Philly Cheesesteak: How to Order Like A Local

The Philly cheesesteak is a cultural obsession with its own strict etiquette. Here’s how to order Philadelphia’s favourite sandwich.

Who would have thought ordering a cheesesteak – the celebrated Philadelphia sandwich with beef and melted cheese – would come with its own set of instructions?

Ordering a Philly cheesesteak is not rocket science by any means, but the natives are notoriously picky about the way it’s done. (If you’ve seen the Soup Nazi episode in Seinfeld you’ll know what I mean.)

Get it wrong and you’ll almost certainly be kicked to the back of the line to think about your rookie error.

To order a Philly cheesesteak correctly and efficiently, follow these simple tips.

Step 1: Choose Your Cheese

You have only three choices: American, provolone and Cheez Whiz. That’s it. Don’t even think about asking for Swiss cheese. As one vendor told me: “That’s reserved for ham sandwiches and mice.”

To order a cheesesteak with provolone, you’d simply say, “one provolone” or “one prov” and they’ll know what you want.

I’m actually partial to Cheez Whiz – the processed, neon-orange gooeyness that comes in a jar or can – simply because of the salty tang and the superior melt.

Step 2: Wit or Widdout Onions?

This is where your best Philly accent comes into play. If you want onions, the correct way to respond is “Wit” as in “with”. If you don’t want onions, you’d say “Widdout”, as in without.

But onions are such a crucial part of the experience it’s hard to imagine ordering “Widdout”.

Step 3: Join it Together

If you want Cheez Whiz and onions, you’d say “Whiz Wit”. Cheez Whiz and no onions would be “Whiz Widdout”.

It seems the “Whiz Wit” is to Philly what a pastrami on rye with mustard is to New Yorkers. It’s the sandwich of choice for most locals.

Once you’ve got the ordering etiquette down pat, don’t be afraid to add hot peppers or any other toppings or condiments you might want. The key here is to just not hold people up, so have your money ready to pay.

the-beacon-of-deliciousness
Carmen’s at Reading Terminal Market

You can order an authentic Philly Cheesesteak on almost any street corner in Philadelphia, but a good place to start for first time visitors is Reading Terminal Market.

There are at least seven stalls within the market that sell cheesesteaks, including Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagies & Cheesesteaks, Beck’s Cajun Cafe and Molly Malloy’s Bar. (By the way, a Hoagie is a sub roll with deli meats and pickles, so don’t confuse it with a cheesesteak.)

True Philly cheesesteak aficionados say you should really cast your net further afield at places like Pat’s King of Steaks or Tony Luke’s in South Philly, as well as Geno’s and Dalessandro’s.

Ultimately, your Philly Cheesesteak should come on a fresh, chewy roll with a crisp exterior. Look for beef that is sliced in-house and cooked to order, and dripping with cheese.

There’s even a Philly Cheesesteak bus tour in the warmer months for the truly obsessed.

–  Bernard O’Riordan

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