The Pennsylvania Cheesesteak Bucket List

Compiling a list of places to get great cheesesteaks in Pennsylvania is about as easy as suggesting bars to get cold beer — that is to say, the options are so abundant, it almost becomes difficult. Add to that the fact that Pennsylvanians can be very, very territorial and opinionated about which of these prized PA foods are the “best,” and what at first glance seemed like a fun list to put together feels a bit more like walking into a minefield.

But, we’re not ones to back down from a challenge (especially a challenge related to sandwiches). So, without further ado, here is our PA cheesesteak bucket list — may only the most iron-stomached of you dare to take it on! And, if we did miss your favorite local spot, let us know (kindly, please!) in the comments or on the PA Eats Facebook page — we want to learn more about the mom-and-pop shops making delicious food across the state!

Northeast PA

Way up at the northern border of Pennsylvania in the tiny town of Friendsville, PA, you’ll find The Kickstart Cafe, a homey diner started in 2016 by Don and Peg Miller, transplants originally from Bucks County, PA. Primarily open for breakfast and lunch, with creative dishes on special each day, The Kickstart Cafe’s regular menu offers a stand-up cheesesteak sandwich, with 100% sirloin, locally sourced peppers, onions and mushrooms topped with American cheese on a crusty grilled roll. 26706 State Route 267, Friendsville; (570) 632-0007.

Steve and Irene’s just sounds like the kind of place that’s going to have killer cheesesteaks, right? And happily, it is! This 40-year-old hoagie shop has been in current owners Steve and Katie Archer’s family for 23 years, making it a true small, family-run operation. It’s won a bunch of local awards, including “Best Cheesesteak” in 2017 by the Scranton Times. Its website claims that its cheesesteaks are “the ones Philly tries to copy” (hey, we’re just the messenger), and there are a bunch of different versions on the menu, including the Texas Style, with homemade Texas sauce, raw onions and spicy mustard, and the Polish cheesesteak topped with potato pancakes and sour cream. Creativity or blasphemy? We’ll let you decide. 1110 Route 6, Mayfield; (570) 282-6868.

Cosmo’s Cheesesteaks, right down the way from the University of Scranton, is your classic steak joint, offering fresh rib eye grilled and chopped on an Amoroso’s roll, with your choice of cheese and free toppings. Feeling extra? Go for one of its signature steaks, like the Rodeo Cheesesteak, with fried onions, American cheese, onion rings, BBQ sauce and ranch. 532 Moosic St., Scranton; (570) 341-5100.

Sherry’s Place was a food truck before food trucks were cool. This cheerful little red trailer, stationed in a Salvation Army parking lot in Pocono Summit, is known for its hot dogs. But it also does a great cheesesteak that breaks from tradition, with cheese mixed into the meat instead of layered on the bottom of the roll or on top of everything. If Yelp reviews and Facebook comments are any indication, Sherry’s Place is a local treasure, beloved by residents and visitors alike. Summit Rd./Salvation Army Parking Lot, Pocono Summit; (570) 839-8623.

Lehigh Valley

Yocco’s The Hot Dog King obviously has the hot dog game on lock down, but it also makes exceptional cheesesteaks, which come served “Allentown style.” What is Allentown style, you ask? According to Yocco’s it’s stewed onions, chili sauce, pickles and hot peppers. Um, that sounds amazing! 16 East Minor St., Emmaus; (610) 928-3100.

Sewards Steak Shop has an old-school diner feel (after all, it has been family owned and operated since 1958), but it takes a modern approach to ingredient sourcing. It uses high-quality meats and cheeses, and all-natural chicken for soup and sandwiches, and fresh rolls brought in each day. Plus, all of its soups and desserts are homemade from family recipes. There are nearly 20 types of steak sandwiches on the menu, including classic, garlic, Cajun, buffalo, chicken and even a black-bean-based vegetarian version. 202 S. 17th St., Allentown; (610) 776-7110.

Both a historical landmark and a local food institution, The Hellertown Crossroads Hotel has been dishing up great pizza and sandwiches since 1952. Its cheesesteaks are made with freshly cooked chip steak topped with onions, house-made sauce and pickles. There are a few varieties on offer, including a California cheesesteak, with mayo, lettuce, onions and tomatoes. Bonus: It’s got a full bar offering beer, wine and spirits. 1443 Main St., Hellertown; (610) 838-8278.

Southeastern PA

In a sea of franchised hoagie shops and so-so pizza parlors, there is Jay’s Steak & Hoagie Joint in Bucks County, doing things a little differently. In addition to all the classics you’d expect, there are numerous gluten-free options (including pretzel rolls!) and inventive sandwiches, like the Beer Dip with steak, caramelized onions and beer cheese made with Broken Goblet Brewing‘s YinYang Oatmeal Stout. Then, there’s Jay’s commitment to the community, with 10% of sales donated to various local charities every Monday night between 4 p.m. and close. It’s just Jay’s way of, as he puts it, “changing the world, one cheesesteak at a time.” 1205 Highland Ave., Parkland; (215) 741-6555.

If you’re thinking it’s nearly impossible to call out one cheesesteak from Philly, well, you are correct. There are are just way too many to choose from in all kinds of dive bars, gastropubs and pizza joints, to the classic steak shops named after their founders, like Pat’s, Geno’s, Philip’s, Jim’s and so on. But these days, if you’re in that neck of South Philly with a cheesesteak hankering, it is practically mandatory to stop into Angelo’s Pizzeria. House-baked bread, plus super high quality meats and cheese makes their steak sandwiches (and pizzas and hoagies) the darlings of the city. 736 S. 9th St., Philadelphia; (215)-922-0000. 

cheesesteaks in PA

The Original Thunderbird cheesesteak

Delaware County is just as saturated with cheesesteak options as the big city to its east. But a fuss-free old-school option that locals love is The Original Thunderbird. Family-owned and -operated since 1956, the Broomall location has a wonderfully retro storefront and interior, with a come-as-you-are atmosphere. While plenty of pizza is in the menu, it’s really the cheesesteaks Thunderbird is known for, winning “Best Cheesesteak” in Main Line Today‘s 2018 Best of the Main Line awards. Don’t miss the Thunderbird Special, a cheesesteak topped with American cheese, ham and tomato.  2323 West Chester Pike, Broomall; (610) 356-8869.

Further west, find the Pepper Mill, a beloved cheesesteak spot in Chester County. Award-winning and made with quality ingredients (like the house-made red sauce on the pizza steak), it also offers a nice list of “Pepper Mill Originals,” like the Spicy Chicken Steak Cordon Bleu, a chicken cheesesteak chopped with spicy capicola, topped with honey mustard, and the Triple Steak, a classic cheesesteak on a toasted roll, smothered in provolone, mozzarella and American cheeses. 814 N. Chester Rd. (Rt. 352), West Chester; (610) 692-0100.

South Central PA

There is a special place in our hearts for a roadside soft serve shack — you know, one of those places you can imagine your parents going to when they were teenagers. Dottie’s Snack Bar totally has that vibe, with over 50 years in business serving ice cream, sandwiches and cheesesteaks. Its cheesesteaks are straight up, nothing fancy, but generous on the portions and adored by locals. Dottie’s is only open seasonally, from spring through fall. 25 W. 4th St., Quarryville; (717) 786-7274.

If you like a dive-y atmosphere, Rendezvous Steak Shop, is it. From the misspelled sign outside to the wood paneling inside, this is the kind of place that foodie cool hunter-types love to stumble across. When the cook asks you, “sauce?” upon ordering, ask yourself: do you like ketchup? Because that’s what regulars speculate is the base of this mysterious condiment. Open late night, accepting cash only and serving ice-cold beer, this is the spot that is the antidote to every personality-deficient chains’ sandwich shops. 239 W. King St., Lancaster; (717) 397-3511.

The Jackson House in downtown Harrisburg is another old-school shop that is reminiscent of the phrase, “they just don’t make them like they used to.” The charming green, white and red storefront, deli-counter ordering, pressed-tin ceiling and paper plates service is like a window into the past. Along with hoagies and salads, The Jackson House is known for its Philadelphia Steaks, which come in a variety of styles, including a no-nonsense Cheese Whiz classic, and the 9th and Washington, with sharp provolone and roasted peppers. The kicker: All sandwiches are made on bread shipped over from South Philly. 1004 N. 6th St., Harrisburg; (717) 238-2730.

North Central PA

The Crazy Tomato is a family-owned business that makes everything from scratch (including its rolls!) with fresh, high-quality ingredients. Its cheesesteak is known in the area for being top-notch, and, if you’re feeling a little wild, consider the Crazy Hot Chicken Cheesesteak with American cheese, Parmesan, hot sauce and ranch. 1717 East Third St., Williamsport; (570) 567-7528.

In Altoona, pull up a seat at the time-worn bar at Luigetta’s Dining Room, yet another amazing place in PA that hasn’t been updated in forever, and for that, we’re are so glad. There are plenty of Italian-American specialties on the menu, and it also makes a cheesesteak hoagie that can hold its own. In its counter-service hoagie shop, you can get a cheesesteak in a pita, if you’re willing to think outside the box a bit. But we say, stick with the Dining Room, so you can order a side salad with Luigetta’s famous dressing and a $5.50 martini (yes, really). 100 E. 3rd Ave., Altoona; (814) 943-9172.

Frank N’Steins should win an award for its name alone, and for its accompanying slogan (“Home of the MONSTER Sandwiches”) and for the fact that it’s got everything on its menu you might want to eat while drinking beer (which it also sells by the six-pack). Among the choices are an oven-baked cheesesteak and a cheesesteak pizza and something called hot pepper cheeseballs which we very much want even though we don’t really know what they are. 563 W Mahoning St., Punxsutawney; (814) 938-2571.

Western PA

Spak Bros., though more of a pizza-focused shop, deserves a special shout-out for its many vegetarian and vegan options, including a seitan “cheesesteak” with cheese, green peppers, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo, and a seitan Pittsburgh version that adds egg and fries. There are seitan wings and casein-free vegan cheese for your ‘za, too. 5107 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh; (412) 362-7725.

Peppi’s Old Tyme Sandwich Shop, a local mini-chain with four locations in Pittsburgh, has been doing its thing since 1983. If you’re going to pick one of its shops to enjoy a fantastic Hall of Fame cheeseseteak, we suggest heading to the one in Point Breeze, which is situated in a historic, chromed-out diner car from the 1940s. When it comes time to order, we suggest The Phantom, a steak served with grilled mushrooms and onions, topped with an egg and provolone cheese. 7619 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh; (412) 243-1610.

With two locations in Erie, Teresa’s Italian Delicatessen was founded in 1949, and is still family-owned to this day. Everything on the menu is made by hand, from scratch, every day, including its cheesesteak, with shredded rib eye, grilled onions and American cheese. Cheesesteak variations are often on special, too, like the recent Buffalo Steak and Egg, shredded steak, fried eggs and buffalo sauce, smothered in melted provolone and American cheeses in a homemade roll. 201 Greengarden Blvd., Erie; (814) 864-5322; 810 East 38th St., Erie; (814) 459-1145.

Okay, we can safely say that we have never craved a cheesesteak more in our lives! Now the tricky part is just deciding which of these places to check off our PA cheesesteak bucket list first …

  • Feature and Wiz Kid photos: Ed Williams
  • Original Thunderbird photo: The Original Thunderbird

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