Road Trip: the Great Vegan Cheesesteak Debate! »
Here ye! Here ye! This time I’ve really done it! I took my Philadelphia holiday as an opportunity to seek out and compare the vegan cheesesteaks available in the cheesesteak Mecca, and boy are my arms tired! I’m kidding, I’m just fatter.
I want you all to know, this is an important debate! You know how some well known cultural icons are just for tourists? Like how Hawaiians don’t speak Hawaiian and stuff like that? Cheesesteaks are not like that. I know plenty of Philadelphians (generally men) who eat a cheesesteak just about every day. It especially cracks me up when one of these people is concerned about my health as a vegan. Cheesesteaks are basically heart-attacks in an Amoroso roll! But they are concerned about my health. Hilarious!
Two themes that arose in my search were taste and legitness (apparently that’s not a real word. You can’t fence me in, spellcheck!). Some of the sandwiches were good but didn’t really resemble a cheesesteak. I grew up eating meat cheesesteaks, so I have that to compare these veggie versions to. So just keep that in mind. Now, let the games begin!
The P.O.P.E. (pub on passyunk east)
I was pleased to find out that the POPE offered a vegan cheesesteak. This is a great bar, popular with my homies. It’s one of many Philly bars that specialize in beer. Philadelphians love them some beer. OK, so this cheesesteak was fairly legit. But it wasn’t that great. I give it 2 out of 5 Veganstaurs (see what I did there?) for sheer edibility. They go with the vegan cheese whiz route. Though some people swear up and down that cheese whiz is the authentic cheese of choice, I prefer the provolone cheesesteaks I grew up on. In this case, the sandwich was too gooey already and the whiz just added to that. The cheese was also a little sweet and a little tangy, which I wasn’t into. But this cheesesteak was more legit because the meat wasn’t super chunky—the meat is supposed to be fairly shredded or chopped up.
This is the only steak sandwich I’m including that doesn’t come with vegan cheese. I was going to ignore those but people love Sabrina’s and it’s a nice place, so I decided to give it a shot. The meat was too chunky but the sandwich was pretty good. It was a little spicy in a good way. The standard way to order cheesesteaks is with grilled peppers and onions and that’s what I asked for, but instead of the sweet peppers you’d normally get, they gave me hot peppers. That’s kind of crazy, but whatevs. It gets 3 out of 5 Veganstaurs because it was a really good sandwich, just not really that legit as a cheesesteak. If you find yourself at Sabrina’s though, this is definitely a safe bet to order.
Govinda’s, the well-known Philadelphia vegetarian spot. How cute is this? I told my omnivore brother and our friend Randy about my vegan cheesesteak hunt and we had some time to kill so they suggested we head to Govinda’s! How sweet! Randy even got the vegan steak with vegan cheese and everything. I love it! What’s also amazing, my brother got the chicken cheesesteak and didn’t realize it was vegetarian chicken until I told him several hours later. So cute. We all had similar reactions: the sandwiches were very fresh-tasting and good, not greasy at all. Again, for me the meat was too chunky; it was kind of more like chicken chunks than cheesesteak meat. The sauce on it also gave it sort of a teriyaki flavor? Something to that effect. Not overpowering but just not super-cheesesteak-like. This sandwich was definitely good though and gets 3 out of 5 Veganstaurs.
If you want greasy vegan food, Gianna’s has greasy vegan food. This cheesesteak was eerily real-looking except kind of mushier than the real thing. Though this sandwich was pretty legit, it was also pretty gross. I’m sorry to say it but it was not that edible. It had a real sodium flavor to it, and was gross and as I said, mushy. Upside: solid roll. That’s about it. One Veganstaur.
The picture is not that beautiful, but that’s just how it looked. This sandwich was a little odd because it was just made with your average tofu instead of seitan or whatever else people use. So from the get-go, it does not resemble a cheesesteak. The grilled onion, peppers and mushrooms are a must. It would be boring without it. Big points off because they put mustard on it—WTF? That’s weird. So I guess you have to know and ask for it without mustard. But this is a totally edible sandwich, good even if you’re looking for something light. Cheesesteaks aren’t known for being light. I give it 2 Veganstaurs. It was good, just not much of a cheesesteak.
This little kitchen in the middle of Reading* Terminal Market is a goddamn slice of heaven. 5 out of 5 Veganstaurs! This cheesesteak was A++ delicious! This is not just an OK alternative to the real thing, this is a damn good sandwich. I would eat this every day, no joke. They even have an awesome vegan mayonnaise they can put on—I highly recommend it! This is like a totally legit cheesesteak except it’s not tough and chewy the way real meat is, know what I mean? The one thing was they didn’t have the Italian rolls you normally get, they had these healthy-looking rolls. I thought it would be a problem but it ended up being fine.
Well my friends, dishes are done! Basic 4 is the winner by far. With these other places I reviewed, it’s like if you’re there, maybe you get the sandwich; with this place, it’s like, crawl across the city on your hands and knees if you have to because this is worth it. I am dead serious!
I thank you, I thank you, and I thank you. It was a rough journey but I was brave! Megan Rascal knows no fear! Now you have it, your Philly cheesesteak guide.
Disclaimer: there was one place I wanted to try that I wasn’t able to: Mi Lah. I had never heard of it but some people online were raving about it. So if any one has any opinions about the Mi Lah cheesesteak, please share in the comments.
*rhymes with “Redding.”
[all photos by Megan Rascal]