The soft pretzel is a famous Philadelphia food, along with the cheesesteak and the hoagie. (Photo: Skyhobo/iStock)
There are some cities that have iconic bites — places where their dishes are as well known as their sights. Philly is one of those places. With its deep Italian and Dutch roots, a uniquely American food mash up has emerged in the City of Brother Love, including a killer sandwich scene. Here’s what you have to eat, how to order it and where.
When people think of typical Philadelphia foods, cheesesteaks are usually the first to come to mind, and for good reason. Cheesesteaks are as much a part of Philly history as the Liberty Bell. Which cheesesteak is the best? Well, there you’ll find much debate. You can find great offerings at Reading Terminal Market, but for many Philly locals, nothing beats South Philly’s Tony Luke’s — a veritable institution in Philly. Then there are top contenders Pat’s and Geno’s standing across from each other on South Street battling for cheesesteak dominance as well. Cheese is the operative word when you are talking cheesesteaks in Philly. You have a choice of provolone, American or Cheese Whiz. Pay attention if you’re at Pat’s: You’ll need to choose (and fast) between “wit” (Philly for “with”) or “without” for options such as cheese and onions.
Roast Pork Sandwiches
Coming in a close second to cheesesteaks, Italian roast pork sandwiches are another Philly must. Roasted and sliced thin, these delights are topped with broccoli rabe or spinach, au jus and sharp provolone. The aforementioned Tony Luke’s is considered by many to be the best, but you also can’t go wrong at Dinic’s at Reading Terminal Market — named the Best Sandwich in America by Food Network’s Adam Richman. The line will be long, but it is oh so worth the wait.
Philadelphia Soft Pretzels
Soft, hot pretzels are so ubiquitous in the U.S. you might not even realize these are a Pennsylvania specialty. The Pennsylvania Dutch introduced these treats in the 1800s, and soft pretzels have been making people happy ever since. These toasty, salty twists can be found all over Philly — there are pretzel vendors on many street corners. But you just may want to seek out some of the best, and if you do, head to Center City Soft Pretzel Co. on Washington Ave. or Miller’s Twists in the Reading Terminal Market. And if your timing is right, you may just be able to get one fresh out of the oven.
You may know a hoagie by another name — submarine sandwich, hero, grinder — but in the City of Brotherly Love, don’t ever call a hoagie anything but a hoagie. If you do, it’s a sure sign you’re not from around these parts. The cold cuts may vary, but the long Italian roll and lettuce and tomato are integral parts. To do it the way locals do, skip the mayo and order with oil and vinegar or get the side-eye from your server.
How much does Philly love hoagies? So much so that former Mayor Ed Rendell named the hoagie the “Official Sandwich of Philadelphia.” You can find hoagies anywhere in Philly, but some top joints are Sarcone’s and Cosmi’s — both serving out of this world hoagies. (Oh, and if you’re a veggie or rolling with a veggie, both spots offer amazing veggie hoagie options.)