The 'best' cheesesteaks in Philadelphia?

Sonny's, ranked No. 1 by GQ's Alan Richman and his panel for cheesesteaks.

GQ food columnist Alan Richman spends a lot of time on the road.

While in a different city to review the latest highbrow spot, he writes quick pieces about the local grub.

For his Philadelphia visit last month, he said he decided to assemble a list of 10 cheesesteak spots "generally considered the best in Philadelphia."

Then, he and four friends - including his longtime Philadelphia Bulletin buddy Ray Didinger and Ray Diddy's wife, food writer Maria Gallagher - set out to eat and rank them over the course of a day. Two different types of sandwiches at each place. Some of the panelists - Didinger included - said this was their first exposure to Cheez Whiz.

Which of these cheesesteaks sampled by Alan Richman and his crew is your favorite?

  • 120 (2.4%)
  • 345 (7.0%)
  • 517 (10.5%)
  • 1031 (20.8%)
  • 483 (9.8%)
  • 190 (3.8%)
  • 357 (7.2%)
  • 108 (2.2%)
  • 915 (18.5%)
  • 881 (17.8%)
  • 4947

Richman acknowledges that such a tasting task is crazy.

And why sample cheesesteaks? "Who doesn't like cheesesteaks?" Richman, who grew up in Upper Darby and Elkins Park, asked rhetorically during a phone chat today. "It's something people would read about, or at least I think they would."

Give the public what they want.

I think more people argue about certain foods than actually eat them - meaning that you certainly will hear howls of, "Why isn't Such-and-Such on there?" and "That place sucks." 

It's really simply a ranking of the 10 cheesesteak places on Richman's radar. The cheesesteak places "generally considered the best in Philadelphia"? Hmm.

"This is not the definitive answer to cheesesteaks," Richman said.

Geography was important. Most of the shops are within a few miles of one another, with the exception of Joe's (the former Chink's Steaks in the Northeast, whose sandwich was ranked third).

For reasons of time, Richman said, they did not visit Dalessandro's in Roxborough, a former haunt. And Richman favorite Beato's at 25th and Parrish Streets in Fairmount closed many years ago.

"We had to go to Pat's and Geno's," he said. "Those are the core."

(Which corner of Ninth and Passyunk does he prefer? "I'm a Pat's guy but I don't remember why," he conceded. Pat's came in seventh, while Geno's finished last.)

But where was Jim's Steaks at Fourth and South, whose line often snakes for a block?

"The three or four times in my life I've had one at Jim's, I just thought it was OK," Richman said. "It didn't have much sex appeal. It's good, it's fine, but it didn't have much excitement for me." Richman decided to go to the far-less-better-known Steaks on South a block away; it was ranked eighth.

As a critic, Richman said atmosphere means less to him than food/wine and service.

Richman made all of group's orders himself, and was majorly turned off by his treatment at Campo's (214 Market St.), saying that the woman at the counter was rude. In fact, Richman said he pushed Campo's to fifth place based on her attitude.

The winner was a relative newbie: Sonny's Famous (228 Market St.), founded in 2000, (A place that, refreshingly, is not traditionally at the top of these other curated "best-of" lists.)

"What a combination - wonderful cheesesteaks and attentive service," Richman wrote. "That’s almost impossible to find."

See the article here.