Two out of the three cheesesteaks we tried in South Dakota were solid contenders. (Heather Chin/Billy Penn)

South Dakota, land where the Black Hills rise, the buffalo roam, and… cheesesteaks are on the menu?

It seemed that way on a recent trip to the Mount Rushmore State, where no matter what city or town you’re in, it always seemed like you could find at least one “Philly cheesesteak” on the menu.

Philadelphians are always up for a debate over what makes a quality cheesesteak — and whether anyone outside Philadelphia can actually make a good one. The Indiana State Fair had some solid contenders, so how do South Dakota options stack up? 

I sampled three different cheesesteaks — two in the western half and one on the eastern border, all three named on menus as “Philly” and all described as being served on a hoagie roll.

The Baseline 

First up is the family-owned Baker’s Bakery & Cafe in the small town of Custer, a short drive from Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Described in the menu as “Philly steak with grilled onion, bell peppers, and melted cheese on a freshly baked hoagie,” the $14 sandwich is served with a side of fries.

Overall, it was surprisingly good. 

The “Philly cheese steak” at Baker’s Bakery and Cafe in Custer, South Dakota. (Heather Chin/Billy Penn)

But was it a cheesesteak? The menu gave reason to be suspicious from the start, because it separated the word into two parts (“cheese steak”). The beef was chopped and very tender, and melded well with the provolone. There were, yes, green peppers, but everything was well distributed and the ratio was spot on. 

And the hoagie roll, baked locally, was indeed fresh, not too chewy, and strong enough to hold the filling together. It’s “more a South Dakota-inspired” cheesesteak, the server acknowledged, but it was a good start for a cheesesteaks-across-the-Plains journey. 

⭐⭐⭐/ 3 out of 5 stars

The Expat 

With branding that claims it’s “authentic,” and a 4.5-star Yelp rating, Philly Ted’s carried high expectations. It’s in the tourist destination of Rapid City, which is the closest major metro to Mount Rushmore and the Badlands. 

Owner Ted English is indeed a Philly expat who moved to the Black Hills in 2000 and craved a taste of home, leading him to open up shop in 2001. “South Dakota just didn’t have that ‘big city sandwich’ [so] why not start my own?” he explains on the shop’s website. 

The Philly cheesesteak at Philly Ted’s in Rapid City, South Dakota. (Heather Chin/Billy Penn)

Photos of Philadelphia landmarks adorn the walls, and Whiz is on the menu, which boasts “only fresh-carved steak meat, sliced thin, and put on a fresh baked roll.” There are other options, but the “Ted’s Real Philly” is just beef, cheese, and fried onions. 

You have a choice between a $9.99 regular or $15.99 foot-long — and the latter is recommended, because it’s all worth eating. The roll is stuffed with just enough meat, Whiz, and onions to balance well without overflowing, although you might want additional cheese.

Giant photos of Philadelphia landmarks adorn the walls at Philly Ted’s restaurant in Rapid City, South Dakota. (Heather Chin/Billy Penn)

At this point, I’m wondering why the beef in both cheesesteaks was so much more tender than I’ve ever had in Philly. Best guess? There are cattle ranches all over, so maybe it’s due to being closer to the source. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐/ 4 out of 5 stars 

The Coffeehouse Classic

Next up was Josiah’s Coffeehouse in downtown Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city, which sits on the border of Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota. While not on any “best cheesesteaks of South Dakota” lists, it is a favorite of a cousin who lives in the area, and is located conveniently downtown. 

The Philly cheesesteak at Josiah’s Coffeehouse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. (Heather Chin/Billy Penn)

Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the previous contenders. Thanks to the overly toasted roll, sliced-yet-chunky steak, and thicker American cheese. The textures were just too disparate. 

At least it came with that classic cheesesteak side of…fresh fruit?

⭐⭐ / 2 out of 5 stars

Heather Chin is Billy Penn's deputy editor. She previously was a digital producer at the Inquirer and an editor at outlets both print and digital — from national breaking news service Flipboard to hyperlocal...