Phillys Famous Cheese Steak

Photo by Sasha ContrerasYou've seen one Philly cheese steak joint, you've seen them all—the sports jerseys, Independence Hall pictures, televisions and occasional Villanova sweat-shirt. The great local exception is Philly's Famous Cheese Steak, a Tustin eatery that's smaller than most corporate waiting areas and squeezes in only a couple of tables, a real-estate-guide rack and a counter within its walls. Still, Philly's has an epic quality to it, one that extends beyond the massive cheese steaks.

There are the walls.

Upon them are taped dozens of pictures and brief biographies of noted Philadelphians both expected—Bill Cosby, Stylistics producer Thom Bell—and not—Man Ray, Edgar Allen Poe, Kevin frickin' Bacon? Sure, most lunchtime stragglers ignore the wall-to-wall encyclopedia in favor of the cheese steaks. And they also bypass a condiment buffet swimming with pepperoncini, pickles and pickled bell peppers because Philly's Famous' namesake needs no accruements, loaded as it is with succulent mushrooms and bell peppers, onions grilled to the point of liquefaction, finely sliced beef, all on a cuddly Italian roll. Oh, and the cheese.

Though smaller than the monsters hawked at Jon's Philly Grille in Anaheim or Costa Mesa's Frank's Philadelphia, Philly's Famous' edible U-boat surpasses the two in the most crucial cheese-steak factor: the cheese. It overwhelms your senses like a good cheese should, like the best quesadillas: sharp, comforting, gooey. The cheesy cheese choice marries Cheez Whiz, American white and provolone into a tasty, wonderful triad, each fromage strong and distinct. And despite the dairy onslaught, the beef's savor doesn't wilt, remaining juicy like the finest shawermas.

The chicken cheese steak is also exemplary, but the marriage of chicken and cheese might not suit most palates—the taste is like turned milk . . . speaking of which, did you know that General George McClellan, Alexander Haig and Margaret Mead were from Philly? Did I mention Kevin Bacon? Makes sense.

Other items on the menu at Philly's Famous also beckon: cold hoagies with four types of salamis, a sticky steak bowl that's more cow than steer, and packets of Tastykake pastries, the Philadelphia bakery that's as much a culinary institution as Pat's King of Steaks.

So, while museums might be fun, concentrate on the food at Philly's Famous. Still, as you chomp away, it's rather delightful to read the writing on the wall and discover obvious and obscure Philadelphians. Wilt Chamberlain? Sure. John Coltrane? Cool. Will Smith . . . Hey, where's Kevin Bacon?

648 E. First St., Tustin, (714) 505-6067. GA*******@OC******.COM

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