Philadelphia: Fantastic Cheesesteak From Dalessandro's Steaks & Hoagies

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

I consider myself a Bostonian in spirit and can easily pass myself off as a real New Yorker, but one thing I'm definitely not is a Philadelphian. So as something that can inspire heated debate even amongst fellow Brotherly Lovers, I'm very wary about weighing in with my decidedly outsider's opinion of Philadelphia's most famous sandwich, the cheesesteak.

But I will anyway.

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Ask the people of Philadelphia who makes the best cheesesteak and you're bound to hear the names Geno's and Pat's thrown around. The catty-corner rivalry between two of the oldest cheesesteak shops in the city gets talked about perhaps more than any other restaurant rivalry in the country. And both of them make a great cheesesteak.

Properly thin-sliced ribeye griddled, lightly chopped with spatulas, bound with Cheez Whiz or provolone, and piled into a toasty hoagie roll.

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The thing is, as an outsider, not having grown up with cheesesteaks, I visited both restaurants several times through the years, and each time, I came away thinking, "huh, that's it?" I mean, don't get me wrong—they were tasty, but I could never shake the voice in the back of my head that kept telling me you should have had a burger instead.

It wasn't until SE correspondent Liz Bomze, a Philadelphia native, pointed me to Dalessandro's Steaks & Hoagies in Roxborough that it finally clicked. Oh that's what all the fuss is about.

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Here's what she has to say about Dalessandro's:

I didn't start going there because I knew it was any better than the other steak joints around town; I just went with my friends because it was close to our high school. (I guess I've been going there for about 15 years. Yikes.) Eventually, I realized it was way better than the fussed-over places like Pat's and Geno's. I used to love watch the griddle guy chop up the meat with the flat metal spatula and work in the cheese so that it melted evenly; it made waiting for the food pretty enjoyable (as did eating hot peppers out of the condiment bin).

At Dalessandro's, they start with the same thinly shaved, super beefy ribeye, but rather than giving it the few cursory chops with a spatula you get at Pat's or Geno's, the griddle cooks absolutely demolish the beef, cutting and cutting and cutting until it can be cut no more. The end result is something vaguely resembling a Maid-Rite loosemeat sandwich. Finely chopped, nearly crumbled beef that sits slowly browning in its own fat and juices on a lightly greased, well-worn flat-top.

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Don't order a plain beef sandwich here (does anyone ever order a cheesesteak without cheese?). The crumbled beef needs the fatty, binding capabilities of melted provolone to live up to their full potential. And what glorious living it is!

You won't find massive amounts of stringy, drippy cheese in these hoagies. Rather, the cheese acts as a subtle binder, adding just enough sharpness and fat to bring out the beefy, well-browned flavors of the meat. It all gets shoved into crusty buns from Amoroso's (a virtual a prerequisite for any decent Philadelphia hoagie).

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Grilled onions, mushrooms, and peppers are available on request, but are largely unnecessary. Instead, finish the sandwich with your choice of a half dozen different varieties of pickled or roasted peppers from their well-stocked bar. I like the spicy-tart hot pepper relish best.

Is this the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia? I have no idea. I can say for certain that it's the best one I've had.

And how does Hambone feel about the hoagies?

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Yep, he likes.

Dalessandro's

600 Wendover Street, Philadelphia, PA 19128 (map); 215-482-5407; dalessandros.com

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