While walking through Philly these days, you’re bound to see a “Philly’s Best Cheesesteak” sign every 15 feet. Even with the abundance of options, I wanted to try the old-school cheesesteak challenge on my trip to Philly last month – Pat’s vs. Geno’s. These rivals have been directly across the street from each other in South Philly since 1966. Rumor has it the cheesesteak started in the 1930s when a hot dog stand owner started to serve thinly sliced grilled steak with onions on hot dog buns. This owner was Pat Olivieri, founder of Pat’s King of Steaks. Provolone cheese was added later to the mix, even though some argue that a “real” Philly cheesesteak these days has to have Cheez Whiz.
Going into this challenge, I assumed the winner would be Pat’s. Only one person I asked had recommended Geno’s as the best. Geno’s had a flashy and overdone exterior with tons of neon lights, so I figured they needed that rather than just depending on a better sandwich. For this reason, I chose the Pat’s line to stand in while my friend got into the Geno’s line. He ended up waiting a little longer than I did because he didn’t have cash and had to get out of line to use the ATM (amateur). With my Pat’s sandwich hidden in my purse, I strolled on over to Geno’s and nabbed us a table.
We decided to get the original provolone cheese on our sandwiches and got the exact same order at each establishment. Don’t worry, we ordered in the proper way: “provolone wit'” which is Philadelphian for “Hello, sir. How are you? May I please have one cheesesteak sandwich with provolone cheese and onions? Thank you so much! Have a great night!” I practiced ordering in my head for a few minutes in line because I was not going to be told, “No steak for you!”
When my friend sat down with the Geno’s cheesesteak, the Pat’s one was a few minutes old. I worried this would affect the test, but it hadn’t become soggy or cold, so we persevered. We did a bite for-bite test, analyzing the sandwiches in between sips of soda and dips into the fries we got at Geno’s. We agreed, no question about it, that Geno’s had provided us with the superior offering. Each component was better – the roll was softer, the meat more seasoned, the onions stronger, and the overall sandwich more flavorful. No real difference in the cheese. We actually left a few bites of the Pat’s sandwich in the wrapper to fully focus on Geno’s steak.
If you have someone to split them with or if you have a larger tummy than I do, go for it and try both cheesesteaks, but I will only be eating Geno’s from now on. Another one of my favorite people just moved to Philly last week, so I have a feeling this will not be the end of my cheesesteak experiences there. And it is a fantastic feeling.