The 11 Best Cheesesteak Places in Philly

I don’t trust “Best” lists.  Often, and virtually always in the case of best barbecue lists, they compare apples and oranges — say, pork and brisket.  The two foods are completely different.  And, again with barbecue lists, they often include places that don’t actually sell barbecue.  The not infrequent inclusion of places that have closed further saps credibility.

Think about how a “best list” develops.  On the rare occasions when this Blog proclaims that something is the best of its kind, it is after extensive research followed by detailed contemporaneous comparisons.  See here and here the final stages of my research that led to the selection of Bum’s as the Best Eastern North Carolina style barbecue.  Or see just one phase of my exhaustive and filling research identifying Captains’ Kitchen as having the best shrimpburger:

captains compare

If only everyone were so rigorous.  Consider a recent Conde Nast article identifying the 11 best cheesesteaks in Philadelphia.

Do you think someone from Conde Nast, say a lifelong Philadelphia resident, dedicated weeks or months to eating cheesesteaks, progressively narrowing the field?  Or perhaps that Anna Wintour sent her staff out to comb Philadelphia for great cheesesteak places before Ms. Wintour herself undertook the final winnowing?  Perhaps a freshly minted journalism major and vegan who had recently moved to Brooklyn from Chicago looked at various cheesesteak lists (Thrillist, Eater, Yelp) and whipped up an article.  Just a thought.

Take a look at the 11 places mentioned in the article.

The second cheesesteak listed shows a photograph of a sandwich that isn’t a cheesesteak.  It’s a roast pork sandwich.  Apparently the writer either (a) never went there, but instead pulled a photo off the internet and could not tell the difference (doesn’t anyone anywhere use editors?), or (b) entered and made the wise decision to order a roast pork sandwich instead of a cheesesteak, only to see that they used spinach instead of broccoli rabe.  Spinach is okay, but always go with pork and broccoli rabe.

Similarly, the third place listed, Donkey’s Place, shows a parmesan.  It’s not clear whether it’s an eggplant or veal or chicken parmesan, but it’s some sort of parmesan, and a parmesan could never — never — be mistaken for a cheesesteak any more than you could mistake a Corvette for a Buick Skylark.  The author did pick up on the fact that the bun, a poppyseed Kaiser roll, is not a traditional cheesesteak bun, but overlooked the fact that it wasn’t a cheesesteak.

That mistake, like the roast pork mixup, could result from the excessive focus on the bottles behind the Donkey’s Place bar.  The Galt and Co. photo is entirely focused behind the bar.  You can see the edge of something that might be or have been part of a cheesesteak, but that part of the photo is way out of focus.  Does an excessive indulgence in strong spirits explain the errors?

I think not, as Rene’ Descartes said just before he disappeared.  Look at the Ishkabibble write-up.  The first reason given for going to Ishkabibble is that you might see a minor celebrity there.  My heart be still.  Second, they recommend (brace yourself) that you get the chicken cheesesteak because (you might want to sit down) it’s not greasy.  Isn’t grease the whole reason for eating a cheesesteak?

The article ultimately jumps the shark by recommending Govinda’s, where the chicken cheesesteak is, for the author, the “stuff of dreams.”  The dream-like part is that the sandwich contains no chicken.  Govinda’s “cheesesteak” consists of a soy-based chickenish substance, some bell pepper, and either mozzarella or vegan cheese which, come to think of it, is not cheese at all.

Now all of these may be great sandwiches, but four of the eleven are not even cheesesteaks.  The four sandwiches could be better than cheesesteaks.  I know I’d go for the roast pork over a cheesesteak in a New York minute, especially if it had broccoli rabe on it; and a veal or eggplant or chicken parmesan sounds great right now, with some crushed red pepper and …  But I digress.  The article is supposed to be about cheesesteaks, but it is not.

If you’re visiting Philadelphia and you want a good cheesesteak, just ask a police officer or a firefighter.  (Go on into the station.  They won’t bite.)  They have excellent communications networks, especially about lunch places, and they won’t steer you wrong.

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