I'm keeping my car at a slow crawl through the strip-mall parking lots at the intersection of Sheridan Boulevard and West 64th Avenue. Between the speed-bumps, the minivans unloading gaggles of kids and the distracting mom-and-pop eateries serving tempting alternatives to the chain restaurants that dominate the landscape, I'm having trouble staying focused. There's a tempting outpost of Tamales Moreno that I didn't know existed, a burrito joint going by the name Bedazzled, and a rundown taqueria in a building sporting an odd architectural collision of ’50s burger drive-thru and neighborhood chapel.
But I can't be detoured from my destination: a sandwich shop with a secret. It's called Best Philly Steak, and from the outside, you wouldn't know that there's anything out of the ordinary happening inside. A grand-opening banner, a neon "Open" sign and a window sticker listing business hours maintain the illusion that this place is little more than a sub shop. But once you're inside, one glance at the digital menu board above the order counter is enough to reveal Best Philly Steak's covert mission: While half of the roster is devoted to sandwiches, the other half offers "bento boxes" with rice, dumplings and Korean proteins. What's more, some of those meats cross over from the Asian side of the menu to the sandwich side, so your choices stretch far beyond the standard steak-and-cheese combo.
Best Philly Steak is run by Tom Kwag and James Chung and his family, and you're likely to place your order with one of the Chung kids if you're there outside normal school hours, or with manager Leah Chung the rest of the time. Otherwise, the place looks like most non-chain counter-service restaurants, without much in the way of decor and just a few tables and chairs.
But the menu board commands all your attention anyway, displaying close-up photos of thin-sliced beef and crispy fries alongside the list of sandwiches. At lunch, the main draw is the "Best Philly Steak," which comes in six- and twelve-inch sizes loaded with grilled steak, cheese and caramelized onions; for a buck more, you can add bell peppers, mushrooms and a mound of dressed fresh greens.
Cheesesteak purists will immediately note that the hoagie roll upon which all of these sandwiches are built doesn't conform to the Philadelphia ideal (the thin, floppy Amoroso's roll or a close replica), but it's nonetheless a fresh, soft vehicle for carrying the sizzling beef. The menu doesn't specify the type of cheese, either, but one bite gives away the tangy, gooey presence of Cheez Whiz.
Like any good sub shop, Best Philly Steak also serves variations on the original, with a pizza Philly, a steak-and-bacon combo, and a grilled-chicken version available. Beyond those, you'll finally be able to answer that nagging question: "What does beef bulgogi taste like slathered in Cheez Whiz?"
The answer lies in the recesses of the K-Town Special, which combines slightly sweet and spicy bulgogi (sliced and grilled to the same specifications as standard cheesesteak beef), grilled veggies, Cheez Whiz, greens and sesame dressing. Cheese typically doesn't pair well with Asian flavors, but Cheez Whiz isn't typical dairy. Here, the savory, salty spread works wonders against the garlic, chile and sesame flavors of the bulgogi.
The menu continues its globe-trotting adventures with the Shanghai Express, stacked with steak, pork belly and sweet chili sauce; the Veggie Tales (in Jerusalem), made with falafel and tzatziki; and the Pirate's Cove, a steak sandwich topped with a deep-fried softshell crab and Thai curry sauce.
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On the bento side of the menu, stir-fried bulgogi or spicy pork are good bets, and there's also 911 Chicken if you're in the mood for a real blast of heat. Each of the bento combos ring in under $10, making for an inexpensive way to change up your lunch routine. And you can always supplement with a side of cheese fries, jalapeño poppers (baked, not fried) or more fried dumplings.
While you wait for your order, don't miss the unusual decorations on the far wall across from the kitchen entrance: Caricature sketches of celebrities both local and national add an element nearly as incongruous as the bulgogi-Whiz mashup. They're drawn by Paul Ortiz, a Vietnam veteran and friend of the Chung family, and some of them are for sale. (Broncos fans are going to want that John Elway caricature.)
Best Philly Steak isn't a deep dive into Korean cuisine — for that, you'll want to head across town to Aurora — but it's a great example of how the flavors of two disparate cultures can come together surprisingly well, even if the culinary collision is in an unexpected suburban spot.
Best Philly Steak is located at 6350 Sheridan Boulevard, where it's open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Call 720-667-4702 for more information, or order online at bestphillysteak.com.