Oh, Philadelphia. When most people think of traveling to the City of Brotherly Love, they’re eager to do at least two crucial things: visit the city’s fascinating museums, vibrant parks, and national historic sites, and sample its most iconic dish -- the Philly cheesesteak.
Many eateries have artfully attempted to imitate the legendary cheesesteak. However, locals agree that unless it’s from the birthplace of life, liberty, and cheesesteaks, a sandwich doesn’t stand a chance against the real deal.
For starters, a true Philly cheesesteak must meet certain requirements, such as having generous amounts of thinly sliced ribeye steak on a long, crusty Italian roll that's saturated in deliciously seasoned steak juice and topped with grilled onions, peppers, and melted cheeses. Unapologetically bound to violate any diet plan, the authentic cheesesteak is worth every savory bite and can be found on almost every corner in Philadelphia.
Wonderfully enough, whether Philadelphia is your final destination or just a stopping point as you await a connecting flight, you don’t even have to travel outside the airport to experience the mouthwatering deliciousness of an authentic Philly cheesesteak.
We’ve asked locals and tourists to share their recommendations on where you can sample an authentic cheesesteak inside the confines of the Philadelphia International Airport (PHL).
As you make your way through the airport’s terminals, juggling your carry-on luggage, be sure to indulge yourself by tasting this must-try sandwich and other incredible Philly foods before departing this historically and gastronomically rich city.
The Best Cheesesteak At The Philadelphia Airport: Tony Luke’s
We might not have official ballots, but locals agree -- the best place to get a cheesesteak at the Philadelphia Airport is Tony Luke’s. A household name in parts of Philly, this restaurant reigns supreme, proudly dubbing itself “the real taste of South Philly.”
Owing to overwhelming demand, Tony Luke’s brings the city’s signature sandwich to the airport so that all may revel in its cheesy delight. Liz Jeneault, a Philadelphia local and VP of Marketing at Faveable, told TravelAwaits, “Tony Luke's is hands down the best place to grab a Philly cheesesteak at the Philadelphia International Airport!”
“All you have to do is head to Terminal F to get a delicious sandwich from Tony Luke's,” she said. “I always make an effort to go grab one, even despite traveling with a busy toddler!”
Jeneault went on to say that “Tony Luke Jr. and his family first started serving up food back in the 1990s. They ran food trucks, offered up Italian take-out, but really found their calling in making the classic Philly cheesesteak. They opened a brick-and-mortar in 1992 and the rest is history.”
She assures travelers that “Tony Luke's second airport location is just as delicious as the South Philadelphia spot. What I also love is that you can get a junior version of their cheesesteak. If you want to indulge but don't want to have to worry about all those extra calories, the junior really is a great option! It's also affordable compared to some other airport food!”
So, even if you’re here for only an hour on a connecting flight, your cheesesteak dreams can still come true via one of the most authentic cheesesteak makers in the city.
Second Runner Up (Still A Popular Airport Favorite): Geno’s Steaks
B/C Connector Food Court
With 40-plus years of experience serving cheesesteaks in South Philadelphia, Geno’s has become one of the best recognized cheesesteak purveyors in the city. Since October 2016, travelers have been able to enjoy their legendary sandwiches for themselves just before or after flights thanks to the PHL location.
Order yours “whiz with” if you want the classic topping combo of fried onions and Cheez Whiz. Located in the Connector Food Court of Terminal B/C, Geno’s is bound to have a cheesesteak that will melt your heart without putting a hole in your wallet. The only thing that’s missing is the classic neon sign that marks its South Philly location.
An Undercover Airport-Cheesesteak Gem: Local Tavern
Local Tavern deserves its own notable mention. In addition to its vast selection of beer on tap and super friendly service, Local Tavern ranks highly as having one of the best Philly cheesesteaks at the Philadelphia Airport.
Greg Freeman, a Philly visitor and author of Southern Editions, told TravelAwaits, “Several years ago, I had a plane change at the Philadelphia airport, and it was past my dinner time. I knew by the time I was slated to arrive home in South Carolina, the only choices available to me would be drive-thru options. When we arrived to Philadelphia, I immediately located my departure gate, glanced at the time, and realized there was enough time to eat at the airport -- but it would have to be quick! Local Tavern's location was near my gate. It not only offered me an opportunity to have my first genuine Philly cheesesteak, but the restaurant promised to serve me in fifteen minutes or less! I was sold right away.”
Freeman said that after placing his order on an iPad connected to the bar where he sat -- which was equipped with iPads to make ordering more convenient for customers -- he sipped a Coke and enjoyed a few minutes of people watching before being served freshly made, piping hot food. “The Philly cheesesteak was phenomenal!” he told TravelAwaits.
“The meat, tender and very flavorful. The bread, fresh and just the way I like it. I had broken a Philly rule and asked for Provolone instead of the typical Cheez Whiz kind of concoction, but I couldn't have been happier! The portion was substantial, and I was unable to finish the meal.”
Freeman went on to say, “Local, as the name implies, offers a locally-sourced menu, and there was no skimping on my meal with less-than-fresh, quality ingredients. The young man who served me was courteous and helpful, and he made every effort to make my visit more than satisfactory. For airport food, I was quite impressed. I was so impressed that I recommended the place to a Kentucky friend who also had a connecting flight in Philadelphia. Like me, she, too, was blown away by Local's Philly cheesesteak.”
Award-Winning Cheesesteaks Near The Philadelphia Airport: Leo’s Steak Shop
10-Minute Drive From The Airport
Founded by the Mullan Brothers in the mid-1970s and named “Best of Philly” and “Best of Delaware County,” this award-winning steak house is well-deserving of the fame and title. What gives Leo’s Steak Shop its cheesesteak edge? For starters, they use steaks as opposed to steak strips. Their rolls are 18 inches of semi-soft bread designed to absorb all of the savory deliciousness of the sandwich’s juicy steak, perfectly browned onions, and melted American cheese.
If you have ample time between your connecting flights, take a short ride over the river to this family-owned restaurant located in the Folcroft borough of Philadelphia and be the judge for yourself.
Not A Cheesesteak, But Still Deserving Of Honorable Mention: Chickie’s and Pete’s
Terminals A-West, C, D, And E
With a nearly 30-year history and a dozen area locations, Chickie’s and Pete’s is a Philadelphia staple best known for its delicious crabfries -- homemade crinkle-cut fries with a secret blend of crabby seasonings and a side of white cheese dipping sauce. You can secure yourself a spice-steeped serving of the sports bar’s famous crabfries in four different terminals at the airport. And, like any good sports bar, you can count on Chickie’s and Pete’s to have beer flowing from its taps and the big game playing on its TVs.
Honorable Mentions Continued: Philadelphia Soft Pretzels And Philly Pretzel Factory
Terminal A-East And Terminal F
Just as the cheesesteak is Philadelphia’s signature sandwich, soft pretzels are Philadelphia’s signature snack. Before boarding your next flight, grab one of the salty, doughy treats and top it with a smear of mustard at one of two different spots in the airport: Philadelphia Soft Pretzels in Terminal A-East, or Philly Pretzel Factory in Terminal F.
Because It’s Impossible To Travel Without Coffee And Treats: La Colombe Coffee Roasters And Le Bus Bakery
Multiple Locations Throughout The Airport
For most travelers looking for a morning or mid-afternoon caffeine fix, it's easy enough to sniff out the nearest Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts as soon as you leave your gate. However, we encourage you to follow the way of Philly locals and treat yourself, grabbing a brewed coffee, hot latte, or shot of espresso from local roasting masters La Colombe Coffee Roasters. Or sample incredible freshly made baked goods from Le Bus Bakery (serving La Colombe coffee), a well-known cafe and bakery in Philadelphia with locations throughout the airport.
Caffeine doesn’t lie and neither do we. If you have any room left, you should try a deliciously sweet Danish before you depart the wonderful city of Philadelphia.
Photo Credit: Geno's Steaks on Facebook