Recently, there was a debate between the hotter-than-the-sun Philadelphia native Bradley Cooper and Roots frontman Questlove about the best place to get a cheesesteak in the City of Brotherly Love. Just like every Italian grandmother will tell you the "proper" way to make a Bolognese sauce, every Philadelphian will have an opinion on the "best" place to grab a cheesesteak in Philly.
One time in college a friend of mine from San Francisco and I had a city food exchange over the holiday break. He agreed to bring me back some noodles from Chinatown (arguably the best one in the US) and I agreed to bring him back an authentic Philly cheesesteak. I think I got him a cheesesteak from Larry's off of City Line (it's minutes from my house and one of my favorites) and even though it was ice cold, he couldn't get over the deliciousness. His noodles good, but they were no cheesesteak. Philly clearly won that round over San Francisco.
is a Philly institution that gets many mentions in a best cheesesteak debate. Established in 1960, the storefront brings you up to speed on their reputation before you even set foot in the shop: the door is plastered with accolades. Dalessandro's has been featured in the now defunct Gourmetmagazine, is Zagat rated, et al. In fact, my own friend remarked, "That's my friends' favorite place for cheesesteaks!" when I told her where we were going for dinner.
The space is narrow and flanked by a counter and stools and one side and windows on the other with a linoleum walkway in between. We stepped right up and ordered a cheesesteak with provolone and fried onions, a chicken steak with cheese whiz and fried onions, a bag of cheddar horseradish chips, a bag of salt and vinegar chips (my favorite!), bottled water, and a cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
We sat outside, sipped our beverages and noshed on chips (the cheddar horseradish chips are surprisingly fantastic) as we waited. It was a perfect evening--balmy and breezy--and we could have easily spent hours out there, but when our food finally came out we were ready.
The "fresh cut rib-eye" meat was chopped fine so that some meat crumbs would fall out every time you bit into it. The provolone was extra sharp and delicious. Some might not like the extra funky flavor of aged provolone but we were both fans.
The 100 percent white meat chicken was also chopped fine but I felt as though it wasn't as good as the steak because the chicken was dry. The fatty rib-eye can support an increased surface area (from the ultra fine chop) without drying out, while the ultra lean white meat can not. I also wanted more cheese whiz on my sandwich. In both cases the fried onions were cooked to perfection--savory, sweet, and meltingly tender. The clear victor of this battle was the cheese steak with provolone (totally worth the up-charge of 20 cents), I would definitely come back for this AND they are open until midnight Friday and Saturday--wahoo!
After the main course, we wanted something a little sweet so I went back in and got some of the banana pudding and carrot cake. I love that the woman at the register remembered my name and asked, "Can I help you with something else Clara?" Talk about great customer service! The banana pudding was a bright lemon yellow and had Nilla wafers and dollops of whipped cream. The carrot cake looked even more carrot-y with a frosted carrot on top. The pudding was cool and sweet but definitely artificially flavored banana. It wouldn't have been as noticeable but there were chunks of real banana at the bottom of the parfait which my friend excitedly dug for as though searching for treasure. The carrot cake was on the drier side and not our favorite.
All in all, the rumors are true: D'Alessandro's makes a fine steak, the service is impeccable, and I love the impressive selection of cold beer that is available. Next time I head there, I will be sure to grab a seat at the counter so I can enjoy the fixin' bar set-up with assorted peppers of varying degrees of hotness and pickles just waiting for you.
Where is the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia? I can't really say. Honestly, I've never had a bad steak in the city, though I have suffered some disastrous iterations outside its limits (a "gourmet" version with artisanal bread and some frou frou cheese comes to mind). I guess my advice is this: when you come to Philly, ask natives for their favorite spots, check out a few, and enjoy. We're all different and have different opinions. No matter where you go though it'll be delicious. And if you disagree, get out of here--we don't want you anyway! Which brings to mind a complaint about Philadelphians I heard recently, "How come you guys are so mean?"
We're not mean--we're just honest.