Formally, Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love but perhaps its real nickname should be the City of Sandwich Love. In a city that has elevated the cheesesteak to civic symbol status, it’s no secret that Philadelphians are serious about their food. Though the cheesesteak was declared the “Official Sandwich of Philadelphia” in 1992, many may not know is that there’s so much more to the city’s sandwich scene than the iconic cheesesteak and some might go so far as to say there are some sandwiches that rival the renowned legend. Whatever you choose to call it—zep, hoagie, sub, sammy—there are some real contenders in the sandwich game.
Roast Pork Sandwich
The roast pork sandwich is sort of the unofficial sandwich of Philadelphia though many diehard fans of the thinly-sliced pork behemoth would love to see it become the city’s top dog. At the legendary John’s Roast Pork in South Philly, the sandwich is crafted using the original recipe from its 1930 inception. Tender sliced pork bathed in its own jus is housed in a crusty, chewy roll and topped with provolone (for extra kick, order the sharp provolone—your mouth will thank you) and garlicky broccoli rabe. Over the years, the diminutive and unassuming little shop has been the recipient of some doting critical acclaim. From a James Beard Award to its numerous national television appearances, John’s has solidified its status as the real deal. One whiff of the smells wafting from the grill coupled with a tempting menu and it’s easy to see why a line of eager patrons often snakes around the corner.
14 Snyder Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19148
Known for its wildly creative menu of Italian-inspired sandwiches, popular eatery Paesano’s turns out some of the best sandwiches in the city. Though its pronunciation may not roll off the tongue quite so easily, the Gustaio (goo-sty-oh) is a definite palate pleaser. House-made lamb sausage, roasted fennel and sun-dried cherry mostarda come together beautifully in a grilled flatbread of sorts in this flavorful and texturally intriguing sandwich. A generous swath of gorgonzola spread and a sprinkling of peppery arugula take it out of the realm of good and into the stratosphere of sandwich supremacy.
1017 S. 9th Street Philadelphia, PA 19147 and 152 W. Girard Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19123
That’s right—Philly is home to a sandwich so good that it requires a trademark. The Schmitter® is a hybrid of sorts; it’s a unique cross between a sandwich and a cheesesteak and is the brainchild of
McNally’s Tavern in Chestnut Hill. It has many of the elements of the famed cheesesteak like sliced steak, fried onions and melted cheese but takes an oddball (but delicious) turn with the addition of grilled salami, tomatoes and a sloppy slathering of a top secret special sauce. Gone is the familiar long roll used in so many local greats; the overflowing contents of the Schmitter® are stuffed between a Kaiser roll which makes eating this zaftig delight an absolute two-hand task.
8634 Germantown Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19118
Roast Beef Sandwich
Anyone who’s ever visited Reading Terminal Market knows that the city’s oldest public market draws huge crowds daily and navigating the crowded space can sometimes be an exercise in both patience and elbow throwing. The market is truly a food lover’s paradise with a number of different dining hotspots housed under one roof, but there is perhaps no greater standout than DiNic’s. Hailed for its gargantuan sandwiches piled high with slow-roasted meat, the decades-old institution is the culprit of consistent traffic jams as both residents and visitors alike vie for a spot in line. Though often overshadowed by the menu’s famous roast pork sandwich, the roast beef here absolutely holds its own. The folks at DiNic’s know that good bread is the foundation of any great sandwich and the roast beef sandwich begins with a split Italian roll and can be topped with a combination of sharp provolone, broccoli rabe, sautéed spinach or roasted long hots—certainly a mouthwatering reason to endure a crowd and long lines.
1136 Arch Street Philadelphia, PA 19107
Chicken Cutlet Italiano
It should be noted that Philadelphia owes many of its delicious eats to its largely Italian-American population and some of the city’s best sandwiches are inspired by the flavors of “The Boot.” The Chicken Cutlet Italiano at Shank’s is an obvious love letter to all things Italian; a generous portion of breaded chicken is served with either sautéed broccoli rabe or spinach and topped with melted sharp provolone. The sandwich is fully customizable as there are a fairly extensive number of options available but save yourself the hassle of making too many decisions and go with the surefire winning combination of a seeded roll, sharp provolone, broccoli rabe and Italian long hots.
901 S. Columbus Boulevard Pier 40 Philadelphia, PA 19147
*Photos courtesy of Jason Varney