One of the best known hoagie chains in the Philadelphia area, Primo's is also one of the few if not only chain that makes hoagies on real, crusty seeded Italian bread. Their specialty sandwiches are super minimalist: no lettuce, tomato or onion unless you ask. We picked up the R Special at the original location in South Philly. It's an intense combination of Genoa salami, capicola, (the ham-like deli style rather than the more prosciutto-like dry, cured capicola we found at some other spots), fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil, finished with a pile of quartered hot pepper shooters.
Primo Hoagies: Various locations throughout Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs; www.primohoagies.com
Mike & Matt's
This corner store with handwritten signage advertising chicken cutlets and sausage is the definition of unassuming. They don't even have a sandwich menu. But if you ask nicely, brother Mike or Matt will be more than happy to make you a hoagie. All you have to do is pick out your roll from the bakery bags by the door and hand it to them over the counter. Ask for an Italian and you'll get something kind of genius; meats and veggies thin sliced to order and assembled with a much more delicate hand than most hoagie joints. Tuna is another good bet, served American-style with plenty of mayo and good sized chunks of celery. When Mike or Matt ask you if you want "seasoning," say yes. The combo of oregano and crushed chili flakes gives their sandwiches a great kick.
Mike and Matt's: 1206 Mifflin Street, Philadelphia PA 19148 (map)
This small local chain makes massive hoagies on soft seeded bread from D'Ambrosio Bakery. The Bomb is their take on a Jewish hoagie, with Russian dressing and cole slaw underneath an insane pile of freshly sliced roast beef, corned beef, turkey, lettuce, thick cut tomato, and pickles (no cheese!). Not the crusty bread and cured meats of an authentic Italian hoagie, but sometimes softer bread is a nice change of pace and you just want an awesome giant sandwich dripping with various mayonnaise-y ingredients. Juliano's is the place to get it - they have all sort of wild sandwiches ranging from more traditional to some of the wilder hoagie concoctions we've ever seen like The Truck Stop Special which adds potato salad to the mix.
Juliano's Deli: Various locations throughout Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs; www.julianosdeli.com
P&S Italian Deli and Ravioli
A neighborhood market known for their homemade pasta, P&S Ravioli in South Philly also makes some of the best hoagies in the city. A great place for real old-fashioned Italian style sandwiches and imported meats like coteghino, mortadella, and soppresatta, all sliced paper thin to order. This Old World Special consists of prosciutto, dry hot capicola, and sharp provolone along with shredded lettuce, tomato, onion, and lots of roasted long hots. P&S has several locations in Philadelphia, but sandwiches are only available at a few locations including South Philly and Haverford.
Chickie's Italian Deli
Chickie's is home to one of my favorite only-in-Philly hoagies: the Fried Tomato Special, which is more or less a Turkey Club on steroids (or Sarcone's, their hefty bread of choice). It's a long seeded roll jam packed with roasted turkey, crisp bacon, shredded iceberg, American cheese, roasted red peppers, breadcrumb-fried slices of ripe tomato, and a generous slather of mayo. This hoagie is awesome yearround but especially amazing in the summer when the Jersey tomatoes are bright red and extra juicy.
Located in a strip mall in deep South Philly, Pastifico's is an Italian specialty store that shares real estate with the incredible Termini Bros. Pasticceria and Celebre Pizzeria. As well as carrying a fantastic selection of imports ranging from aged balsamic to Brioschi, an Italian antacid that works like no other, Pastifico is packed at lunchtime thanks to their spectacular hoagies. The Classic Italian fills a loaf of Abruzzi Brick Oven Bakery bread with top notch slices of prosciutto, Genoa salami, mortadella, capicola, and provolone. Other good bets at Pastifico include anything with their mozzarella: it's handmade in house, rich with dairy, and squeaky fresh.
When we started out this whole crazy hoagie eating adventure, Cosmi's was the gold standard and even after eating our weight in hoagies around the city, it still stands up. Cosmi's knows how to build a mathematically perfect hoagie with the right ratio of veggies to deli meats. When ordering you're given the option of bread from either Sarcone's or Aversa; go with Sarcone's. It's got the body and integrity to stand up to Cosmi's monster hoagies. One favorite is the Sicilian filled with prosciutto, sopressata, hot coppa, mortadella, roasted red peppers and super piquant sharp provolone. Also, tuck pepper shooters into any hoagie.
Slack's Hoagie Shack
No soppressata, crusty Italian bread, or quaint bottles of olive oil and Chianti lining the shelves at Slack's Hoagie Shack but these are the kind of hoagies most people outside of South Philly (ourselves included) grew up with. The Cumberland adds an upgrade of capicola and extra American cheese to Slack's American hoagie which includes bologna, kosher salami, and tavern ham, all served on soft Amaroso bread with tons of shredded iceberg, spicy hot pepper relish, salad oil, and a sprinkling of dried oregano.
Slack's Hoagie Shack: Various locations throughout Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs; slackshoagies.com
Fifteen minutes outside the city, Carmen's is a bustling market in South Jersey that might be our new favorite. Their Sicilian includes hot capicola, prosciutto, soppresatta, crumbled provolone, roasted peppers, tomatoes and onions (but no lettuce) on incredible non-seeded, just soft enough bread from Del Buono that brought to mind White House Subs in Atlantic City. Sort of the best of both worlds, you've got your high quality meats, but not as overpowering and dry as some; on softer bread still sturdy enough to hold together the massive pile of meat.
This West Philly institution blends Philadelphia hoagie culture with Jewish deli fare. The tiny storefront is manned by a staff that's equal parts expert sandwich makers and Borscht Belt stand-up comedians, doling out all sorts of adults-only humor along with plenty of free samples of everything from pastrami to potato salad (and yes, you're going to eat that potato salad out of hand). While the deli sandwiches here reach Carnegie Deli heights and are nothing to scoff at, the Jewish Hoagie is where it's at. The Amoroso roll that barely houses this splitting at the seams masterpiece is piled high with corned beef, peppery pastrami, spiced beef (according to the owners, only available at Koch's), tangy kosher salami, American cheese, shredded iceberg, tomatoes, and pickled banana peppers that lend enough acid to cut through this salty, meaty gargantuan hoagie. Just a word to the wise, our friendly deli man said that one of his regulars dislocated his jaw while attempting to tackle one of these bad boys, so proceed with care!