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This town is home to an abundance of Philadelphia expats, myself included. You’ll find us cheering for the Phillies whenever they play the Nats, babbling non-stop about Wawa, and humming the Rocky theme song as football season draws near. But at least we’re good for one thing—helping District denizens find their way to the best cheesesteaks in town. After tasting five iterations of our signature sandwich in D.C. proper, I ranked them from best to worst. None use bonafide cheese whiz, unfortunately, but at least these locales don’t load their subs up with unconscionable cold toppings like lettuce, tomato, and raw onion.
1792 Columbia Road NW
Price: Half sandwich for $7.95
Ingredients: Steak, mushrooms, grilled onions, green peppers, provolone cheese
Bread: 5 Meat: 5 Cheese: 5
Overall impression: 5
When you break this near perfect specimen in two, strings of cheese tether one half to the other, signifying the provolone is expertly melted. The meat-to-veggie-to-bread ratios are ideal and the bread is soft and shiny. Most importantly, it doesn’t fall apart because the cheesesteak isn’t wet with grease.
2. Bub & Pops
1815 M St. NW
Price: Half sandwich for $10
Ingredients: Steak, aged provolone, fried onions, house-made special sauce
Bread: 3 Meat: 5 Cheese: 5
Overall impression: 5
This is the most flavorful sandwich in the bunch, thanks in part to the high quality cheese and the house-made sauce that tastes like thousand island dressing. It also helps that Chef Jon Taub is from Philly and knows his way around cheesesteaks and hoagies. The only weak point is the bread, which the juicy steak quickly makes soggy.
Price: 9” sandwich for $8.99
Ingredients: Grilled USDA choice steak, melted white American cheese, fried onions, hot or sweet peppers
Bread: 4 Meat: 4 Cheese: 3
Overall impression: 4
Bread as pillowy as the Pillsbury Doughboy’s belly makes this sandwich stand out, which is a good thing given that Capriotti’s was founded 30 miles away from Philadelphia, in Wilmington, Del. The steak is flavorful, but a little more cheese would go a long way.
1205 28th St. NW
Price: 8” sandwich for $7.95
Ingredients: Grilled shaved ribeye steak, cheese, green peppers, jalapenos, mushrooms
Bread: 2 Meat: 4 Cheese: 4
Overall impression: 3
The most curious thing about this cheesesteak is the bread, which is flattened as thin as a saltine cracker. This presents a problem because it’s not strong enough to hold the plentiful portion of shaved ribeye. The bread lays flat, almost like a plate, requiring you to eat the meat with a fork. Only the salty and tangy cheese saves the sandwich.
Price: Half sandwich for $9.99
Ingredients: Beef ribeye, American or sweet Provolone cheese, grilled onions or mushrooms
Bread: 1 Meat: 3 Cheese: 2
Overall impression: 2
Taylor Gourmet, from Philadelphia native Casey Patten, gets a lot right, from their risotto balls to sumptuous chicken cutlet sandwiches, but the cheesesteak is a miss. The bread is so soaked with juice you could ring it out like a sponge and the meat is cut into unsavory clumps. The cheese is hard to find, which allows the flavor of the slippery onions to dominate.