The first thing I notice upon entering Philly Frank's Steaks is the large Eagles logo over the counter. Ugh. It's much easier to enjoy a good cheesesteak when Philadelphia's pro sports teams have losing records — as they do most of the time. But with the Eagles in first place, and the 76ers looking like the NBA's next dynasty, the East Coast city's notoriously rabid sports fans have the rare opportunity to gloat this year. And here I am in San Diego, suddenly bereft of an NFL franchise, left with a bitter taste in my mouth. Maybe I should have gotten tacos for lunch.
151 South Rancho Santa Fe Road, San Marcos
Actually, I'm in San Marcos, paying a visit to a cheesesteak spot said to be one of the county's best. There's local beer on the menu, courtesy of nearby Indian Joe Brewing, and that makes me feel a little better.
Philly Frank's makes an unlikely regional sandwich destination, sharing a large strip mall parking lot with an AutoZone and 99 Cents store. Nevertheless, I find a long line when I arrive, and it's just as long when I leave an hour later. While I wait to order, I spot posters advertising the Philadelphia-centric foods I've come to recognize from visiting similar cheesesteak spots: Wise potato chips, Tastykake pastries, and Amoroso rolls. The latter, in particular, seem to be a prerequisite for any shop claiming to offer authentic cheesesteaks.
And Philly Frank's owners serve textbook Philly cheesesteaks. Beyond the rolls, the thinly sliced beef is shipped from greater Philly. So are the hot and/or sweet peppers. The onions and mushrooms probably aren't, but I wouldn't rule it out — these guys are devoted to doing everything the Philly way, even if it means pushing Cheez Whiz.
All the sandwiches are made to order — you can get any or all of the above, plus pizza sauce if you like, or add mayo, lettuce, and tomatoes for some hoagie action — ranging in cost from a vegetarian take ($8.50) to The Works ($10.65). I opt for a mix of sweet and hot peppers, grilled onions, and provolone.
And it's just about perfect. Goopy melted cheese, savory beef, softy and chewy bread, and just shy of too spicy peppers. I used to frequent the Philly Grill, near the border of Hillcrest in North Park. The house-seasoned ribeye used to make those cheesesteaks elevated them to slightly higher than authentic status, in my mind. But it closed years ago, leaving only fundamentalist cheesesteak makers to satisfy my occasional Philly cravings.
Now it's gone, the Chargers are gone, and the Padres don't play well enough for me to get any pleasure pointing out the Phillies were one of the worst teams in baseball this year. And I'm left to realize that, for my favorite cheesesteak in San Diego, I've gotta drive to San Marcos.