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KatieLoeb

Hoagies, Cheesesteaks, Pork Italiano

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I order "whiz wit," but was born in north Jersey and have only lived in Philadelphia for 34 years. My sense is that it started with Pat's, crossed the street to Geno's and then spread to most cheesesteakeries - except, of course, the few that don't offer whiz.

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I order Whiz whenever its available. Been around Philly my whole life.

But it has to be real Whiz. Ersatz whiz is bland and crappy. One must look for the Cheeze Whiz can on the flat top.


Edited by gfweb (log)

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I don't think a detailed discussion of the language of ordering would be productive, the exact lexicon certainly varies a lot from place to place.

That said, I'd say the particular phrase "whiz wit" and/or "cheeze wit" is worthy of inclusion. It is indeed legit local vernacular, I hear people say it all the time who are clearly not tourists. It's understood everywhere, even if Pat's is the only place I've noticed with a sign posted that dictates the "proper" way to order with such stridency.

Perhaps more important, I've seen it used incorrectly in print quite often, it is sometimes misunderstood to mean with cheese, when the "wit" part actually means with onions. So "cheese wit" is a steak with cheese and onions. Depending on the place, that would get you either whiz or american cheese. "Whiz wit" is a popular disambiguation, as the wiki world would say.

I use the phrase "whiz wit," I find it an efficient way to order. But, like Holly, I'm an immigrant, I've only been here 30 years, so maybe both of us are still newbie rubes.

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I don't think a detailed discussion of the language of ordering would be productive, the exact lexicon certainly varies a lot from place to place.

Agreed. Except it is important that visitors know to be sure to order their fries and drinks at the same time they order their cheesesteak.

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If you are going to add the bit about the hat make sure you mention that they should carry their health insurance card in the front left pocket of their jeans as they will probably need it.

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I've ordered from Geno's dozens of times and seldom used the codewords. I certainly have never said "wit", but I will say "with" to indicate that I would like fried onions. But I'm from South Jersey, maybe that makes a difference. I do think it's a little bit of a play up on being "in-the-know", kind of like ordering an animal style burger at In-and-Out. The only time the guys behind the counter get annoyed with you is if you walk up to order and still don't know what you want. That annoys the crap out them.

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I don't think a detailed discussion of the language of ordering would be productive, the exact lexicon certainly varies a lot from place to place.

That said, I'd say the particular phrase "whiz wit" and/or "cheeze wit" is worthy of inclusion. It is indeed legit local vernacular, I hear people say it all the time who are clearly not tourists. It's understood everywhere, even if Pat's is the only place I've noticed with a sign posted that dictates the "proper" way to order with such stridency.

I'd lean towards saying the only time I hear people ordering using particular words are at Pat's and Geno's. They are the only two places that I feel compelled to order in a different way than I normally would, and even then I barely do so.

When I want a cheesesteak, I normally go to Dalessandro's, and I order a "cheesesteak, American cheese, no onions". Sometimes I ask for sauce, most of the time I don't. I wouldn't go into Dalessandro's (or anywhere else for that matter) and ask for an "American pizza witout" like I would if I were at Pat's or Geno's. Although if I did order like that, I'm sure they would understand what I wanted. And like I said, even at Pat's and Geno's I've said "cheesesteak, American cheese, sauce, no onions" on more occasions than I can count. The cashier then relays that order to the grill guy as "American pizza witout". I haven't gotten laughed to the back of the line or anything like that. Either way works, but I suppose Pat's and Geno's shortened the vernacular since they're pumping out cheesesteak in an assembly line fashion.


Edited by Tim Dolan (log)

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I was at Geno's this past weekend, my kids wanted to see what the fuss is all about. Plus the Italian Market is right there which is nice walk. Since we were talking about it here I listened closely to the ordering system. The guy yelling the order didn't say Wit, he said With. They sure do crank out the product there, three bus loads of tourists came minutes after we started eating and the line wrapped around the building but they still got the steaks out fast.

I think I like Jim's Steaks the best, maybe Tony Luke's. Where's Delassandro's?

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While I'm in the minority that thinks that one can get a decent steak at Pat's or Geno's, I wouldn't ever claim that they're the best. As Mike mentioned, sometimes it's a location thing, the Italian Market is right there, you're in the area, you're hungry. More often, it's a time thing for me, they're open all the time. Sometimes you need a steak at 4:30am.

My favorite spot is John's roast pork, but they're hardly ever open when I want to go, and they're not in an especially convenient location, especially for visitors, so they're hard to recommend. I also like Tony Luke's, and while they're open more, sometimes, they're not open late enough... and they too are in a less-than-convenient location.

Dalessandro's is way off the beaten path, it's more of a neighborhood place, not a location you'd send a visitor to. And no offense to their supporters, but I just don't think it's a real destination kind of place - it's perfectly fine - I like their steaks well enough, but I feel like they're mostly distinguished by being generous with the meat. That's all well and good, but more is not always inherently better. I'd get one if I were out that way and hungry, but I personally wouldn't send someone out of their way for one.

And for the "wit" pronunciation, I wouldn't generalize too much from one guy - there's certainly a gradation of a range between with and wit. I certainly started out saying with, and I don't think I'm all the way to wit, but it's getting there.

Also it's hard to keep that "th" fricative after a dose of cheeze whiz, so a second steak is a whiz wit for sure...

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Pat's is my favorite for one reason only. Yeah, the steak is decent (I like a little "bite") and the roll is right on. But the reason it's gotta be Pat's for me is the hot sauce: thin, dark and spicy, self-ladled over the cheesesteak that melds perfectly with the whiz. Ketchup with a dash of hot sauce doesn't even come close.

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I think I like Jim's Steaks the best, maybe Tony Luke's. Where's Delassandro's?

Dalessandro's is in Roxborough at Henry Ave and Wendover St., near Walnut Lane. I would say that Dalessandro's and Jim's both serve a similar style of steak, so if you like one then you will probably like the other just as well. While it is well documented that Dalessandro's is my personal favorite (close to where I live, nice people, been going there for years), I have to agree with Phil that John's Roast Pork is pretty much in their own league. It's the only place where I have brought people to that once they are finished they have said "that is the best cheesesteak I have ever had". That's no easy task given how much people from all over the city love to argue about cheesesteaks. It's just a matter of being around that area while they're open for business.

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John's is the only cheesesteak I've ever actively liked - otherwise, I'm far into the roast pork camp. As for most of the more popular stands, I've only ever been able to understand them as nostalgia food: people love them because they have great memories attached. Same category as most mass-market candy.

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John's is the only cheesesteak I've ever actively liked - otherwise, I'm far into the roast pork camp. As for most of the more popular stands, I've only ever been able to understand them as nostalgia food: people love them because they have great memories attached. Same category as most mass-market candy.

Yeah, true. But so? Aren’t all food preferences influenced by experiences and emotional connections to some extent?

People who love circus peanuts probably are influenced close to 100% by nostalgia.

For people who like oysters, maybe not as much. A one year old kid who tries an oyster for the first time isn’t influenced much at all by nostalgia, who is going merely on his genetic makeup and evolutionary biology. But when a 20 year old tries oysters for the first time, a lot of what determines his liking is based on memories – the brininess of an ocean spray, summers at the shore, tastes kinda like sushi…memories of being forced to eat slimy food, too metallic, tastes like snot…and so on.

I get what you’re saying about Pat’s, but Pat’s wasn’t the cheesesteak I grew up on. It was the mom-and-pop shop cheesesteak that was more in the style of Jim’s. And cheese whiz was never an option, only american. When I first began eating Pat’s in college I saw a difference and liked it. Maybe it was the whole peer pressure thing, who knows. But whatever the reason, I LIKE the way it eats, from the bite of the meat, the chew of the roll, and how the runniness of the whiz mixes with the juices from the meat and the hot sauce.

My liking of a Pat’s cheesesteak is no more based on nostalgia than your liking of La Colombe coffee. It’s a sincere taste preference, but you can’t deny that previous experience doesn’t influence your liking, both emotionally and intellectually. There is no absolute truth as to what is good tasting food and bad tasting food.

Full dislosure - I've never had John's. Gotta try one SOON!


Edited by angevin (log)

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This is an incredible thread! I've never seen such beautiful sandwiches. I've just recently decided to take a quick 2 day/2 might trip to Philadelphia as part of a road trip the kids and I will be taking this summer. After reading this thread I think we are going to eat sandwiches 3 meals a day.

I'm going to need some recommendations please! We will be in Philadelphia from a Wednesday afternoon to Friday morning, so we really only have 5 meals and want to get the best the city has to offer. I originally had a cheesesteak meal planned but after reading this thread I'm not sure if I should even bother, those pork Italianos look incredible. We don't have a hotel yet but I am probably going to book the Hilton Garden Inn by Reading Terminal Market as I have a feeling we will be there quite a bit and I have Hilton points. I would love to hear about great places within walking distance, walking distance for us is about 2km (1 1/2 miles?). How big are the sandwiches, I can't stand throwing food away and I don't want leftovers (as this takes away from the number of restaurants we can try :biggrin: ). My kids all eat more than I can so we are talking 4 adults sharing sandwiches. I was thinking of ordering 3 different kinds and sharing, we usually share as my kids want to try a little of everything...Would this be too much? not enough? If they are still hungry we can always pick up a snack somewhere.

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You can cover a LOT of sandwich territory within the confines of the Reading Terminal Market, so you'll be well on your way after a visit or two there. As you've probably figured out from scanning this topic, among the highlights there are:

Roast Pork Italian from DiNic's, followed closely by many of the other sandwiches at DiNic's, but if you're goign to start somewhere, it's the Roast Pork, with sharp provolone, and greens. You can get either spinach or broccoli rabe, each of which have appeal, so it's hard to go wrong.

A Pastrami sandwich at Hershel's East Side Deli. This is not uniquely Philly, it's a decent approximation of a New York style deli sandwich. But it's a fine sandwich, and unless you are going to NY and eating at Katz's, you should get one.

Hoagies at Salumeria, and/or Carmen's. Carmen's is a bit more traditional Philly, Salumeria a bit more Italian, maybe... but both good. As has been documented upthread, there are a few passable cheesesteaks to be had if you just want to check that off your list, but I'd save the stomach space.

As for other sandwiches within walking distance...

I think you're right out of luck for the prime examples of Cheesesteaks, unless you feel like hopping in a cab. John's Roast Pork makes a cheesteak that is actually worth eating, but it's not easy to get to. Their roast pork is good too. Tony Luke's makes a very good roast pork sandwich, and a good cheesteak too, but it's similarly hard to get to.

Not too far away, at 15th and Sansom, is Shank's Original, which is, oddly enough, not in its original location, but they serve up some serious South Philly style sandwiches.

The better news is that there are a few more places that you could walk to that are worth the effort. They're a bit of a hike from your hotel, if you're staying up around the RTM, but if the weather is OK, it's not that long of a walk, and probably an area you'd like to see anyway. So head down to the Italian Market, basically south 9th street, starting 2-3 blocks south of South street. At 9th and Fitzwater, you have Sarcone's Deli, featuring some of the best sandwich rolls on the planet (they bake their own a few doors away.) I've heard a few sad stories recently of stale bread and therefore mediocre hoagies, but I still say it's worth the risk!

Continue south through the market, and you'll pass several places you will likely want to pop your heads into, but on the sandwich quest in particular, there's George's, and then most importantly, Paesano's.

The Paesano's sandwiches are ridiculous, over-the-top intense, sometimes a little weird. Their Arista, which is their equivalent of the Roast Pork Italian is right up there with the best, but they also have plenty of other crazy, delicious offerings. They have another location over near 2nd St and Girard Avenue, but that's not as convenient for you to get to, and not in the middle of a foodie destination like the Italian Market.

When you're down there, you're right near the famous Cheesesteak intersection with Pat's and Geno's facing one another, and despite their generally poor reputations among locals, you can get a decent steak there, although when you have the option of a sandwich from George's or Paesano's, or heck, tacos from any of the many little Mexican places that have sprung up along that strip (especially Tacos al Pastor from Taquitos de Puebla... )

While you're down that way, you're not far from a fantastic Banh Mi shop: Cafe Nhu Y. It's at 802 Christian St, which is right near the corner of 8th. They're not very big, but they're delicious, and cheap. There are lots more Banh Mi shops around town, but this one is my personal fave.

I'll throw in a recent development too, which would be especially convenient if you happen to be visiting the historical stuff around the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Constitution Center, etc. The Khyber Pass Pub, on 2nd St, between Chestnut and Market, makes some delicious New Orleans-style Po-Boys (they ship Leidenheimer's rolls in from New Orleans). Those are worth a trip by themselves, especially the roast beef with "debris" gravy, or the ham with debris, or, the fried oyster, or.. but a pretty regular offering on the specials board even trumps them. They're doing a version of a sandwich created at the New Orleans restaurant Bayona. It features smoked Duck, Cashew Butter and Pepper Jelly, on toasted whole wheat bread.

Khyber-BayonaSandwich.jpg

It's a little odd, but maybe my favorite sandwich right now, anywhere. The Khyber is a bar, but there's a dining room that would be fine with kids. It can be a bit loud, but not so much of you go for lunch, or early in the evening.

As for how much to order... tough call, many of these sandwiches are pretty large and dense. You could always err on the under-ordering side, and then get another kind of sandwich from the same place, or hit another spot, if you're still hungry. But then, I wouldn't want to have to choose between all of the good options...

Good luck!


Edited by philadining (log)

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Wow! What a response! I think on our full day we are going to do a sandwich crawl while taking in some of the historic sites. Thanks for including both bang mi and tacos, I hadn't thought of looking for them in Philadelphia. They will definitely be included as I can't get good versions in either Tokyo or Cleveland...

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While you're down that way, you're not far from a fantastic Banh Mi shop: Cafe Nhu Y. It's at 802 Christian St, which is right near the corner of 8th. They're not very big, but they're delicious, and cheap. There are lots more Banh Mi shops around town, but this one is my personal fave.

I have to second the recommendation of Cafe Nhu Y. It calls my name every time I walk by on my way to or from the Italian Market.

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Wow! What a response! I think on our full day we are going to do a sandwich crawl while taking in some of the historic sites. Thanks for including both bang mi and tacos, I hadn't thought of looking for them in Philadelphia. They will definitely be included as I can't get good versions in either Tokyo or Cleveland...

That's the interesting thing about the "Italian Market" in Philly: there are probably at least as many Mexican and Vietnamese shops and restaurants in that area as there are Italian. They're scattered around a bit, but within a few blocks of the corner of 9th and Washington, there's lots to choose from, and not just Italian, Mexican and Vietnamese. There's Middle Eastern, Laotian, Indonesian... But that neighborhood is pretty strong in Mexican and Vietnamese (and Italian) food.

But this is a sandwich thread, if you want specifics on Tacos, Pho, Satay, etc, we can hook you up - But we should probably find another thread for it!

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The Hilton Garden Inn, btw, is at 11th & Arch: you don't even have to cross a street to get to the Reading Terminal! It's literally next door.

Another option: Chinatown, which is where you're hotel is located. Just walk down Arch to 10th Street and you're there. Lots of possibilities there, including dim sum if you take yourself away from sandwiches.

Hershel's cures its own pastrami and corned beef in the basement of the RTM.

Philadining was spot on about Carmens and Salumeri. I prefer the latter, usually ordering the proscuitto hoagie with house dressing (a vinaigrette variation) and paying a little extra for the marinated artichoke garnish.

No one has mentioned hamburgers! I'll leave most specific recommendations to others, though for an "almost" fast food experience I adore 500° on the 1500 block of Sansom Street, about a seven or eight block walk from your hotel. Good french fries, too. It's just a couple doors away from the Oyster House: try the snapper soup, a lightened version of a Philadephia classic. And say hello to eGulleter Katie Loeb at the bar if she's on duty.

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I'm now realizing Philadelphia has way too much food to try for only 5 meals...

How late are the places in the Italian Market area open at night? Would this be a long? safe? walk. My kids and I walked from the Union Square Hilton (SF) through the tenderloin area quite a few times last summer and had no problems. It looks like the places we want to visit (Old City area) and the places we want to eat at are all grouped in 2 different areas. Looking at mapquest it's showing me about 10 to 15 minutes (walking) between some of the sights and the Italian Market, is this accurate?

If so we could sort of go back and forth.

Are the sandwich places in the Reading Terminal Market open early? Say I wanted to be at the visitors center (Old City) by 9am would we be able to get a sandwich before that?

Friday morning we are taking either a 5am Amtrak to Providence, is there anywhere to pick up something to eat before we get on the train? one last sandwich before we leave?

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The Reading Terminal opens at 8 a.m., but you won't have much luck at most of the lunch sandwich vendors. By 9 a.m. you might be able to get a sandwich at Dinic', but not for certain. You should be able to score at 8 a.m. at Herschel's, though. The hoagie places at the RTM probably won't be set up then, other than breakfast sandwiches at Spataro's.

I can't think of any decent sandwich place in center city and environs where you could grab something for a 5 a.m. train.

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For 5 AM sandwiches - take a cab to Pat's or Gino's. Everyone should try Pat's at least once - that's where it all started. I'm one of those few people not born and bred in South Philadelphia who is a Pat's fan.

As an alternative, consider Philadelphia pretzels from the Center City Pretzel Company at 816 Washington, on the edge of the Italian Market. They start baking at midnight. Great train fodder.

Shouldn't be any issues walking from Center/Old City to the Italian Market. Easiest route is walking south on 9th. The Italian Market starts at Fitzwater and Sarcone's Deli and runs to Federal just before Pat's. If by chance anyone likes tripe, that is a specialty of George's just south of Christian. George's also does great meatball sandwiches, pork, Italian sausage and cheesesteaks. I really like Paesano's too, but George's has the history and the South Philly cred.

There is a great sandwich place in Center City that I'm not sure anyone has mentioned - Jake's Sandwich Board on 12th just south of Sansom


Edited by Holly Moore (log)

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The Hilton Garden Inn, btw, is at 11th & Arch: you don't even have to cross a street to get to the Reading Terminal! It's literally next door.

Another option: Chinatown, which is where you're hotel is located. Just walk down Arch to 10th Street and you're there. Lots of possibilities there, including dim sum if you take yourself away from sandwiches.

At the risk of completely derailing this thread, I'll concur that Chinatown is probably your best bet on that first night when you're getting in late-ish, other than the Down Home Diner in the RTM, which should still be open, and is the closest thing to you that's not a soul-less chain.

I realize that Asian food may not be a big priority for you or your kids while in Philly, but Chinatown is only a couple of blocks from your hotel, and offers a pretty wide range of possibilities: Malaysian, Burmese, Shanghainese, Taiwanese, Fujianese, Sichuan, etc, not just Cantonese, or Americanized Chinatown clichés (although there are good examples of these too, if that's what you're in the mood for!)

I'll even bring it back around to sandwiches: there's a good Banh Mi shop in Chinatown at 48 N 10th St (just south of Arch) called Q.T. Vietnamese Sandwich. They're only open until 7pm, but if you're on a Banh Mi Quest, you might fit it in. I prefer Cafe Nhu Y down in South Philly, but QT's are good too - larger, more stuffed, for better or worse, and QT is close to where you're staying.

There are also a couple of intriguing-sounding sandwiches on the menu of the new-ish "Pearl Restaurant - Szechuan Noodles" at 935 Race St in Chinatown. It's a very basic, super-casual place with a small menu of noodles, sandwiches, congee, and a few other things. (Although, if you're right there, it's hard to resist the hand-drawn noodles at Nan Zhou.)

As for places being open late in the Italian Market: as a rule, no, with some exceptions. Pats and Genos are open 24 hours. Many of the Taquerias are open fairly late. I don't recall the exact closing time, but George's closes mid-afternoon-ish? Earlier on sundays. Paesano's is only open 11am to 3pm (!) most days for some ridiculous reason. Friday and Saturday they go crazy and stay open until 5. At least that's what their website says, I haven't actually made it into the new location at 1017 S 9th Street.

http://www.paesanosphillystyle.com/

So I'd suggest getting down to the Italian Market by early afternoon if you can, it'll be more interesting to walk through anyway, many of the other shops, produce stalls, etc close up by 5 too. The walk down there and back isn't too bad, especially if you stick to 9th street. If you made it through the Tenderloin unscathed, this is a cakewalk. That said, there are a few blocks in there that can feel a little desolate after dark, so I'd shoot for earlier.

And yes - you're right, Philly's hard to sum-up in 5 meals!

Sorry, I can't think of anything especially good that you could pick up for a 5am train ride, other than leftover hoagies from the day before...


Edited by philadining (log)

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Leftover hoagies maybe the way to go!

Any suggestions for ones that keep up the best or might even be better the next day?

Thanks for the Chinatown suggestion, I was getting worried about what to do for that first dinner. It's good to know it isn't just Chinese, we had a great Burmese meal in SF and everything we ate in Malaysia two years ago was wonderful. I'll take a look in that area.

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