I have never set foot in Philadelphia and therefore have never eaten a cheesesteak sandwich in the City of Brotherly Love. So I cannot claim to be an expert about how they are made or how they should taste.

But I am otherwise well-versed in Philly’s well-known culinary export, having tried a variety of different cheesesteaks from a variety of places that make them.

And, oh brother, let me tell you about the ones I’ve eaten at Pappa Geno’s Steak & Cheese, the small, counter-serve shop in a strip center at 1801 Ella Blvd. They’re hot, melty, oh so flavorful and, if the folks in Philadelphia do them any better, I’d be surprised.

I’d eaten a couple times before the pandemic at the Timbergrove / Lazybrook location, one of six in the Houston area, and decided to return earlier this week for the purposes of putting together this review. Pappa Geno’s specialty is the aforementioned Philly cheesesteaks, and it also serves cheesesteak-style fries, burgers, other hot sandwiches and “chicken choices,” including a chicken Philly, a grilled chicken salad and a chicken tender basket.

I of course got one of the seven Philly cheesesteak options, which all come with sliced, seasoned and grilled steak with cheese on a big, soft, slightly toasted hoagie roll. There’s a classic Philly made with Cheez Whiz, others that come with melted provolone or white American cheese, a Texas version made on Texas toast, a “works” with all sorts of toppings and two kinds that come topped with brown gravy.

I opted for the “Wicked Philly,” which was spicy and made me go “Wow!” The hoagie roll was filled with steak, sauteed onions and white American cheese – standards on a Philly – as well as what Pappa Geno’s refers to as Italian hot oil peppers. They were spicy pickled vegetables such as carrots, celery, red bell pepper and jalapeno, similar to giardiniera, the condiment that is common in Chicago.

The peppers provided a pop of flavor but were not overbearing, perhaps because the sandwich also has mayonnaise mixed in. And it was hot in terms of temperature from the moment it was set in front of me until I polished it off a few minutes later.

The bread was among the best I’ve had with a Philly cheesesteak – fresh, soft but solid and toasted just enough to be warm.

I also was a big fan of the fries, which you can order plain or topped with cheese, steak, gravy or all of the above. My plain fries were hot and cooked to perfection, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and I dipped them in a mixture of ketchup and the hot sauce that Pappa Geno’s sets on every table in its small dining room.

It was not the healthiest lunch I had eaten as of late, and Pappa Geno’s is not a place to go if you’re looking to eat on the lighter side, although the chicken salad might make a decent option in that regard.

But if you’re looking for a hot and filling Philly that’s ready in a flash, there might not be many better places to go – at least outside of Pennsylvania.

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