Ordinarily there would be no reason on earth to take a perfectly good steak and fiddle with it. But there’s one happy exception: the Philly cheesesteak. Said to have been created around 1916, this sandwich is an East Coast hit that has slowly spread from its urban Philadelphia origins. The popularity of the sandwich could not be contained, and it now pops up on way too many menus all over the country — way too many because most cheesesteaks are a big disappointment. It’s just too easy to cut corners on the ingredients, the technique or both. After investigating the cheesesteak situation in Denver, we've uncovered ten places turning out totally righteous cheesesteaks.
A great cheesesteak sandwich must have three elements: grilled steak (not roast beef) sliced thin; hot and fresh bread that’s crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside; and lots of gooey melted cheese. It needs to be made in a certain way that all the elements come together just right. After that, it’s a matter of personal taste — onions, peppers and mushrooms being fair game. While not every version on our list meets the rigorous regulations of authenticity, they're all great sandwiches — so if you're willing to set aside preconceived notions, here are the ten best Philly cheesesteaks right here in the Mile High City of Brotherly Love.
1817 Central Street
Denver has a treasure in chef/owner Linda Hampsten Fox, and the recently opened eatery/market/gathering spot in LoHi called the Bindery. Based on Fox’s extensive world travels, her menu reads like a Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory of all things epicurean. With all the other European-inspired specialties, a Philly cheesesteak is a little unexpected, but it’s an homage to the chef's New Jersey roots as well as a hearty and satisfying meal fit for a working woman or man. The cheesesteak at the Bindery begins with a golden house-baked roll and a New York steak. Caramelized onions, sautéed peppers, sharp provolone and a dash of secret Philly spice blend are added — along some mad knife skills to carve up the steak just right. This scrumptious Philly is served with dressed greens and a housemade pickle spear. You can take the girl out of New Jersey, but you can’t take New Jersey out of the girl. The chef says the Philly cheesesteak was her dad’s favorite sandwich — and I’m sure he’d be proud of this one.
Block & Larder
4000 Tennyson Street
The steak sandwich at Block & Larder may be too sophisticated to be called a Philly cheesesteak, but it has all the requisite ingredients: thin-sliced steak, gooey melted provolone and hot and chewy bread, along with extra goodies like citrus aioli and a medley of fresh mushrooms and caramelized onions. This sandwich was not created overnight, however. It started as a clever way to use some of the trimmings from the restaurant's high-quality steaks, but the Forgy brothers (Aaron, Lucas and Jason), who run the place, soon realized they were on to a great idea, and the sandwich was refined and added to the menu. In a word, this cheesesteak is bold. It's bursting with umami, yet balanced with citrus notes and accompanied by housemade dill pickles, pickled red onion and a side of fries. Bar manager/co-owner Aaron Forgy recommends the Ska Euphoria Winter Pale Ale as a perfect pairing. While the word "Philly" doesn't appear on the menu, there's enough brotherly love from the three owners to make any Philadelphian happy.
3392 West 38th Avenue
This West Highland sports bar serves up a tempting version of a Philly cheesesteak made with fresh (never frozen) beef and a locally baked hoagie roll. The sandwich comes standard with melted provolone, sautéed peppers and onions — but the kitchen will make it any way you want it. There’s a lot to like about this version, but the grilled roll puts it over the top. Along with pickle chips, this cheesesteak is served with a generous helping of fresh-cut fries and fry sauce for dipping (a nod to 'Bout Time's Utah roots).
3100 South Sheridan Boulevard
The Doghouse Tavern, a proud member of the Little Pub Company, puts out a hearty and rustic cheesesteak. The entire menu is just a notch above basic pub grub, and this sandwich is no exception, with Black Angus rib-eye steak, lots of melted Swiss cheese, sautéed peppers and onions piled high on a toasted hoagie roll.The clang of dueling spatulas coming from the kitchen elicits a Pavlov's response long before the aroma of sizzling steak hits the dining room. The cheesesteak comes with a hot pepper and your choice of fries or chips — and it comes out piping hot, so pair it with a cold ale from the Doghouse's list of local suds.
Large Marge’s Philly Cheesesteaks
3890 Kipling Street, Wheat Ridge
The word is out. Philly cheesesteak fans from all over the Front Range trek to Large Marge’s for their Philly fix. This could be because Large Marge’s is the home of the original Poo sauce, along with other faves like spicy ketchup and spicy ranch dipping sauces. And it could be because people love the way co-owners Brett Carson and Tyler Johnson roll out their cheesesteaks on Amoroso’s rolls (straight from Philadelphia) loaded with traditional rib-eye steak. According to Johnson, the number-one seller is the Original, with steak, onions and American cheese — can’t go wrong with that. If you like chiles and bell peppers, go for the Philly Phanatic (pictured). Many of the regulars also enjoy the array of fries, rings, tots and salads on the side. And for homesick East Coasters, Large Marge’s also carries Tastykakes.
1575 Central Street
Great chefs are innovators, and chef/restaurateur Justin Brunson has reinterpreted the cheesesteak sandwich with a braised-beef sandwich at Masterpiece Deli. The sandwich begins with beef brisket, cooked low and slow for twelve hours. The meat is then sliced thin and deftly combined with funky Taleggio cheese fondue, deeply caramelized onions, dressed arugula and a red-wine gastrique (for a hint of tangy and sweet). It's built on a toasted baguette with a crispy crust and great chew (from the Grateful Bread Company). Chef de cuisine Marc Levine says the sandwich is special because of great ingredients, great techniques and, most important, “attention to detail.” He adds that “it’s easy to make things look good on paper, but if you don’t actually serve a fantastic dish, then you’re going to disappoint your patrons.”
Pat’s Philly Steaks and Subs
7419 East Iliff Avenue
Pat's founder Patrick Neely has Philadephia roots, and his sandwiches live up to the small chain's much-deserved reputation. Even starting with great rib-eye and other fresh ingredients, the right technique is critical for a true Philly cheesesteak, so Neely trains his cooks to be “sandwich artists.” The signatures are lots of gooey cheese, a hot and steamy roll with just the right chew, and properly seasoned steak, onions, mushrooms and peppers. East Coast-style sweet peppers are also a classic touch not often found out west. Neely has been making Philly cheesesteaks since he was thirteen, and although he never dreamed he’d end up making a career out of it, we're glad he did. Pat’s still throws down great sandwiches at its original location (opened in 1998), but look for more to pop up in the near future.
7355 Ralston Road, Arvada
With tons of great cooking talent and years of experience turning out regional American specialties, Steuben's doesn't disappoint with its fantastic Philly cheesesteak. The three main ingredients are rib-eye steak, Amoroso’s rolls and a cheesy béchamel. If it's possible to incorporate the best of all three traditional cheeses — American, provolone, Whiz — with one delicious recipe, Steuben’s may have figured it out, with a rich and tangy sauce that makes the sandwich cheesy with every bite. You can order it with straight-up steak and cheese or loaded with your favorite veggies — onions, mushrooms, peppers and more. Every cheesesteak is served with a side of crunchy, spicy giardiniera for those who like their sandwich with a kick. A steamy hot and chewy contrasted with crunchy, sour pickle makes each bite better than the last. This one pairs well with Steuben’s Gold Line beer (an English-style pale ale).
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Taste of Philly
With sixteen locations along the Front Range, Taste of Philly is Colorado’s largest Philly cheesesteak business (and one of the oldest, going back to 1993). Each location is independently owned and operated, but they all build sandwiches on tried-and-true Amoroso’s bread. According to the manager at the Broadway outpost, Hanson Burkitt, Taste of Philly was the first company in Colorado to bring in bread from the famous Philadelphia bakery. Rather than ordering the rolls pre-sliced, the cooks at Taste of Philly slice each roll by hand, creating a pocket (rather than slicing through the ends). This technique helps keep the generous portions of meat from sliding out the far end of the roll while you're eating. And generous is an understatement. “We’d rather give you too much meat and have you leave happy than not enough meat and have you leave unhappy,” Burkitt says. Even the smaller eight-inch option comes stuffed to the gunwales. Hot off the griddle and rich with the smell of sizzled steak, onions, mushrooms and peppers, this cheesesteak rocks. For the more adventurous, the menu offers a large variety of configurations that come with pepperoni, green chiles, bacon and more.
West End Tap House
3945 Tennyson Street
Berkeley watering hole West End Tap House sports an enticing array of pub favorites and daily specials. Thanks to executive chef Gary Johnson, the menu includes a Philly cheesesteak sandwich with a Colorado theme. The star of this Philly is wagyu beef from 7X Ranch, which maintains a herd in the Colorado high country. The beef is first roasted rare and then sliced to order, simmered in jus and finished on the griddle along with green chiles, red peppers, pepper Jack cheese and fried onions. This pile of love is then stuffed into a toasted hoagie roll; all put together, the bright chiles, savory peppers, crunchy onions and toasty roll make the sandwich unique. It’s got a great heft, and it pairs well with the variety of cold beers on tap.