10 real Philly vegan cheesesteaks to try during DNC week

Photo Illustration: The first sandwich to win Best Vegan Cheesesteak in Philly was this 2014 entry from Blackbird Pizzeria. Blackbird is a well-known top spot for vegan cheesesteaks, but there are quite a few in town, especially during the 2016 DNC.

Here for the DNC? Or just want to try one or more real Philly vegan cheesesteaks for whatever reason (example: yumminess)?

Either way, here's a quick list of some of the top places to find them. By "real" Philly vegan cheesesteaks we mean that they're in Philly, the vegan steak sandwich has something expressly standing in for cheese, and the roll itself is free of animal products. In our annual Best Vegan Cheesesteak in Philly contest, we cast a wide net - all veggie sandwiches called vegan cheesesteaks can be nominated - but this list focuses just on those that could be finalists, i.e. 100% vegan cheesesteaks.

I was assisted in pulling this together by Philadelphia Vegan Cheesesteak Czar Jonathan Bagot, who also provided commentary on his top three places. Bagot, one of the first judges in the Best Vegan Cheesesteak in Philly contest (maybe
the first, with his last name earliest in the alphabet), had started the first Web site listing of vegan cheesesteaks in Philly, which evolved into VeganJawn.com.

What faves did we miss? Add your friendly neighborhood vegan cheesesteaks in comments or via email and we'll update with any that meet the criteria.

Blackbird Pizzeria
507 S. 6th St. 215-625-6660
The first winner and current title-holder of Best Vegan Cheesesteak in Philly, Blackbird has continued to improve its product with fresher in-house components. Its seitan is available by retail for your home versions, and is the basis for many of the vegan "meaty" treats you'll find at spots around town. The longtime South Street-area stalwart is also known for its outstanding vegan pizza and vegan wings. Bagot terms Blackbird's sandwich "a must-have from a 100%
vegan pizza shop. Ask anyone and they'll tell you this is the place to go, for good reason."

V Street and/or Vedge
126 S. 19th St. 215-278-7943 / 1221 Locust St. 215-320-7500
Yes, these Landau/Jacoby superstar restaruants are usually associated with more upscale, "finer" vegan foods. But to mark the DNC, V Street is putting a special vegan cheesesteak on its Happy Hour menu, consisting of "Philly mushroom steak," rabe, long hots, and rutabaga wiz. Though that one will be an all-new entry, it's sure to be great considering the quality and fun of the classic "Maitake Wit" over at Vedge's happy hour, where a previous Cory-Booker-only
edition was created using the rutabaga wiz.

HipCityVeg
127 S. 18th St. 215-278-7605 / 214 S. 40th St. 267-244-4342
Though nothing will replace our memories of the beloved "Philly Steak" at the old Basic 4 in Reading Terminal Market, this Philly Steak may become an icon of its own at Philly's favorite vegan fast-food chain (currently off of Rittenhouse Square and in University City, soon also to open on Broad St.). Chewy, sloppy and greasily satisfying, it could likely be the signature sandwich for the chain were it not sharing the menu with the Bigfoot-Godzilla of all vegan sandwiches, the Crispy HipCity Ranch.

Govinda's Gourmet to Go
1408 South St. 215-985-9303
One of the oldest vegan-friendly operations in Center City, Govinda's has a great range of grilled sandwiches, and the "chicken" cheesesteak was one of the town's first in this category. Says the Vegan Cheesesteak Czar: "Their vegan chicken cheesesteak is an old-school favorite of mine. Try it with the pepper steak sauce. It's so sloppy but one of my favorite things."

Miss Rachel's Pantry
1938 S. Chadwick St. 215-798-0053
One of the many tasty things Rachel Klein has gotten accolades for is her grilled-cheese sandwiches, and one of those she offers occasionally is essentially a cheesesteak. For DNC week (closed Monday, so 7/26-7/31), Klein is featuring
the sandwich on its brunch menu every day. Yay! "It's our 'cheesesteak grilled cheese,'" she said, specifying "homemade challah & our vegan cheese, seitan cheesesteak filling with peppers and onions." The pantry is in South Philly, not
Center City, but very much worth venturing the extra mile or so for anyone who loves great food in a charming and welcoming atmosphere.

Royal Tavern
937 E. Passyunk Ave. 215-389-6694
Royal Tavern won the 2015 Best Vegan Cheesesteak in Philly crown, knocking Blackbird from the top spot for a year. In taking the prize it seemed The Royal's mushrooms played a decisive role (along with, one must point out, Blackbird's
seitan). "Great local south philly bar with some fantastic vegan choices," said Bagot. "Their cheesesteak is my personal favorite in the city. The bread is a 10, served up like I used to get back in the day. Definitely the only place I get that feeling from."

The Abbaye
637 N. Third St. 215-627-6711
A longtime favorite Northern Liberties hangout that's been out in front of the vegan curve with, e.g., its vegan wing bowl, The Abbaye also has a vegan cheesesteak that competes strongly in the annual vegan cheesesteak contest. After barely missing the finals this year, The Abbaye was one of the proactive businesses that provided cheesesteak samples at the awards ceremony at Union Transfer.

Triangle Tavern
1338 S 10th St. 215-800-1992
This sandwich has a family connection to the Royal Tavern entry, but it's a different vegan cheesesteak, one that made it to the finals of 2016's contest. Triangle also offers a good vegan lineup to wash down with their brews.

P.O.P.E.
1501 E. Passyunk Ave. 215-755-5125
The Pub On Passyunk East's entry comes with sautéed onions and vegan cashew cheese. P.O.P.E. is another trendsetting tavern in the now-chic East Passyunk area and helped kick off Philly's vegan bar-food trend.

The Tasty
1401 S. 12th St. 267-457-5670
We're hearing good things about the newly-opened nearly-vegan diner's vegan cheesesteak, which uses 'Teese' mozzarella as its topping.

Vegan roll or no, a vegan cheesesteak purchased outside of Philadelphia proper can't be called a "real" Philly vegan cheesesteak, right? Still, I gotta note these suburban add-ons:

* VGE in Bryn Mawr, Pa.
One of the original vegan fast-food joints around Philly, VGE offers vegan sandwiches from Reubens to Banh Mi, along with a cheesesteak that does its thing with a little healthier, but still tasty, spin

 * Frankie's on Fairview in Woodlyn, Pa.
They're down past the airport, but Frankie's has several vegan offerings that could be worth an Uber. A contest contender and another generous food-sampler in this year's finals at Union Transfer. Go, Frankies!