In general, Philadelphians are as passionate about food as about sports teams. Sometimes both food and sports can be transcendent experiences; often, they can create the conditions for imminent heart attack.
Which, of course, brings me to the steak sandwich.
Now, I am not saying that the steak sandwich is the greatest sandwich ever. I’m not even saying it’s the best sandwich available in Philadelphia. (More on that later. It’s worth the wait.) I will just say that there is nothing quite like it, in all its cheesy greasy glory, and there’s a reason for the fiercely partisan arguments about where the best ones come from.
Pat’s in South Philly is the place to go late at night, of course, especially on a cold night, even if the sandwich is poorly constructed and made of less than stellar meat. You just can’t beat the atmosphere of the lights and the benches and the mix of people.
But my personal favorite isn’t in South Philly or even on South Street—although Jim’s is pretty good.
No, my favorite steak sandwich is found in the marvelous dive known as Max’s, at Broad and Erie. There’s quite likely to be a double line snaking through the place at any hour of the day or night, and Broad and Erie is, to put it delicately, a place for the semi-adventurous, but Max’s puts out a great steak, piled up with quality meat, exquisitely cooked onions, cheese (American and whiz mix is best), and a roll that’s sturdy enough to hold up to it, but soft enough not to interfere with the experience.
And, oddly enough, the cart in the first picture on this post is the source of a pretty good sandwich. I say oddly, as it’s in tourist haven right outside of Independence Hall, but I love what the food cart people can do in those tiny and generally immaculate little booths. It’s mind-blowing, really, looking at the menu and the size of the work area.