On the flight to NYC, a review in the AmericanWay magazine, entitled Eating Philadelphia, stirred-up more hunger than my $3 snack box could satisfy. The list was enticing, but I already knew where I'd likely head for lunch. Coming to Philadelphia and not having a Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich would be slanderous. They're served in various styles all over town, but supposedly there's only "two" places to get the originals.
Pat's and Geno's were born to be rivals, slugging it out daily on the gritty end of 9th Street at Parsyunk at the southern edge of the Italian Markets. As for who was first and who serves the best cheeseteak, it's debatable, with varied opinions the faithful won't hesitate defending. When standing in the narrow intersection that separates the two establishments, one can all but imagine the feuds that have developed. The competition stares daily at each other through vendor windows, while close proximity even allows customers to greet and/or taunt each other between the two establishments.
Long before McDonald’s or glorified fast food, these restaurants were designed for rapid service, and for good cause. Traffic circling the block, and even double parking for making a quick haul, only complements the frenzied atmosphere. Sandwiches are ordered at one window, and further down is another for picking up cheese fries and drinks.
Pat's seems to blow their horn more when it comes to "bragging rights," based on annual awards some will swear are rigged. They even have a four-step How to properly order... placard that's supposed to be a spoof. But considering the no-nonsense disposition of employees, coupled with the final step suggesting if you don't get it right, going to the end of the line and trying again, don't be surprised to receive razzing in the process!
Both restaurants have an impressive collection of autographed photos lining outer walls from celebrities and other notables which have stopped by. But, in my opinion, and for reasons not even remembered, Geno's is still my pick for serving the better cheesesteak and where I've eaten four out of five times coming here.
A basic steak with grilled onions on a hoagie costs $5.75, or $6.25 with choice of American, Provolone, or Cheese Wiz. There's not nearly enough cheese fries at a cost of $3.50, and drinks are $1.50. Across from the pick-up windows are service bars with a variety of condiments, including sweet hot peppers. There's a limited amount of outdoor tables at both places. If it's really busy, customers munch shoulder-to-shoulder at stand-up counters.
Understand, dining at either of these places is solely about nostalgia and tradition. Cheesesteak sandwiches are personal favorites, and I've devoured some memorable ones far beyond Philly, undoubtedly hands-down better than either of these places. Decent, less-expensive sandwiches are available downtown from street vendors and at the Hard Rock Cafe on Market Street in The Gallery shopping complex, with a loaded cheesesteak platter for less than the $11.25 meal price at Geno's or Pat's.