Photo: Oxmoor House
Rocky Balboa may not have trained on a diet of cheesesteaks, but Philly landmark Pat’s King of Steaks did achieve some notoriety when the Hollywood-imagined prize fighter shot a scene there for Rocky. Pat’s has another claim to fame: The Philly cheesesteak was invented here in the 1930s.
Initially, Pat’s was a modest hot dog stand near the Italian market in South Philly. One day while working at the stand, Pat made himself a lunch of thinly sliced rib-eye steak, placed in an Italian roll, and dressed with some cooked onions. When a cabbie stopped in for a bite and smelled the aroma of hot beef on the griddle, he requested the same lunch that the counter guys were having. “Forget ‘bout those hot dogs!” he said. “You guys should be making these.” Just like that, the Philly steak was born.
Yes, the Philly steak—interestingly, there was no cheese in the original sandwich. Cheese was added in the 1960s, and today, the most popular cheese to use is Cheez Whiz, but provolone is also a Pat’s favorite.
In 1966, Pat’s King of Steaks received some friendly rivalry from Geno’s Steaks, located across the street. Some believe that owner Joey Vento was the first to put cheese on the cheesesteak. For over 40 years the two shops have waged a pleasant competition for the title of best cheesesteak in town.
These days, Pat’s is a Philadelphia institution and, for some, ranks right up there with the Liberty Bell on Philly’s list of go-to tourist destinations. It still occupies the same central location in the city’s oldest Italian neighborhood, almost like a town square, and repeat patrons joke that “all roads lead to Pat’s.” Locals and out-of-towners alike gather on Pat’s outdoor patio on warm days to talk and munch on the meaty, cheese-drenched sandwiches now known as “Philly Originals.”
Take a bite of Philadelphia history yourself by making our lightened-up version of the classic Philly Cheeseteak at home.