in a tundra storm for and for others, well, I wouldn’t even wait on SEPTA. You can watch our super fun adventure in the video above.

Here’s my official, ultimate, super accurate Cheesesteak Ranking.

#5: Max’s

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So at #5 we have Max’s. To be honest, I had high hopes for this place. It seemed to be slightly commercial, but deep enough in North Philly to hold raw charm and a quality sandwich cool with the locals. What I ended up with was…a disappointment and I am relieved that it was our first stop. There is a Kevin Hart mural, which is cool.

Price: $9.50 (cash only)

Aura: SLOW. So, so slow. We went at night and there was a bit of a line, but that’s to be expected. However, the crew was so unorganized that it took so long to get our sandwich. Some people got numbers, some people just jumped the line because they knew the crew, and some people just bobbled around until they somehow managed to get their order. They were all sweet, to be fair, but if you’re going to run a popular cheesesteak spot you should be able to nail the assembly line. There is a bar in the room over, but we decided to eat our order while waiting for SEPTA to take us to our next location.

Meat: The meat was jam packed into this sandwich. It was falling out every bite. If it was well cooked I wouldn’t be complaining, but sadly this meat was too dry and fine for my liking.

Wiz: Where is it?

Onions: The onions appeared to be premixed with the meat. There wasn’t a whole lot of them, so I couldn’t pinpoint how well they were cooked.

Bun: The bun was actually the best part of the sandwich. It was soft on the inside to soak up any cheese and beef juice, but had a crisp bite on the outside.

Overall, I wasn’t really impressed. It was okay. Probably not worth the travel if you’re not from that area of Philly. People seemed to be loading up on toppings here and I understand why- it’s bland. Sorry Max’s.

 

#4: Steve’s

Next up on our list at #4 is Steve’s. If I’m fessing up, Steve’s was actually the first cheesesteak I had when I first moved to Philly so I have a special place in my heart for Steve’s. We went to the new University City location, so that might’ve played into why I ended up being kind of disappointed. Let’s get into it:

Price: $9.00

Aura: Since this isn’t the original location, it was fairly dead. There was only one other customer there at the time we went. This meant fast service for us, but I also remember the service being fairly fast at their Center City place. There’s a small sitting area at both locations and a toppings bar (huge bonus). Aura here is a big plus.

Meat: Clearly, Steve’s just puts in whole cuts of beef and does not chop their meat. In my opinion, this takes away from a cheesesteak. A lot of the oil and cheese just dripped off of it rather than soaking in. It also means a thin sandwich. However, it was seasoned well.

Wiz: A great amount of wiz that brought out the saltiness I love.

Onions: Nothing too special. Cooked about right so there’s a light color and sweetness.

Bun: Also okay. It was soft enough to soak in a lot of flavor.

Ultimately, this may rank different for you if you like ribboned steak. I do not. It was kind of a disappointment, but maybe if we went to the original location they would’ve had a better one. Both locations are convenient and I do like the atmosphere. Wouldn’t recommend to a tourist though.

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#3: Blackbird Pizzeria

Price: $10.53

Aura: Located in ultra hip Northern Liberties, Blackbird Pizzeria fits right in. Why are they on my list? Because I wanted to be inclusive and give a vegan cheesesteak a shot. Originally I wanted to go to Wiz Kid, but my sources told me I would be happier here. This place serves vegan only food, but I promise it’s good.

The inside is minimal and industrial. There’s exposed brick, scattered stools and tables, and little pockets of hipster quirk (hence a fake rat skeleton in the wall). The crew is nice and fast. This was the first place someone actually asked us about the excessive camera work surrounding our food, and not just throw a dirty look our way. Over all, I think it’s an inclusive place that caters to more people than just vegans.

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“Meat”: Obviously, it is not real steak and is in fact seitan, a common vegan replacement for meat. It did not taste like steak, but did carry a meaty essence reminiscent of chicken broth. It brought TONS of salty, savory flavor that I thoroughly loved.

Wiz: Also not classic, but held its own. It oozed right into the meat and I couldn’t complain.

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Onions: These onions were just charred on the outside, but not cooked long enough to turn caramelized and sweet. For this sandwich the raw bite of onion worked, but it wasn’t classic.

Bun: Harder than the standard Amoroso roll. Closer to a classic baguette.

All in all, this was a fantastic sandwich. It in no way fooled me into thinking it was an ordinary cheesesteak, but the sheer flavor was extremely enjoyable and satisfying. I refuse to rank it any higher since it is a bit of a fraud, but it was damn good.

 

#2: ISHKABIBBLES

Price: $10.00

Aura: Nothing too crazy to note about the ambiance, honestly. We went around dinner time on a weekend, so we expected it to be at least a little busier. There ended up being around three other people in the entire place. It feels very much like a diner. Since it wasn’t really hectic our order came out very quickly. The staff was also really nice and there was no evil eye waiting for us to not order a cheesesteak “correctly”. Enjoyable.

Meat: The perfect chop! There was enough texture from their chop without turning it into complete ground beef. It was a tad bit dry, but the wiz made up for it. It was a very full sandwich, so $10 wasn’t so bad for this deal.

Wiz: Even though it’s drizzled on top, it seeps all the way through the meat and saturated the bread in all the right ways.

Onions: A great amount of onions, but could have sat on the grill for a bit longer.

Bread: Standard! Soft inside, good crust on the outside.

Ishkabibbles was a pleasant surprise. When it was dead inside I think I got a bit nervous, but the sandwich was great. Sparks didn’t fly when I bit into it, but it was waaaay better than Max’s and Steve’s. With it right on South Street it’s definitely worth a visit.

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#1: Jim’s

Price: $9.00

Aura: I’m going to try not to turn this last bit into a love letter to whoever the original Jim is, but it’s hard. This place stole my heart. The aura is perfect. You walk in and are almost always greeted with a line, but it moves quick. The crew mastered that perfect balance of being kind and gentle to newbies, but also moving FAST. The perfect assembly line. Once you get your cheesesteak, you can go upstairs and eat in their minimal, cool, retro dining area. I usually sit by the window and watch the festivities of South Street unfold down below.

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Meat: Do you see that chop? It’s perfect. It’s just fine enough to serve as the perfect bed for toppings while still holding some shape. It's fresh, juicy, and not even a bit shy of adequate seasoning.

Wiz: The picture doesn’t show the deep soak of wiz happening on this bad boy. Probably my favorite part of a Jim’s cheesesteak is the messy, gooey wiz and grease mixture that happens. It runs down your fingers, it fills your mouth, it drips all over your tray. Yum.

Onions: Beautifully caramelized and sweet.

Bread: Soft inside, crisp outside. The perfect sponge for all the flavor.

At the end of the day, Jim’s won by a landslide. I was three cheesesteaks deep while eating this one and I downed it like I hadn’t eaten in days. It is the perfect intersection of being budget friendly, delivering a quality sandwich, and providing a great place to eat with Philly locals or cheesesteak rookies.

So, there you go. 5 of Philly’s most popular cheesesteak spots ranked. Feel free to argue with me here.

kat brandelComment