L.A. is not a cheesesteak town. And this may come as a shock, but believe it or not, neither is Philly. Well, not exactly.
In the City of Brotherly Love, my hometown, roast pork is held in higher regard than the cheesesteak by those in the know. Case in point: John's Roast Pork, a tiny shack operating in deep South Philly since 1930, won a James Beard Award for its proficiency with roast pork. While standing in line at John's, you can throw a stone really hard and you might hit Rocco's. That's home to the best sausage sandwich in a city full of great sausage sandwiches, located in the parking lot of the Home Depot across from the strip clubs.
Good, hearty sandwiches — and oh yes, those cheesesteaks — are what I miss most about home. Since landing in L.A. six months ago, I've been on the hunt to satisfy my longing for Italian meats cradled in a hearty roll. Here are the seven best sandwiches I've found so far, each of which takes me back East with every bite.
The porchetta at Rocco's Italian Market & Deli
Roast pork is Philly lingo for porchetta, a deliciously fatty and boneless masterpiece of juicy pig served on a hoagie roll with provolone. A good one will buckle your knees. The porchetta sandwich at Rocco's in Los Feliz is everything I was looking for: tender, house-made pork with sharp provolone, greens (arugula) and long hots (pepperoncini). Get it to go, as this sandwich gets even better after 10 minutes tightly wrapped in its own juices. Get the piadina while you're there, too, because it's stuffed with mascarpone and prosciutto. 1761 N. Vermont Ave., Loz Feliz; (323) 403-0900, roccos-deli.com.
Cheesesteak at Boo's Philly Cheesesteak
There are three basic ingredients in a cheesesteak: sliced beef cooked on a griddle, onions and cheese — whiz or American, provolone in a pinch — all served on a hoagie roll made from Philly water, with its unique mix of lead, fluoride and pollution (it gives the bread heart). Everything else can GTFO. No green peppers, ever. You can find one that looks just as I've described at Boo's Philly Cheesesteak. They use real-deal Amoroso rolls for their sandwiches and Dietz & Watson deli meats for their hoagies, with Wise chips on the side. All of these are East Coast staples. If they opened a shack on the beach selling nothing but cheesesteaks and Miller High Life, they'd clean up. 4501 Fountain Ave., Silver Lake; (323) 661-1955, boosphilly.com.
See also: Philly Cops Rate L.A.'s Cheesesteaks
Sausage sandwich at Eastside Italian Market
True to Rocky lore, South Philly is packed with butcher shops and sausage makers (funeral parlors, too, but that's likely irrelevant). With a plethora of sausage, the city's got no shortage of great options. Thankfully, I don't miss them so much with the Eastside Italian Market close by. The sausage sandwich here is fantastic. Good bite, good blend, flat-out delicious. Guy Fieri kind of ruined it for everyone when he visited the market on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives in 2013, but it's still worth wading through the crowds during busy times. Eastside uses Maestro sausage, which also is available in sandwich form at Sorrento's in Culver City until 5:30 p.m. (and for a few bucks less). 1013 Alpine St., downtown; (213) 250-2464, esmdeli.com.
Bresaola at Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery
The Godmother. It's all I hear about. It's a good sandwich, but not the one I want from Bay Cities. The Bresaola, on the other hand, is right in that sweet spot of salty and gamey, a real Italian hoagie from a real Italian deli. Crunchy lettuce, peppers and onions. Perfect balance of crusty bread to beef, and make sure you get a sprinkle of oregano. Grab some San Marzanos, olive oil and basil while you're there at the market in case of a sauce emergency (the worst kind). 1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 395-8279, baycitiesitaliandeli.com.
Roast beef dip at Busy Bee Market
I know that French Dip is an L.A. thing, and everyone's all about that one with “P” in the name because it's the best. But Philly has Nick's Original Roast Beef with doused rolls, debris fries and hot peppers. And the roast beef dip at Busy Bee Market is one hell of a replacement. Throw some horseradish on there and it's all you really need. Get it to go and eat at the Korean Bell of Friendship, where they shot that really cool scene in The Usual Suspects. 2413 S. Walker Ave., San Pedro; (310) 832-8660.
Turkey hoagie at Santa Paula Steak & Hoagie
For those of you with business up north, the Philly expat population in Ventura swear by Santa Paula Steak & Hoagie. The owners hail from Philadelphia, having arrived in L.A. in the 1960s. They use Swiss-American cheese blend on their cheesesteaks, reminiscent of the delicious dip made famous at Chickie's & Pete's. The hoagies are big, and the ingredients are fresh. The pastrami is good if you're looking for a hot sandwich, but the turkey really reminded me of Ricci's, my go-to spot for 15 years. 110 W. Harvard Blvd., Ventura; (310) 395-8279.
Bonus: The cannoli at Eagle Rock Italian Bakery
Lightning round: Dessert. The cannoli game back East is strong. Isgro's in the Italian Market was forced to hire police to handle the traffic and keep people in line during Easter, when Philadelphians might punch one another for a cannoli. I'd definitely punch someone for a good cannoli. Right now you can get some pretty amazing ones without a fight at the Eagle Rock Italian Bakery, which is nice. The pistachio cookies can't miss, either. 1726 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; (213) 250-2464, eaglerockitalianbakeryanddeli.com.
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