For the past few weeks Caroline and myself plus a rotating cast of assistant eaters have been on a super intense hoagie tour working on this post for Serious Eats, not a "best of philly" but more like "a few of our favorites plus some we never tried before and heard were awesome and some unknown neighborhood spots we were saving for something like this".
I'm sure the comments section will rage with angry Philadelphians "any list that doesn't include Big Joey's Hoagie Hut on Street road is total BS!" And honestly even though we ate a LOT of hoagies - more than twice what's on this list, a lot didn't make the cut - It still feels incomplete, especially because when get started with something like this people start telling you about all sorts of places, so there's at least 25 more legendary delis and hidden gems that should be on here.
And if you're wondering "where the hell is Johns Roast Pork you idiot" keep in mind there's two more of these coming, Cheesesteaks and Miscellaneous sandwiches which will probably be 99% roast pork and maybe a chicken cutlet. We're leaving banh mi, po-boys, and anything fancy for future articles.
It's probably too much detail for Serious Eats (or anywhere for that matter) but I feel like you could break Philadelphia Hoagies down into several sub-categories and have 5-10 great examples of each.
• Old Italian seeded - roll style
Cosmi's, Chickie's, P&S
• American Salad-Oil style
Slack's, Lee's, etc
• Italian / Jewish Deli Fusion
Koch's and every jewish deli that also makes hoagies
• Asian deli/grocery flower shop style
Delicious Bites, Jay's Deli, countless center city corner shops
• Norristown Zeps
Micro-regional variation, very different than a Hoagie
• In the cut
Fish hoagies, Gooey Louie's, Hoagie City..
I definitely came out with a new favorite.. Carmen's, in JERSEY of all places, was the one that really blew my mind, combining the best of both worlds, meaning the legit italian meats that you would find in South Philly, but on a softer Del Buono roll similar to White House in Atlantic City.
The best EXPERIENCE had to be Koch's deli, that I can't believe more people don't talk about, we waited about 45 minutes for two hoagies, with the dude telling filthy jokes about "I give you my tongue" and giving us free samples the whole time, he literally plopped a mound of potato salad right into my hand (can I get a napkin?), along with tongue, brisket, corned beef, the whole time he's going on about how you can't get anything else like it Philly, his sandwiches are better than Katz's in New York, so on and so forth.
There was a group of people who I'm pretty sure were just there for the show, along with one really pissed off girl who kept saying "I'm just here for a sandwich" and muttered something about not eating red meat (why would you go there?!?!?!) And also, the sandwich was amazing.