Still Life With Cheesesteaks at South Philly Experience

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.

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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

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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.

12 Replies to “Still Life With Cheesesteaks at South Philly Experience”

  1. I was skeptical, but I’m glad to hear that you’ve managed a nigh-authentic experience outside of the 215. I’m moving to south Philly on thursday, a mere 6 blocks from Pat’s/Geno’s. Come stay anytime…

  2. I’m just going to come out and say it. Cheesesteaks: what’s the big deal?

    Sure, you can say I’ve never had an “authentic” one. I just don’t get what everyone else seems to.

  3. My cousin grew up in South Philly and says the “Philly’s Best” does about as good a job as the places she grew up with. Will have to try this one one, if I can find it when I’m in that area.

  4. Just about any place in LA that brags about having authentic cheesesteaks uses Amoroso rolls.

    I haven’t tried SFE yet, but the best cheesesteak I’ve had in LA by far is at Big Mike’s Philly Cheesesteaks & Subs in Hermosa Beach. The only problem with it (if you can call it a problem) is that they overstuff it with meat. It’s a little unwieldy to eat, and I always have to ask for extra cheese. But they’re good, though not quite as good as the ones I used to get in Philly.

    Philly’s Best was meh (although it might depend on which one you visit), and South Street was terrible. I never made it to Fredo’s, which Chowhounds swore up and down was the best in LA, and I don’t know if it’s any good now that Dan has left. Markie D’s stopped making them, and Philly West’s is a mediocre pizza steak, though they don’t label it as such.

    And this might label me as a heathen, but I never thought Jim’s Steaks was all that great. I’ve had much better from street vendors and mom & pop places in Philly.

    In response to Evan: think about some kind of food that you really love. Now imagine someone posing your question to you. How would you answer them? Would you expect them to understand without having eaten it first?

  5. Yeah, Jim’s Steaks are among my favorites in Philly, but my true faves are definitely from the street vendors in Center City. And I’ve never really been a Pat’s or Geno’s guy, so I’m right with you in the heathen camp.

    Looks like there’s a lot more work to be done in finding the best cheesesteak in LA… I smell a series brewing.

  6. I know this is probably a longshot, but you don’t happen to know where one could purchase a Yuengling in Los Angeles?

  7. Oh, man, if anyone could answer that question I’d be forever in their debt. I’ve looked around to no avail. The closest thing I could find was a tiny replica of a Yuengling brewery in the Christmas village at STATS in Pasadena.

  8. I read that Philly’s Best used to carry Yuengling, but ATM it is not being distributed in CA. Sorry.

    I guess Rolling Rock just doesn’t cut it eh?

  9. I don’t care who invented the cheese steak but one thing is certain Jim’s steak on 4th st. makes it the best, Pat’s steak is second. Forget about the rest they come a distant third.

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