Say you’ve been called on to host a food expert from afar — a renowned critic from Australia or Singapore, maybe, or the culinary ambassador from a newly discovered planet. Your Airbnb guest wants to know what they can’t miss, and your in-laws are sick of the usual.
The last time those people (or beings) touched down in the sandwich mecca that is Philly, the only between-bread meals they ate were cheesesteaks. Big mistake, obviously. So your mission this time around is to take them on a tasting tour that leaves them with a solid grasp of the rest of the local sandwich landscape.
To do that, you need to answer this question: What are the most iconic sandwiches the city has to offer?
These sandwiches have to be delicious, of course, but also representative. They aren’t lunches you’ll find in New York or Chicago — or if you do, they won’t be nearly as good. And they’re not necessarily the newest or buzziest around. They are immediately recognizable to any Philadelphian.
In honor of National Sandwich Day — which officially falls on Nov. 3 (but really is a year-round event, who are they trying to kid?) — we present here the 10 essential Philly sandwiches.
Roast Pork at DiNic’s Pork and Beef
Locals will be quick to point out that if you want to pick one true signature sandwich for the city, it shouldn’t be the cheesesteak — it should be roast pork. Especially when served hot and juicy with sharp provolone and garlicky broccoli rabe, as exemplified by the version at this Reading Terminal Market mainstay. What’s that, Adam Richman, it’s the best sandwich in America? No argument here.
$11; 51 N. 12th St.
Schmitter at McNally’s Tavern
You can’t get this sandwich at Phillies games anymore, since the family behind the 50-year-old recipe wasn’t happy with the concession-stand quality, but it’s entirely worth the trip to the Chestnut Hill pub where it was invented. Just thinking about it — griddled rib-eye, thinly-sliced onions, fried salami, thick tomatoes, American cheese and special sauce on a Conshy Bakery kaiser roll — is enough to make your mouth water. (It’s still sold at the Linc, FYI, because the McNallys run that stand themselves.)
$10; 8634 Germantown Ave.
Fried Chicken Sandwich at Federal Donuts
Originally introduced as a limited time item available only at the Spruce Street Harbor Park “Port FedNuts” pop-up shack, this crunchmeister is now available at all locations and has deftly worked its way into the Philadelphia canon. The giant hunk of the famous double-fried chicken dusted in buttermilk ranch is gilded with a slice of American cheese, zinged with spicy “rooster” mayo and set off by tangy dill pickles, all stuffed inside the soft, fluffy pillow that is a Martin’s Potato Roll.
$7.50; multiple locations
Sausage Sandwich at Rocco’s Italian Sausage
We’ve a sneaking suspicion some Philadelphians aren’t as into home improvement as it may seem — they’re just finding excuses to visit Home Depot because of the slow-cooked, flavor-bursting sausages at this stand out front. The namesake links come in either sweet or hot, jammed in the center of a hoagie roll and best enhanced with a colorful scattering of grease-slicked peppers and onions.
$6.50 small/$8 regular; 2200 W. Oregon Ave.
Chicken Cutlet Italiano at Shank’s Pier 40
Opened in 1962, the tiny Italian Market luncheonette known as Shank’s & Evelyn’s is no longer around, but its legacy lives on at the second-generation-run stand on the Delaware River waterfront. Especially via its famous Italiano, which sees house-breaded chicken cutlets topped with sharp provolone and sauteed broccoli rabe or spinach, all wrapped up in a classic Philly hoagie roll.
$8.75; 901 S. Columbus Blvd.
Original Italian at Fink’s Hoagies
Philly has more Italian hoagies than it’s possible to count, even if you narrow it down to really great ones. This Tacony shop is a relative newcomer compared to some South Philly favorites, but owner Dennis Fink is so obsessive — about ingredients, cleanliness, staff, you name it — that it’s your best bet for an archetypal rendition. Layers of cotechino, Genoa salami, capocolla and pepperoni are studded with chopped sharp provolone and laid over olive spread on a seeded roll. Add tomatoes, onions, lettuce or long hots as taste dictates, and you’re ready to go, go, go.
$6.48 half/$12.96 whole; 4633 Princeton Ave.
Meatball Hoagie at George’s Sandwich Shop
The recent death of owner George Onorato shook this Italian Market anchor to the bone, but the corner shop soldiers on, continuing its namesake’s vision of making people happy with food. Giant housemade meatballs are slow-cooked in gravy (aka red sauce) until they’re fall-apart tender, then loaded into a crusty roll and sprinkled with just a dusting of grated parmesan — anything more would be superfluous.
$7.50; 900 S. 9th St.
Turkey Shorti at Wawa
They might not always be well-made, and they definitely vary from store to store, but admit it: If you’re giving someone a true taste of regional sandwiches, a Wawa hoagie has to be included. Sliced turkey is a go-to, since it’s hard to mess up, especially paired with cheese. Add the LTO toppings of your choice, pick a bed of mayo or a drizzle of oil and vinegar (or both) and definitely opt for the dash of spices over top. It’s the taste of satisfying convenience in compact 6-inch form.
$5; multiple locations
Forager at High Street on Market
While a BEC is never wrong, this elevated version of a breakfast sandwich at Ellen Yin and Eli Kulp’s Old City destination has the dual bonafides of being nationally renowned and locally popular. Roasted king oyster mushrooms and black trumpet mayo triple the umami of a fried farm egg, which is given heft by braised kale and smoothed out by melted swiss, all on a house-baked roll.
$12; 308 Market St.
Scrapple Cheesesteak at Paesano’s
Yes there’s cheesesteak in the name, but that refers only to methodology. Invented by chef Peter McAndrews to show off the Pennsylvania Dutch specialty breakfast meat to Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern when he was in town, this sandwich features chopped and griddled scrapple making friends with multiple fried eggs, heaps of melting provolone, caramelized onions and roasted tomatoes. It’s not on the standard menu, but good news from McAndrews: He’s about to start late-night hours on Fridays and Saturdays, and this is likely to be one of the offerings.
$9; 148 W. Girard Ave.