So let’s just get one thing clear right off the bat: I freakin’ love Los Angeles. I love my neighborhood, love California, love the west coast, love the whole majestic and mountainous western half of these United States.
But there are things I miss about my homeland. Like good cheesesteaks.
Out here they’re called “Philly cheesesteaks,” which, frankly, I find a little odd (as though there’s some other city that has cheesesteaks), but don’t feel bad. They call them that everywhere west of about Harrisburg. For the most part real cheesesteaks are absolutely impossible to find, partly because the requisite ingredients aren’t easily obtained outside of any zip code that doesn’t begin with 19, but partly because even the most well-meaning and well-trained sandwich artisans just don’t get it. Enter the South Philly Experience.
South Philly Experience — so named, I’m guessing, because South Philadelphia is home to both Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks, partisans in the world’s most famous ongoing cheesesteak-related war — is one of LA’s many kick-ass food trucks; this one specializes in thinly-sliced and fried rib-eye steak, topped with cheese and served on a torpedo roll. They also carry Tastykakes. More on this later.
The truck visited my neighborhood (or close enough, at Hollywood and Cherokee) as it apparently does every Thursday (check its schedule at its website, or follow its Twitter feed). We got there at about 12:30 and there was no line, though two other customers showed up while we were waiting. The guys preparing the steaks were as genial as I’d suspected they’d be; odd, but I don’t think I’ve heard the term “take it easy” as a sign-off since I moved to LA four years ago. We got ours with provolone and fried onions; other cheese choices include American and Cheez Whiz. Shut up, it’s authentic.
The steaks were not the best I’d ever had (that honor belongs to both Jim’s Steaks and those prepared by a Pakistani immigrant with a cart in Logan Circle), but they were easily the most authentic I’d
ever had outside of Philly (and even better than many I’ve had in Philly). Part of this is because the South Philly Experience guys have an innate knowledge of what makes a good cheesesteak, but a bigger part, I think, is the roll. South Philly Experience serves its steaks on Amoroso rolls, which usually can’t be found outside southeastern Pennsylvania, south Jersey and Delaware. The food truck has the rolls shipped in specifically for it sandwiches, and it makes all the difference. Soft, barely crusty and slightly sweet, Amoroso is really the only way to construct a good cheesesteak; most other rolls are too hard or crackly.
The meat itself was just right — soft and salty — and the onions were plentiful and perfectly done, though I could have used a bit more cheese on my steak. My girlfriend prefers her cheese mixed in with the meat a bit more thoroughly; a traditional preparation method involves laying the cheese over the meat at the last second before transfer to the bread, and this is how it’s done at South Philly Experience. Her favorite cheesesteak (made by the Pakistani guy in Logan Circle) was the result of mixing the cheese and meat on the grill before transfer. Neither method is more authentic than the other, and I suspect that with another couple of slices of provolone, she wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
Chased by a package of Tastykake chocolate cupcakes (another regional specialty), it was the perfect meal. Now that South Philly Experience is here, all I need are soft pretzels and the Channel Six Action News theme music, and my family may never see me again.