The quickest way to make enemies with someone from Philadelphia is to ask, “Which is the better cheesesteak, Pat’s or Geno’s?” Philadelphians hate this question, because neither cheesesteak reigns supreme. And frankly, we don’t care to keep up with who has the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia anymore because that sandwich crossed the line from local delicacy to tourist trap a long time ago.
Lastly, and most importantly, we have more exciting sandwiches to concentrate on. The sandwich scene in Philly gets more and more absurd every year, but these are the wildest sandwiches you can find in the city right now.
1. Paesano Sandwich from Paesano’s
Sandwiches from Paesano’s are built carefully — you won’t find cold deli meats thrown between two wimpy slices of white bread here. Every sandwich is assembled by gritty Philadelphians who treat each ingredient like it’s the star of the show. They spend their time sautéing broccoli rabe, caramelizing peppers and onions, and roasting and grilling the meats before constructing each masterpiece on a lightly toasted roll.
The centerpiece of the menu at Paesano’s is the namesake sandwich. Paesano’s “Paesano” has beef brisket with horseradish mayo, roasted tomatoes, pepperoncini, and sharp provolone, and it’s all joined together by the runny yolk of a fried egg placed delicately on top.
Clean eaters beware: This sandwich is so messy you’ll need to excuse yourself for looking like a savage.
Where: 148 W Girard Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19123
2. Hot Roast Pork Sandwich from John’s Roast Pork
In 1930, a guy referred to as “Pop Pop” served cops, firefighters, cab drivers, and dockworkers hot roast pork sandwiches out of a little shack next to the B&O Railroad. Three generations later, Pop Pop’s roast pork legacy lives on at John’s Roast Pork. In fact, it’s become so popular that locals believe it has dethroned the cheesesteak as the official sandwich of Philadelphia.
The Hot Roast Pork Sandwich begins every morning with a fresh delivery of rolls from Carangi Bakery, the only bread within a 50-mile radius worthy of such craftsmanship. Next, juicy strips of spicy roast pork hit the grill. Just before it’s done cooking, a pile of either American or provolone cheese is added to the top. The roll is then placed onto this meaty mountain, and with a single 180-flip of the spatula, a Hot Roast Pork Sandwich is brought into existence.
Pro tip: Get the sharp provolone. Paired with the spicy roast pork, it makes the sandwich so fierce it bites back.
Where: 14 Snyder Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148
3. Italian Sausage from Rocco’s Italian Sausage
Some sandwich joints try to jazz up their food with fancy garnishes and gourmet accoutrements to distract from how plain it truly is. At Rocco’s Italian Sausage, there are no frills and no extras because it’s not needed. The shop excels at the basics. This place is so low-key that it’s located in the parking lot of a Home Depot in South Philly.
Rocco’s has plenty of sandwiches to choose from, but your best bet is to order the sandwich for which this modest hut is named: The Italian Sausage.
Ordering an Italian Sausage from Rocco’s is an emotional rollercoaster. First shame and grief because you’re ordering a sandwich from a dubious looking shack attached to a Home Depot. That’s followed by what is disbelief at the size of the foil cocoon they hand you, quickly followed by the doubt in your own abilities to finish the damn thing. Upon unveiling the Italian Sausage, there’s a sudden jolt of shock at the sight of your sandwich suffocating under what appears to be an entire caramelized onion. But all of these doubts will be swallowed with that first bite of spicy sausage as your mouth experiences bliss.
For early birds, there’s a breakfast version of the Italian sausage sandwich.
Where: 2200 W Oregon Ave Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19145
4. Hot Dog Fish Cake Combo from Johnny’s Hots
One of Philadelphia’s versions of surf and turf is hot dog and fish cakes. This combo has resulted in a questionable combination that might be responsible for the closure of several hot dog stands over the years. But the tradition has been kept alive in Fishtown at Johnny’s Hots. Listed on the menu as “Hot Dog Fish Cake Combo,” it is exactly as it sounds but not as gross as you might imagine.
The fish cake — a potpourri of seafood in patty form — is grilled, diced, and mashed inside of a split hot dog, and then the whole thing is encased with a torpedo roll. Land and sea come together in a smoky salty symphony deserving of a standing ovation. If your body can handle the decadence, treat yourself to an encore.
Your Fishtown feast is not complete without washing this delicacy down with an Arctic Splash, an ice tea and vodka drink served out of one of those cartons that milk at your school’s cafeteria came in.
Where: 1234 N Delaware Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19125
5. Meatball Sandwich from Stogie Joe’s
Even though it’s a relatively new restaurant (it opened in 2008), the food that comes out of Stogie Joe’s kitchen will have you thinking that this place has been open for generations. That’s because many of these recipes are Leuzzi family favorites. Italian-American family recipes are rampant around the East Passyunk (pronounced “Pashee-yunk”) neighborhood, but the food at Stogie Joe’s is a standout.
The signature sandwich here is the meatball, which is made with homemade meatballs conceived of the holy trinity of Italian meats: veal, pork, and heavenly beef. Each is cooked slow in marinara and topped with sharp provolone (or Parmigiano if you so choose) that melts from the heat of the meatballs. Everything about the sandwich is soft, from the kaiser roll, to the juicy meatballs, to the gooey cheese. It’s pure Italian-American comfort food.
Where: 1801 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148
6. Mile-High Pastrami from Famous 4th Street Deli
Portion control is relative at Famous 4th Street Deli. Order your sandwich “Zaftig” at this traditional Jewish Deli, and you’ll be served with a leaning tower of meat held together by a toothpick struggling with the force of gravity to keep this monstrosity together. There are many deli meat sandwiches that are out of control, but the talk of the town is what locals call the Mile-High Pastrami.
This meal begins like every meal at Famous 4th Street Deli with a complimentary plate of pickles and slaw for you to snack on while the chef tries to balance pounds of pastrami onto rye bread. The pastrami is specially ordered from the butcher to be extra fatty, and it is guaranteed to bring on a meat coma.
On your way out, grab a black and white cookie for the road. You might not be hungry now, but your future self, who now has a cookie, will thank you.
Where: 700 S 4th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
7. Tripe Sandwich from George’s Sandwich Shop
Tripe, the stomach lining of cattle or sheep, can be chewy with little flavor even when done right. Not so at George’s Sandwich Shop. The tripe sandwich is worth a try, even for the most conservative and cautious eaters.
It’s made with honeycomb tripe that’s slowly stewed in a spicy, tomato-based sauce until it is tender. It’s served on a roll with provolone cheese. That’s all (unless you want it spicy, in which case long hot peppers are added). Seems simple, but every ingredient holds its own, like the roll that’s freshly baked each day by family-run Sarcone’s Bakery. It defies the laws of bread by being absorbent and non-absorbent simultaneously. The roll’s sponge-like insides sop up the flavorful juices, while its outer layer acts as a fortress, preventing the tomato sauce from penetrating its crusty wall. Every bite as juicy as the next without the mess of a soggy, disintegrating piece of bread.
Where: 900 S 9th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147