Philly is not lacking in places to cop a cheesesteak. Whether you’re in Center City or outlying neighborhoods, chances are there’s at least one within easy walking distance — and usually more.
But this is not overload. Philadelphia cheesesteak shops are not like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, where every outlet gives you something that tastes mostly the same in surroundings that more or less match. Quite the opposite.
Given the variety in meat cut and cooking method, roll choice, cheese offering, toppings policy and serving style, we estimate there are approximately one gazillion different permutations to choose from. And that’s just the food itself. The decor, atmosphere and staff attitude of the store itself counts quite a bit in the overall experience.
Which is why, when a favorite spot disappears, the shutdown is often met with sorrow. Sure, there’s other places to get the sandwich, but not that particular way, from those particular people. The dearly departed do live on, of course — in the fond remembrances of their former customers.
This collection pays tribute to 12 great Philly cheesesteak shops that no longer exist. RIP. Here’s to the memories.
Frusco’s Steak Shop
Within a year of this family-owned spot’s 1994 launch at Rising Sun Ave and Martins Mill Road in Lawndale, its cheesesteaks won NBC 10’s “Gold Spoon” award, and repeated again the next year. The fame led to a move to 7220 Frankford Ave, where the blue-and-white sign and porcelain tiled shop quickly became a Mayfair favorite, helped along by a catchy ad jingle: “All I want to eat is a Frusco’s steak…” But in 2014, without much warning, the family announced the shop was closing down: “Although this was not an easy decision,” the owners said a Facebook post, “we can move forward remembering all of the great people that we have met and the wonderful memories we have made over the past 20 years!”
As if a gas station decked out in colorful lightning bolts and stylized street art that proclaimed “Music is our oil” wasn’t great enough, the famous Rock ‘n’ Roll Exxon at Aramingo and York in Fishtown also housed a beloved cheesesteak joint. The sandwiches here were different — served in hollowed-out, custom-baked round rolls instead of the usual long roll, but these “pocket pouches” did the job well, especially if you wanted to eat your steak on the go. After it closed in 2010, it briefly resurfaced at a Sunoco station in Kennett Square, but it seems even that incarnation is no longer around.
In the ’90s, this was a favorite to sate drunk munchies after a night out on South Street. Simon’s, which was located above a bar, was just a block west from Jim’s. It distinguished itself with a bright yellow neon sign in the shape of a drumstick to signify that it also offered the chicken version of the sandwich. In 1996, a New York Times writer somehow ended up there during a weekend jaunt to Philly, which he called “The city that Poor Richard could afford.”
Shank’s and Evelyn’s
Set in the middle of a residential block a stone’s throw from the Italian Market, this stool-and-counter luncheonette started slinging steaks and other sandwiches (like the famous chicken cutlet) all the way back in 1962. Regulars knew to nod at matriarch Evelyn Perri herself, who looked gruff but could easily become all smiles as she worked the grill through her 70s. In 2009, the Perri family announced it was closing the original spot and moving to Center City. That site didn’t work out, but the legacy lives on at a shack on Columbus Boulevard called Shank’s Original Pier 40.
Rick Olivieri was cheesesteak royalty. His grandfather was Pat, the namesake of Pat’s King of Steaks and the ostensible inventor of the whole frizzled steak sandwich genre. While the world-famous original shack at Ninth and Passyunk ended up with his cousin, Frankie Olivieri Jr., Rick’s side of the family held its own. Starting in 1982 and for several decades thereafter, they ran a busy stand in a prime spot inside Reading Terminal Market. But then politics got in the way. As president of the merchants association, Rick battled RTM management over lease negotiations for its members — and subsequently lost his own lease. He fought eviction for over a year, going in and out of court, until finally acquiescing when faced with paying legal fees totaling more than $700,000. The stand shut down in 2008.
Who invented the chicken cheesesteak? These days, local lore gives that honor to Ishkabibble’s on South Street (which is also known as Questlove’s favorite). But there’s another contender: Billy Bob’s at 4000 Spruce St. in West Philadelphia. Run by a fellow known as Billy “Schultzy” Schultz, the shop at the corner where Copabanana now stands is given inventor cred in the definitive 2009 tome The Great Philly Cheesesteak Book. According to author Carolyn Wyman, Schultz came up with the idea to sub poultry as an option some time in the early 1980s.
There’s a ton of corner delis that have come and gone, but this tiny shop with a facade plastered in Pepsi signs probably benefitted from being close to the Riverview Movie Theater. It opened in 1974, and was run by a memorable older woman who apparently sometimes served her cheesesteaks on plain white bread instead of a roll. The space is still vacant, and still bears the boast “Hot Beef, Hot Pork, Steaks, Hoagies.”
In the 2000s, there was another South Street spot that gained some acclaim — although several people noted that the best reason to get a cheesesteak there was because it had the cleanest bathrooms on the strip. It was popular among tourists who didn’t want to wait in the Jim’s line, and probably also likely scored because it shared a name with Steve’s Prince of Steaks, the ultra-popular Northeast Philly mini chain. In 2013, this Steve’s moved from its Seventh Street corner (where Spice End is now) to a different spot between Fifth and Sixth, but it didn’t last.
This Fox Chase shop was just south of the main Oxford Avenue drag, but even with a Wawa a few doors down, it was popular for lunch and late-night snacking. The petite stand-alone shack is now a Chinese restaurant instead.
First Street Steaks
Life was brief but sweet for this shop beneath the El on Front Street. Owner Steve Rodriguez launched in 2014 with dreams of bringing the gentrifying Fishtown neighborhood a steak shop with offerings both populist and elevated — there was an option made with filet tips. He was relatively successful, but not enough to last a little more than a year. The spot shut down in spring 2015, and recently reopened as Venezuelan fast casual TartAreperia 18.64.
House of Mignon
We couldn’t find any internet evidence of this shop, supposedly located near 15th and Sansom in Center City in the late ’80s and early ’90s, but its name alone merits inclusion here. According to a reader, it was known for a cheese sauce made from a combination of American and Cooper Sharp, which was ladled onto the meat after it was stuffed into the roll.
The corner of Second and Manton will go down in history as the birthplace of Federal Donuts, but the petite shop was once a delicatessen. The cheesesteaks were popular among Pennsport residents, who also recall that the grillman was often equipped with a sidearm.