The Best Roast Pork Sandwiches in Philadelphia

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

When you eat 50-odd burgers and sandwiches in the space of 60 hours, interesting things happen. You learn that in addition to meat sweats, there are very real physical conditions like meat flush, meat cramps, meat naps, and meat drunk. Your mind begins to simplify thoughts, until your internal monologue begins to sound like the musings of an inebriated Neanderthal. UNGH. Meat good, want more this meat, you silently exclaim, using the back of your wrist to swipe blindly at the juices running down your chin. And sometimes, UNGH. Meat bad. 'Nuf meat, before morosely face-planting into your plate.

These are the conditions under which I came to the following conclusion: Cheesesteak good. Roast pork better.

So much better, in fact, that I'd argue the roast pork sandwich is Philadelphia's greatest culinary attraction—I'm pretty comfortable saying that not one of Philly's best cheesesteaks rivals the phenomenal roast pork sandwiches that made our list. Luckily, one of the great joys of the roast pork sandwich is just how easy it is to find—most places that serve cheesesteaks serve roast pork sandwiches, too.

But unlike cheesesteaks, which almost always suffer from dry, shriveled, unseasoned meat, roast pork sandwiches have a lot more flavor agents working in their favor. There's the roll, typically encrusted in nutty sesame seeds and saturated with a generous ladleful of meaty pork juices. There's the gooey tang of melted sharp provolone and, under ideal circumstances, the pleasantly bitter bite of broccoli rabe. And that's not counting the roast pork itself, or the myriad optional condiments like long hots that you can slap on top.

Of course, this isn't to say that there aren't bad roast pork sandwiches out there. We encountered stale rolls; dry, stringy pork; bland or unmelted cheese; and sad, mushy broccoli rabe. We had sandwiches that were more bread than filling, and fillings that soaked right through the roll. Roast pork is a special breed of sandwich, and the very best ones excel for their barebones simplicity and zen-like balance. Of the 14 we tried, here are the ones that truly triumphed.

Best Cheffy Roast Pork Sandwich: High Street on Market

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High Street on Market makes my absolute favorite roast pork sandwich in town. It's a cheffy iteration, but one that adheres to the fundamental composition of the classic: think a house-made, sesame seed-studded semolina roll, kimchi-style fermented broccoli rabe, and some pretty stellar aged sharp provolone. The pork is the real clincher, though: brine-cured for two days in salt, sugar, garlic, and thyme, it's then seared and roasted with aromatics before it's thinly sliced to serve. Tangy, juicy, and deeply porky, the sandwich delivers complex flavors that underscore the thought and care that's gone into preparing each ingredient. And it's priced accordingly—it'll set you back $12—but it's worth every penny. You can pick up a sandwich at the to-go counter, but if it's not too busy, High Street's open sun-soaked dining room is a warm, relaxing spot to dig into a sit-down meal.

Best Pulled Roast Pork Sandwich: Paesano's Philly Style

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Gazing at Paesano's massive sandwich board is like staring into the mind of a demented genius—initial chaos, sensory overload, and the gradual emergence of a brilliant guiding logic. Suffice it to say that I've never met a Paesano's sandwich that I didn't like, and their roast pork sandwich, dubbed the Arista, is no exception. It's a tender, meaty mess of pulled whole-roasted suckling pig, garlic-flecked broccoli rabe, and a fiery layer of Italian long hots, all held together by a gooey layer of extra-sharp provolone. The bread is crusty and just sturdy enough to stand up to the fillings, but you can definitely expect some delicious juicy dribbles.

Best Chunky Roast Pork Sandwich: George's Sandwich Shop

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George's is easy to miss in the hustle and bustle of the Italian market. So make sure to keep your eyes peeled—this sandwich should definitely not be overlooked. The family-run operation occupies an unassuming, narrow space with a short menu that features self-proclaimed specialties like tripe and barbecue. The roast pork sandwich is something of a sandwich unicorn: unlike the sliced and pulled styles of pork we encountered elsewhere, George's serves big, melting chunks of roasted pork shoulder that's been left to marinate in its own fatty juices. The Italian roll itself was a bit of a disappointment, but it comes loaded with pork, along with the obligatory provolone and broccoli rabe, delightfully saturated in all that meat liquor. Yes, liquor. This stuff will bowl you over in the best possible way.

Best Classic Roast Pork Sandwiches

John's Roast Pork

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For those in the know, the 85-year-old John's Roast Pork is a Philly institution, and with good reason. We've already lauded their cheesesteaks, but roast pork is what John's is really about—they are, after all, the self-declared home of the original roast pork sandwich. The sandwich comes with spinach instead of broccoli rabe, and the mild greens don't really do the sandwich any favors. But our thin-sliced meat was impeccably seasoned and boldly porky, doused with enough juice to compensate for some slight dryness. And we're all about the sharp provolone within, which gets nice and melty, coating every bite with its salty tang.

DiNic's Roast Pork and Beef

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Reading Terminal Market is a food-lover's paradise—think freshly fried doughnuts, handmade pretzels, Italian pastries, and yes, Tommy DiNic's, the acclaimed sandwich shop with a 100-year-old origin story. Their roast pork sandwich is as classic as it gets: moist, paper-thin slices of roast pork, sharp provolone, a hefty topping of bright, perfectly cooked broccoli rabe, and a splash of gravy. Our only problem? Even though they were tasty, all those greens actually managed to overwhelm the sandwich's more subtle flavors; we'll ask for a little less next time.

Campo's Philly Cheesesteaks

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Campo's doesn't just make a mean cheesesteak—their roast pork sandwich is pretty stand-out, too. The thin-sliced pork itself is remarkably juicy and flavorful, the broccoli rabe perfectly seasoned. But we would've liked to see sharper provolone and a less bready sesame roll. Though the sandwich was slightly unbalanced, we'd happily head back for another round, especially if the neighboring High Street on Market were too packed to grab a seat.