We visited all three locations one after the other on a typical Saturday afternoon. We ordered a cheesesteak with onions and cheez whiz, otherwise known as "Whiz Wit" in cheesesteak ordering protocol, and a regular Coke to wash down the bites.
The final results:
1. Jim's Steaks on South Street, since 1939
· The cheesesteak: It really worked as a hearty sandwich, meaning that all the ingredients played nicely with each other for a flavorful eat. The portion was great, the meat tasted meaty and juicy and the Whiz was not overwhelming but present. The best in taste by far. Cost: $7.45/$8.
· The atmosphere: When we arrived, there was little wait and the diners seemed to be a mix of locals and tourists. The place, which is not near Pat's and Geno's, seemed to have a community vibe to it unlike the flashy freakshow of Geno's. By the time we left, the line had lengthened considerably and was about to go outside the door. Wait: 3 minutes.
2. Pat's King of Steaks, since 1930.
· The cheesesteak: Our first impression was something along the lines of "wow, that Whiz looks overwhelming." And you know what? It was. The overflowing cheese made the sandwich very awkward and messy to eat. It was not as flavorful as it looked and the meat was so hot that even after waiting a little bit to bite in, we still painfully burnt our tongue. Cost: $8.50.
· The atmosphere: Pat's boasted the longer line when we stopped by, probably helped along by the higher percentage of families and community groups (matching T-shirts!) that chose to eat here over Geno's. Plus, when you compare the two places, the appearance of Pat's make it look like the original, and the main decorations are faded images of long-forgotten famous visitors. The instructions to order were a bit dopey, but they didn't correct us when we tested them by not ordering totally perfectly. Wait: 12 minutes.
3. Geno's Steaks, since 1966.
· The cheesesteak: The highest compliment we can pay this sandwich is that the bread was good. In fact, it's all we really tasted. Not to mention that the sandwich was merely warm when we started eating it and unappetizingly cool by the time we bit into the second half. The Whiz amount was paltry and the sandwich was easy to eattoo easy to eatand that's how you can tell that there's not enough filling in your sandwich...when none threatens to fall out. Cost: $8.50.
· The atmosphere: The line here, though not as long as Geno's, was out of control. We were standing in the middle of the street, looking up at their gaudy flashing signs which looked out of place in the neighborhood. As we approached the ordering window, we started to wonder why they were so obsessed with policemen, since the place is decorated with police patches. Then we got right up to the ordering window and as we handed over our money, we immediately wished we hadn't.
Geno's is the most outwardly racist place we've ever eaten. All around the ordering window are signs and bumper stickers meant to prove the cheesesteak place's patriotism, but really they are selling their patrons a message of hate with each cheesesteak. The smallest offense is still calling French Fries "Freedom Fries," but then there are signs like "This is America, Speak English" and even a sign stating their support (and money-raising efforts) for Arizona's recent controversial immigration law. We were completely taken aback and more than a little creeped out. Why does this cheesesteak place have to get political and in such a divisive manner?
And then we spotted a cardboard cutout of an old man sitting inside the restaurant, whose face matched the one plastered on the windows and next to the slogans. We're not versed in Philly's cheesesteak history, but we're guessing this man is the original owner of Geno's? In any case, there was a cult mentality coming through with all this and we were glad to be out of there. Luckily we didn't reflect on this until after we finished the cheesesteak, so their biases didn't affect our tastebuds. Their sandwiches are legitly just as poor as their spirit. Wait: 9 minutes.
So what do you thinkwho has your vote for the best cheesesteak in Philly? Do you agree with our highly scientific findings?
[All photos: Jaunted]