Next time you want to show off the best cheesesteak in town, be prepared to do a little work.
According to the tens of thousands of Philadelphians who voted in our bracket, the two best representations of Philly’s iconic sandwich are at opposite ends of the city.
John’s Roast Pork, which beat out Steve’s Prince of Steaks 57 to 43 percent, is at the southeast tip near the banks of the Delaware, while Barry’s Steaks (which topped Jim’s South Street 71 to 29) is at the northwestern edge on the fringe of Wissahickon Valley Park. Neither one is easy to get to on foot or public transit. Like, it’s probably easiest to snag a car, or at least an Indego bike to make the trip.
But this is good news. For one, food always tastes better when you have to work for it. Also, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer pair of guys.
John Bucci is the third-generation owner of the shop his grandfather started as a makeshift shanty serving hearty, meaty breakfasts to stevedores at the waterfront. When he took over for his father in the late ‘80s, he began slowly and continually upgrading the quality of his ingredients — as well as the attitudes of his staff.
However, it wasn’t until the Inquirer’s Craig LaBan discovered John’s Roast Pork and published a glowing writeup in the summer of 2001 that the small shack really gained recognition. Since then, the cheesesteaks have won dozens of accolades and been featured on national TV, but Bucci has continued to resist the calls to branch out or franchise, instead choosing to double down on the one original location. Recent upgrades include a fully-insulated enclosure to make winter visits more pleasant and hours that go as late at 7 p.m.
Barry McGuinn started off in 1967 as a butcher in someone else’s cheesesteaks shop (Dalessandro’s) and eventually worked his way up, channeling his willingness to learn from one of the best into his own successful shop, opened in 1989. Although he was disappointed the Dalessandro family chose not to sell to him after Bill Dalessandro died, he accepted his fate with characteristic geniality.
His philosophy is that “there are enough cheesesteaks for everyone,” and that other shop owners aren’t necessarily competitors, but comrades in the business. Thanks to that cheerful outlook and his devotion to the craft — McGuinn is still at the store five days a week — his small shop has continued to thrive despite its off-the-beaten-path location.
In other words, these two finalists couldn’t be more Philly. But now, the tough part: Choosing between them.
Which will be crowned the Ultimate Philly Cheesesteak? It’s all up to you. Cast your vote below.