Okay, if you are reading our blog for the first time, we’re sure you’re thinking, “Who are these guys, and why are they even trying to rank cheesesteaks?” or “Cheesesteaks in Tampa Bay? Why bother?”
Philly Born and Raised
So, Chuck is from South Jersey and spent most of their twenties and thirties living in South Philly. Mark is from K and A and was raised in Bucks County.
When we met in 2002, we lived in the Italian Market around the corner from two “iconic” cheesesteak places and later in East Falls near several well-known places.
Let’s just say we’ve eaten our fair share of good cheesesteaks!
Tampa Bay Cheesesteaks
Ironically, the Tampa Bay area has some pretty decent cheesesteaks. We think it might have something to do with the Philadelphia Phillies Spring Training being in Clearwater. And the number of Philly and South Jersey transplants.
However, not all cheesesteaks places, even those with Philly in the name, made good cheesesteaks!
How to Rate Cheesesteaks
We’re actually part of a social media group called “Philadelphia Cheesesteak Tour & Philly Foods.” As part of My Philly Alive, some friends did a cheesesteak tour of about 60 locations across the Philadelphia region with a dozen or so cheesesteak lovers to find the best of the best.
The three criteria were Meat, Bread, and Cheese – always American Cheese and never with Onions. For them is was simple – Cooper Sharp, Wiz, and Provolone can mask a good steak. And, Onions the same way – too big, too small, too raw, or overcooked can make or break and drastically change the flavor.
We Love Their Cheesesteak Rating System
“The Philly Foodies Rating System”
5.0 to 5.9 – Barely on the radar as a sandwich
6.0 to 6.5 – Nothing to write home to mom about
7.0 to 7.5 – Truly average to good.
7.6 to 7.9 – Neighborhood status! If in the neighborhood, you will stop for one!
8.0 to 8.9 – Very worthy! You will drive 45 minutes out of your way! Wait in line for 30 minutes! You will have to try it at least once! There is no shame in coming back again.
9.0 to 9.9 – Hall of Fame status! One of the tops you ever had! You highly recommend, wait in line for an hour and or drive out of your way for an hour plus! And you will be back, possibly with friends and family! Your enemy might even now become your best friend!
10.0 – The Immaculate Reception! Famous status!
To be completely honest…. None of our Top 5 made a 10. It’s hard to do outside of Philly. But all were in the 8.0 – 8.9 category, with the top two really pushing a 9!
How Many Cheesesteaks Did You Try?
We tried Cheesesteaks from about eighteen places (multiple times) from Sarasota to the south, Tampa on the east, and as far north as Dunedin. We tried them from big chains, Pizza shops, and places specializing in “Authentic” Philly Cheesesteaks.
And yes, we ate a bunch of bad Cheesesteaks! Some came with Cheese thrown on the top, and others we really liked, but they barely filled the Roll. One claimed to be the real deal and had an excellent online ranking actually gave us two little rolls laid end to end. And, DON’T get us started on the Cheese!
We found that if you sell it as a “Philly” or a “Steak and Cheese,” it’s not the real deal. We both cringe when the “Authentic Philly Cheesesteak” automatically comes with Peppers, Onions, and Mushrooms.
It’s a Cheese Steak – basic, meat and Cheese! However, for consistency and because we really like them with Onions, all were ordered with Fried Onions.
Without further delay, here are our 5 Best Cheesesteaks in Tampa Bay!
South Philly Cheesesteaks
5442 Lockwood Ranch Road
Bradenton, FL 34203
This company has four locations, all in the Sarasota area. We’ve only been to the one in Bradenton, their second location, and really enjoyed it.
Their Cheesesteaks come in several sizes and come with Herr’s Potato Chips. The eight-inch Cheesesteak was $9.50 and a good value for the price. They serve their Cheesesteak with Shaved Rib Eye, American Cheese, Fried Onion, and Hot Peppers cooked in. We passed on the Peppers, and our only complaint would be that they really over chopped the meat.
*They use Amoroso Rolls – as do all of the top contenders, it’s a good Roll, but they seem to lose a bit in shipping to Florida.
13149 N Dale Mabry Highway
Tampa, FL 33618
Their site says they are Phamily owned and from the suburbs of Philly. They also list that they use Liscio’s and Amoroso Rolls. Not sure which they use on the Cheesesteaks, but it held up nicely. Their Cheesesteak is a half-pound of Rib Eye, choice of Cheeses, and up to three veggies for $9.95.
Here we had the opposite challenge from our #5 sandwich. The Steak was hardly chopped at all and left in big pieces.
1120 Pinellas Bayway South
Tierra Verde, FL 33715
This find is closest to our home in St. Petersburg, and we first found it shortly after moving here from Orlando four years ago. We were really missing Cheesesteaks, and Mark actually teared up after having his first Cheesesteak here. We thought we’d never get a Cheesesteak like home.
The ten-inch Cheesesteak is $10.69 – They lost out for the top two places because, on our last visit, the place seemed to be swamped, and the quality was good, just not outstanding. They have a huge menu, a tiny kitchen, and a brisk bar business – Cheesesteaks aren’t really their focus. But still a delicious sandwich.
Delco’s Original Steaks & Hoagies
1737 Main Street
Dunedin, FL 34698
It is not lost on us that after eating dozens of Cheesesteaks and making multiple visits to the top locations that we found the top two places to be closest to Spring Training.
Delco’s gets our second spot- and we have a love/hate relationship with them. The place is always packed. They have TONS of local Philadelphia snacks, sodas, and sports memorabilia.
Unfortunately, they are really old school and CASH ONLY. And, on our first visit, they were swamped, and the meat was a bit overcooked and a little light on the Cheese.
On follow-up visits, the Steak was on par with some of the excellent Steaks we’ve had in Philly. Their Cheesesteak at $7.25 is a great value. This place is the real deal and was just edged out by our number one pick!
405 S Missouri Avenue
Clearwater, FL 33756
We were a bit skeptical when we showed up. This might be the new guy in the market with a relatively new location. Murals showcasing iconic Philadelphia scenes cover the outside. However, they were practically empty when we arrived.
But then, someone behind the line hollered across the store welcoming us and later checked back to see how our food was. We were glad to see that during our visit, they were cranking out a massive amount of food deliveries. And turns out the guy who greeted me is the owner, and he’s from Mayfair.
They break down and slice their own beef. Pretty mpressive! For $8.99, it was a great value, and follow-up visits showed them to be super consistent with the product they produce.
We can’t wait to go back again and try some of their other sandwiches!